An optometric assistant or optometric technician is a medical assistant with special training in eye care. The optometric assistant performs tasks delegated to her by the optometrist, such as measuring visual acuity, color vision, depth perception and internal eye pressure. An optometric assistant could be trained on the job, have a certificate or an associate degree.
Learning as You Go
Like medical assistants, optometric assistants do not need to be licensed. They work under the supervision of the optometrist. Most optometric assistants have a high school diploma, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They can be trained on the job in all states. In this case, becoming an optometric assistant is primarily a matter of finding an optometrist who is willing to supervise the training and applying for the job. A candidate who has some knowledge of medical terminology, anatomy and other medical topics is more likely to be hired.
Optometric assistants also have the option of formal training through a postsecondary program, according to the American Optometric Association. Programs vary in length from less than 200 hours to more than 1,000 hours of instruction. In some cases, the training program is offered only to those already employed in an optometrist’s office. Some courses are offered in evening and weekend classes, which allow an individual to work and go to school. Some of these programs award a certificate or diploma.
A College Degree
The U.S. has a limited number of schools that offer an associate degree in optometric assisting. These two-year programs might be found in a community college, university or school of optometry. The programs might have prerequisites. Some allow the student an option to complete a two-semester certificate program as well as an associate degree. A major advantage of these programs is the opportunity to learn in a supervised clinical setting with a standardized curriculum. Program length and cost vary. McFatter Technical Center offers a 10-month certificate program, at a cost of $3,234 in 2014 excluding books and materials. Indiana University School of Optometry offers both a two-semester certificate program and an associate degree. Tuition was $4,459 per semester in 2014 for residents and $15,530 for nonresidents.
Certification Can Be Beneficial
Whatever the educational preparation, an optometric technician also has the option to become certified, which might increase employment options or opportunities for advancement. The AOA offers four levels of certification: entry, intermediate, advanced and specialty. Entry certification simply indicates the tech understands the basics of optometric care, while additional certifications document increasing knowledge and the ability to apply the concepts of optometric care. The highest, specialty certification, includes proficiency and expertise in optometric coding. Candidates must pass the entry exam and meet experience requirements before they can sit for more advanced exams. Fees ranged from $215 to $285 in 2014, depending on the certification. Recertification is required every three years. Although it is not required for practice, some employers may prefer or require certification.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Medical Assistants
- O*NET Online: Summary Report for 31-9092.00 - Medical Assistants
- American Optometric Association: Vocational Training Programs
- Indiana University: A.S. in Optometric Technology/Optician
- American Optometric Association: Certification
- Indiana University: Optician/Technician Program Student Handbook
- McFatter Technical Center: Optometric Assistant
- Photo Credit TAGSTOCK1/iStock/Getty Images
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