CPO, CPOA and CPOT Certification
The American Optometric Association’s Commission on Paraoptometric Certification (CPC) certifies paraoptometrics, allied health professionals who assist and work with optometrists. There are three levels of certification a paraoptometric must achieve. In order, they are: Certified Paraoptometric (CPO), Certified Paraoptometric Assistant (CPOA) and Certified Paraoptometric Technician (CPOT).
What is a Paraoptometric?
These allied health professionals take on routine and technical work in optometry practices to allow the optometrists to provide the best vision and eye care to patients. Their duties vary depending on experience, training and certification level, but may include:
- Reception and front desk work
- Scheduling patients
- Accepting payments and insurance forms
- Assisting with eyewear sales
- Taking patient histories
- Screening for glaucoma or blood pressure
- Ordering prescriptions
- Modifying contact lenses
- Educating patients on contact lens use and care
- Supervising vision therapy
- Photographing the interior of the eye
The different levels of certification—CPO, CPOA and CPOT—determine which tasks a paraoptometric can do. The duties of the paraoptometric also depend on the supervising optometrist and the practice’s needs.
A Certified Paraoptometric is the first level of allied worker in an optometry office. The CPO in an optometry practice is usually responsible for administrative tasks, checking in patients, scheduling, handling payment and insurance forms and adjusting frames for fit.
To be eligible to take the CPO certification exam, you must have worked in eye care for at least six months and have a high school diploma or the equivalent. To prove the former, you will need a letter of attestation, typically from an employer.
The exam is 100 questions, and you get 90 minutes to complete it. The exam covers:
- Basic science
- Clinical principles and procedures
- Optics and dispensing
- Professional issues
The next level is Certified Paraoptometric Assistant. To qualify for the CPOA exam, you must have a CPO credential for at least six months and have worked in an eye care profession for three years or more. Additionally, you must be enrolled in or have completed a recognized optometric assistant program approved by the CPC.
A paraoptometric assistant in an optometry office has more responsibilities than a CPO. For some tasks, they must be under the supervision of an optometrist, but they can prepare patients for appointments, take patient histories, measure the eyes, screen for glaucoma and check vital signs. They may also educate patients and show them how to use and care for lenses.
Candidates for the CPOA exam have two and a half hours to answer 250 questions that cover:
- Office operations
- Optics and dispensing
- Testing and procedures
- Special procedures
- Refractive status of the eye
- Basic ocular anatomy and physiology
Certified Paraoptometric Technicians can perform more patient-centered duties in addition to those of a CPOA. These include ordering prescriptions, photographing the inside of the eye, providing low vision training, supervising vision therapy and modifying contacts.
To qualify to take the exam for a CPOT, you must already hold a CPOA. You must also have finished or be in the final semester of a program in optometric technology. The program must be approved by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education.
The CPOT exam includes a 225-question written portion and a 200-question clinical section. The exam covers:
- Pre-testing procedures
- Clinical and special procedures
- Optical dispensing
- Ophthalmic optics and dispensing
- Refractive status of the eye
Renewing CPC Certifications
Each of the three levels of paraoptometric certification require regular renewal. To keep your certification current, you must renew every three years. You need 18 hours of continuing education credits to be eligible for a renewal. At least nine of those hours must be approved by the CPC, which offers courses for renewal candidates. The other nine hours can come from courses approved by another appropriate accrediting agency.
Are These Certifications Required to Work as a Paraoptometric?
There is no official licensing requirement in any state for paraoptometrics. You do not have to hold a certification to begin working in these jobs. However, keep in mind that trained, certified individuals are in higher demand and that individual employers may require that their paraoptometrics have certification.
How to Start a Career as a Paraoptometric
There are two main paths to becoming a paraoptometric: find an optometrist willing to train you on the job or enroll in an accredited program. Some optometrists will train highly motivated candidates. They may require that you also enroll in a program to earn a degree or diploma and work toward CPC certification.
You can also go straight to school and earn an associate degree or diploma. You can find programs for paraoptometric assistants and technicians at community colleges, vocational schools and technical and career colleges. Be sure you choose a program that is accredited or approved by the CPC if you hope to earn certification eventually. You should be able to land a job in an optometry practice while earning your degree or once you have graduated.
A career in paraoptometrics is a great option for anyone interested in a healthcare career that does not require several years of school. You can start working in a position right after high school. There is also room for advancement by earning a degree and certifications as you work toward a technician position. Trained and certified individuals are in demand by optometrists, so by putting in the work you can expect good job security and a stable income.