What do Opticians Do?

Opticians will typically be found on the frontlines of the vision care process, meaning they interact face-to-face with customers in need of various types of eyewear. While eyeglass and contact lens prescriptions are usually given to patients by ophthalmologists and optometrists, opticians will help patients choose eyewear according to the patient鈥檚 own personal style and preference, as well as their vision correction needs as specified by an ophthalmologist or optometrist.

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The Pathway to Becoming an Optician

There are currently about 29 states requiring opticians to have a license before practicing. In other states where licensing is voluntary, opticians may benefit from completing a certificate or associate鈥檚 degree program, along with both the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE) exams. Earning these credentials, especially in states where these steps are not required to find employment, may boost your chances of landing a competitive position or help you earn an increase in salary.

A Day in the Life

A typical work day as an optician will vary depending upon the type of vision care business for which you choose to work. If you elect to work at a retail eyewear store, your work day may consist mainly of selling different types of eyewear by helping customers choose the frames and styles that will best complement their facial features, with respect to the specifications stated on their prescription. This will require superior communication skills, as opticians must be able to understand what a customer is seeking in terms of aesthetic value. Whether they are going for a particular look, accustomed to a certain style or have specific size and color preferences, a thorough understanding of the customer鈥檚 needs and desires will help opticians assist customers effectively. This will be especially helpful if you find yourself working in a retail environment that includes a commission structure for employees. Even in environments where commission is not included, opticians who do their jobs well will also do a great deal to ensure the success and stability of the establishment for which they are employed. If you are interested in climbing the ranks of an eyewear or vision care company, working in a retail environment and refining your customer service skills will serve as the foundation for your career.

Choosing to work at a private practice or in an ophthalmology clinic may include the responsibilities of fitting patients for contact lenses, or recording eye measurements to determine the necessary thickness of eyeglass frames. In this type of environment, work may tend to be more technical in nature, as you will be assisting in the beginning stages of the eyewear selection process. Your job functions may be similar to those of a nurse in relation to a medical doctor鈥攜ou will help ophthalmologists and optometrists by providing them with patient information, assisting with functions in the eye exam process and helping patients understand their prescriptions. Opticians who desire to one day become optometrists or ophthalmologists will find an ideal fit working in a medical setting, like a vision care center or private practice.

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The type of environment you鈥檙e employed in will determine the majority of work that you do; however there are some responsibilities that will be universal for all opticians, no matter where they choose to work. Measuring a customer鈥檚 face will allow opticians to adjust eyeglasses accordingly, which may be necessary when a customer is being fit for new eyewear, or if their current eyewear has been causing them some discomfort. While some opticians are trained to make changes to eyeglass frames on their own, others will end up sending eyewear to lab technicians to ensure that each product is uniquely tailored to the customer鈥檚 needs. All opticians must be comfortable communicating and working closely with customers, whether that involves having to physically touch customer鈥檚 faces when fitting them for frames or simply educating them on proper care techniques to insure the longevity of their eyewear.

How Much Can I Expect to Earn?

Opticians earn a median annual wage of about $36,000, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data from 2017. The job market for this career field is also expected to see 15 percent national growth during the 10-year period between 2016 and 2026. The highest paid opticians will likely be found working in states like Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Alaska, respectively. Find out what your state鈥檚 requirements are and choose to exceed those stipulations by getting extra training, earning national certification and exposing yourself to more in-depth learning opportunities within the trade. If you follow these steps, you may find yourself among the ranks of some of the nation鈥檚 highest paid opticians.