Basic ABO Optician Certification
As an optician, ABO certification through the American Board of Opticianry/National Contact Lens Examiners (ABO-NCLE) can open up more jobs and move your career in a more promising direction. Acquiring certification, although mostly optional, is a recognized verification that you have the skills and knowledge to perform your job at a higher level of competence. ABO-certified opticians make higher pay and instill a greater sense of confidence in both patients and potential employers.
There are three levels of certification for opticians through the ABO. These include Basic Certification, Advanced Certification and Master’s Designation. Each of these credentials involves varying levels of education and experience. However, before you can even begin to think about gaining accreditation, you will need to learn the ins and outs of trade.
What Does an Optician Do?
An optician works in an optical center or vision center doing the technical work required to fit patients with the appropriate ophthalmic devices, either glasses or contacts, for visual correction.
In their day-to-day practice, opticians see and help patients of all ages, from small children to geriatrics. Opticians are not doctors and therefore do not give eye exams. However, they do help adjust eyewear, fabricate devices, measure facial features and help patients to decide what type of lenses and frames will be optimal. In addition, the optician orders products like eyewear and contact lenses.
If you are considering a career as an optician, you should to be ready to spend most of your time dealing with the public. This close contact with patients means you should have excellent communication and listening skills. You will also need good reading comprehension, and critical thinking and marketing skills. Having a measure of comfort with mathematics is also a must, as calculations are essential to the job.
What Type of Training is Required for the Profession?
Before you can even consider becoming trained in the field, you will need to have obtained a high school diploma or equivalent. Once acquired, you can pursue the training. Although on-the-job training is possible for this profession, you may find yourself better prepared for the career after attending an appropriate training program.
Completing a training program will open the doors to potential jobs and help you be better prepared for your ABO certification exam. In addition, if you live in a state where opticians need to be licensed, you may be required to attend two to three years of training and seek certification. Some of the top optician training programs in the United States include the following:
- Ogeechee Technical College in Statesboro, GA, offers several programs of study in opticianry, including an associate’s degree, a diploma and three specialist certificates. Students will gain entry-level skills while preparing for their certification exams.
- Florida Southwestern State College, with campuses in Punta Gorda, Naples and Fort Myers, FL, offers an associate’s degree in Opticianry. The program promises to prepare students to take and pass their accreditation examinations.
- Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis, IN, offers an Optician and Eye Care technical certificate or an associate’s degree. Students can sit for the exam after completing 33 hours of this 60-hour program.
- Erie County Community College, with campuses in Buffalo, Williamsville and Orchard Park, NY, offers an associate’s degree in Ophthalmic Dispensing. The program takes place in the classroom and laboratory and includes the use of computers and sophisticated machinery. Students will participate in an externship in their first year and a supervised clinical rotation in their second year. Upon completion, graduates will participate in taking both certification exams and New York State licensing exams.
State Licensing Requirements
As of 2021, licensing is still not required in every state. For some states, the sparse availability of training programs makes licensing difficult. However, if you live in one the following states, you will want to make yourself aware of the license regulations prior to deciding where you should seek training:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
In addition, those who live in New Hampshire will need to apply for registration (but not licensing). You should also be aware that other states may begin to require licensing in the future, and you will be responsible for knowing the laws where you live.
Requirements for Certification Through the ABO-NCLE
There are three types of certification through the ABO- NCLE, each one reflecting a different level of experience. These certifications include the following designations:
- Basic Certification: The basic certification examinations are the lowest levels of certification offered by the organization. To qualify for these exams, you must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or equivalent. Although you do not need a minimum number of years of experience to acquire this certification, candidates with a few years of hands-on experience or who have completed a training program have much better chances of successfully passing the tests. Basic exams include The National Opticianry Competency Examination (NOCE), which pertains to spectacle dispensing, and The Contact Lens Registry Examination (CLRE), which is specific to contact lens dispensing.
- Advanced Certification: There are two certifications for more experienced opticians, the ABOC-AC and the NCLE-AC. These tests are offered by the ABO and NCLE, respectively. To test for these designations, you must have several years of experience in the field. In fact, you will need to have acquired the basic certification and undergone one entire certification renewal cycle, which occurs after a period of three years.
- Master’s Designation: Once again, there are two separate designations for masters, the Master in Ophthalmic Optics and Master in Contact Lens Technology. These tests are also offered as separate exams by the ABO and NCLE. You must have passed an advanced certification in order to take these examinations.
Preparing for ABO and NCLE Exams
So, you’ve decided to take some certification exams, but perhaps you are a little nervous about the preparation. How do you know what material to study? How can you improve your chances of passing the test?
Examination nerves are common, especially when you are hoping to become board certified in your career. However, there are some tried and true methods you can use to prepare for the testing process. In fact, the ABO-NCLE website has a resource section where they offer links to review materials for various levels of knowledge and experience. These fee-based resources, provided by the ABO, NCLE and Contact Lens Society of America (CLSA), include complete tutorials in English and Spanish, DVD sets, flashcards and review books.
If you prefer, you can also take an exam preparation course. The course you choose should include exam review, study guides and practice exams. A few of the predominant courses include:
- Laramy-K Optician Works
- Exchange 2021
- The Optical Training Institute
- Professional Opticians of Florida
- The McRee Learning Center
Taking Your ABO Basic Examination: The Examination Fee and the Testing Process
The ABO basic is the first professional-level certification exam you will need to take for your career. As such, it may feel like a daunting experience. However, the testing process is relatively straightforward.
The first step is to decide which basic certification you need to take. You can choose an exam for spectacle or contact lens dispensing or take both tests to become board certified to administer both types of visual aids.
Once you have decided, you can complete your test registration online. The testing fee for both exams is the same, at $225 apiece. If you are taking your accreditation to qualify for a state license, you should double-check the regulations prior to registering for your exam.
Areas to study for the ABO exam include analyzing and interpreting prescriptions, the uses of ophthalmic equipment, and the fitting of spectacles and other devices. The NCLE exam contains questions on pre-fit, preparation and evaluation, diagnostic fit and evaluation, patient education, lens dispensing and follow-up, and administrative issues.
Both exams are proctored and are usually taken at a testing center. However, remote proctoring is available as of 2021 and will continue for an indefinite period, allowing you to take your exam from home. All testing is done on a computer, and examinees have two hours to complete the exam. You are permitted to use certain materials during the test, including a whiteboard and dry erase markers.
Once the two hours have passed, you will be required to submit your exam for grading. Depending on the test, you may be able to receive your results immediately. Other tests may take a more extended period to grade, and you will be notified by the board when your passing grade has been verified.
Maintaining Competence and the Requirements for Continuing Education
All credentials received from the ABO-NCLE will be subject to periodic renewal. If you want to remain certified in your profession, you will need to complete board-recognized continuing education credits. Depending on the type of credentials you carry, the board requires you to complete between 12 and 18 hours of additional coursework in a three-year period.
Keeping these credentials up-to-date is essential to your success as an accredited professional. In addition, these courses allow you to stay informed about the current best practices for patient care.
How Much Will a Board-Certified Optician Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), opticians made wages between $26,080 and $62,180 in 2020. Although not explicitly tracked, opticians who seek certification are more likely to earn higher salaries and be at the higher end of the scale. The median wage for opticians was $38,350 in the same year.
The job outlook for the career is also trending positively. According to Projections Central, those who choose this profession should expect an average of 6,600 job openings annually. Additionally, the field is expected to grow by 7.2 percent between 2018 and 2028. That change adds up to an increase of 5,400 job openings throughout the 10-year period.
Opticians work in many different places, but no matter where you work, the duties of the position generally remain the same. However, if you are looking for upward mobility you will be pleased to know that management positions are attainable after some years of experience. In fact, if you have an entrepreneurial spirit, you could even open your own vision center, significantly increasing your potential salary.
That being said, the BLS reports that most opticians work in the offices of health care practitioners, health and personal care stores, physicians’ offices, outpatient care centers and hospitals. The highest-paying industries in the profession include professional equipment wholesalers, employment services, manufacturing, educational institutions and enterprise management. In general, those working in the career have a lot of versatility for employment.
Beginning Your Future in the Field of Opticianry
In the long run, the field of opticianry, while not for everyone, is a good fit for anyone who has the necessary skills, aptitude and personality. If you have read this far and are still excited about this career, congratulations, you will probably make an excellent optician. In fact, it is your enthusiasm for the profession that will make a difference for you in the future.
Getting started on the right note is also essential for your continued success. Knowing the benefits that come with attaining credentials, you will likely want to choose the path that gives you the highest odds of achieving that goal. Namely, you will probably want to eschew on-the-job training for a solid optical program. If one is unavailable in your area, you may choose to supplement your workplace training with an exam-specific online educational course.
However you manage to get there, certification is a worthwhile endeavor and a career accelerator. Achieving your credentials, and keeping them up-to-date, will help you ensure you are using the most recent patient care procedures. Credentialing is also an excellent way to reassure the public that you have the qualifications to attend to them with vigilance and competence.