What is an Ophthalmic Medical Technologist?

If you’ve ever had an eye examination, you have probably encountered an ophthalmic medical technologist. Ophthalmic medical technologists work in vision clinics and eye centers. These indispensable technologists assist ophthalmologists by performing diagnostic testing on patients, fitting contact lenses, dispensing patient medications and assisting with ophthalmic surgical procedures. Ophthalmic technologists are highly trained professionals with many years of formal training in their chosen field.

Those who are detail-oriented, patient, empathetic and skilled at communication will find this career to be a good fit for their personality. If you work in the field, you will likely spend a great deal of time interacting with patients as you test their visual acuity. If you are considering this career, you should decide if you are comfortable with a great deal of contact with patients and the public in general.

Other Health Personnel in Ophthalmology

There are several categories of allied health personnel employed in the ophthalmology medical field. Career possibilities include optometrists, opticians, ophthalmic medical technicians, ophthalmic nurses and ophthalmic assistants. The closest related job classification to the ophthalmic medical technologist is the ophthalmic medical technician, who will also have some formal, post-high school level educational training.

Ophthalmic medical technologists perform similar duties to ophthalmic medical technicians and ophthalmic assistants. However, it is essential to note that ophthalmic medical technologists have additional job duties that require more specialized training than other personnel in ophthalmology, unlike their entry-level counterparts. Specifically, ophthalmic medical technologists are responsible for supervising any ophthalmic medical technician or assistant who may be employed in the medical practice.

Technologists can also test patients for various problems by performing certain types of diagnostics on them, such as fluorescence angiography, clinical photography, microbiologic procedures and electrophysiologic procedures. In addition, only technologists can assist an ophthalmologist who is performing surgery on a patient.

What Type of Education is Required for an Ophthalmic Medical Technologist?

To become an ophthalmic medical technologist, you will need to acquire the proper education. Like most allied health personnel, ophthalmic medical technologists will need to train at the post-secondary level, for which they will need a high school diploma or equivalent.

Once this education has been obtained, you will need to apply to a college program that is specifically geared toward ophthalmic medical technologists. When choosing a program, you will want to be aware that there are many ophthalmic medical technician and ophthalmic assistant programs, while there are fewer targeted ophthalmic medical technologist programs. This distinction will make a difference in potential job duties and opportunities, so keep your goals in mind when choosing an institute where you will fulfill your education.

In general, a degree in ophthalmic medical technology will take two to four years of training and award either an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) or a Bachelor of Science (B.S.).

Accredited Ophthalmic Technology Programs in the U.S.

As mentioned, there are many training programs for ophthalmology professionals throughout the country, including educational curriculums suited for ophthalmic assistants, more in-depth training for ophthalmic technicians and focused ophthalmic technology degree programs.

Following are a few of the top-rated B.S. and A.A.S. degrees for ophthalmic medical technology:

  • The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, AK, offers a Bachelor of Science in Ophthalmic Medical Technology. This training is provided on a full-time basis and requires students to complete 120 credit hours. Students will be required to pass a certification test through the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO) in their final semester.

  • Palm Beach State College in Lake Worth, FL, offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in Ophthalmic Medical Technology. This two-year curriculum promises students hands-on experience along with the requisite classroom lectures, allowing students to gain real-world experience working in eye clinics and hospitals prior to graduation. The curriculum is certified by the International Council of Accreditation for Allied Ophthalmic Education Programs (ICA).

  • Portland Community College in Portland, OR, offers an associate degree in Ophthalmic Medical Technology. Students have the advantage of small class sizes and clinical rotations performed throughout various community vision clinics of differing sizes.

Certification for Eye Care Professionals

Health personnel in ophthalmology will need to take one or more certification tests if they want to become employable in their chosen professions. There are several levels of tests for which ophthalmic technicians, ophthalmic technologists or ophthalmic assistants can qualify.

Professionals can test for accreditation through the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO). Potential certifications include:

  • Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA)
  • Certified Ophthalmic Technician (COT)
  • Certified Ophthalmic Medical Technologist (COMT)
  • Ophthalmic Surgical Assisting (OSA)
  • Registered Ophthalmic Ultrasound Biometrist (ROUB)
  • Certified Diagnostic Ophthalmic Sonographer (CDOS)
  • Corporate Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (CCOA)
  • Ophthalmic Scribe Certification (OSC)

Ophthalmic Medical Technologist Salary Expectations and Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for ophthalmic technicians in 2019 was $59,560. The range of salaries for this career in the same year was between $25,830 and $57,900.

This job also has a significant potential for ongoing career growth, with Projections Central reporting a 16.5 percent growth in the career between 2018 and 2028. This data translates to an estimated 5,600 new job openings nationwide on an annual basis.

However, it is essential to note that the above data conflates ophthalmic technicians and technologists. The salary rates and job openings for the two careers are probably slightly different in reality. In general, those in the career who hold the highest level of skill and accreditation should expect higher pay and more competitive opportunities.

Ophthalmologists who are hiring for their vision clinics will likely be looking for the person who can assist their practice with the most versatile skills.

Ophthalmic Careers

The BLS reports that most ophthalmic technicians work in physicians’ offices, the offices of other healthcare providers, general medical hospitals and medical stores. However, the highest salaries are often found in management, outpatient surgery centers and universities. The highest-paid technicians live in Minnesota, Massachusetts, Alaska and New Jersey.

For anyone who possesses the above qualities, this can be a gratifying career. Whether you find work in a hospital or eye clinic setting, the contact you will have with patients while you perform the various aspects of the job will enrich your day-to-day life on many levels.