Opticianry is the profession where opticians verify and dispense lenses, frames and other optical devices, such as contact lenses. In some instances, opticians also grind the lenses for the frames.
Opticians work in tandem with ophthalmologists(M.D.s) and optometrists (O.D.s) to fit eyeglasses and contact lenses. The dispensing opticians use prescriptions determined by eye doctors to assist customers in choosing suitable frames. Part of ensuring a proper fit includes measuring the distance between the centers of the pupils and the distance between the eye surface and the lens.
Opticians help the patient choose frames that are not only fashionable, but will work well with the patient's prescription. For example, some strong prescriptions require thick lenses that cannot fit into a small, wire frame. The optician will recommend thinner, high index lenses if the patient desires smaller frames, or the optician may suggest a larger plastic frame to accommodate the prescription. It is this aspect of the profession that requires the optician to be a skilled technician, a savvy retailer, and a tactful consultant. Patients are also usually asked about their professions or hobbies to see if a special frame or lens is needed. If a patient plays basketball, for example, the optician may recommend polycarbonate lenses in his eyeglasses or protective eyewear.
Once a suitable frame is chosen, opticians create work orders for laboratory technicians who grind and insert lenses into the selected frame. The information includes the prescription, lens material, and lens size. Some opticians, also known as manufacturing opticians or ophthalmic laboratory technicians, produce the lenses. They take the work orders given by the dispensing optician and grind, cut and edge the lenses to the correct prescription, and size for the frame. After the lens is complete, the manufacturing optician inserts it into the correct frame.
The dispensing optician works with the patient to ensure optimal vision with the patient's new eyeglasses. The optician may use pliers, files, or screwdrivers to adjust the frame to sit properly on the patient's face. The optician will make sure the lens is sitting in the correct position. If it is not, the patient's vision could be distorted. Before the patient leaves with his new eyeglasses, the optician will direct the patient on proper lens care and cleaning. For example, some anti-reflective coating lenses are to be cleaned only with special cloths and solutions.
For customers who prefer contact lenses, opticians measure the size and shape of the eyes, select proper lenses, and give instructions about lens wear and maintenance. Contact lens fitting requires a higher degree of skill, and in some states, opticians are prohibited from this task unless under the immediate supervision of anO.D. or M.D. In many cases, a physician has already recommended the type of contact lens for the patient, and the optician measures the eyes and works with the patient to ensure the proper fit.
Some specialized opticians, called ocularists, help create artificial eyes and shells for patients who may have been injured in accidents or have lost an eye due to disease. Some opticians also specialize in optics, focusing on nonprescription products such as binoculars or microscopes.
An optician can work in an ophthalmologist's or optometrist's office, clinic, an optical shop, retail eyeglass chain store, or department store. Other optical shops cater to more elite clientele and are sometimes called "boutiques." These shops feature more expensive, designer frame collections. In these settings opticians are expected to know not only how to correctly fit the lens prescription into the frame, but also be aware of the latest fashion trends.
Because dispensing opticians often work in retail settings, they are required to work weeknights and weekends. Even opticians employed by physicians may have to work evening hours a few nights a week to keep up with patient demand.
Education and training
Some opticians are trained through an apprenticeship under the supervision of a licensed optician, or complete years of on the job training at a clinic or optical shop. In recent years, however, opticians with more formal training are in demand and can command higher salaries.
Community colleges and some universities offer an associate in science degree for opticians. Some technical schools also offer one-year training programs in opticianry. Secondary education opticianry candidates should be proficient in geometry, general sciences, math, and mechanical drawing. The two-year programs include studies in psychology, ophthalmic materials and dispensing, eye anatomy, technical physics, and college level geometry and trigonometry, plus electives.
As of 2001, opticians in 26 states were required to pass the National Opticianry Competency Examination developed by the American Board of Opticianry/National Contact Lens Examiners (ABO/NCLE). Opticians in these states who want to dispense contact lenses must take an additional test, The Contact Lens Registry Examination, before dispensing lenses.
Advanced education and training
Opticians who did not complete a college program may wish to do so, as opticians with more formal education are in higher demand. Certified opticians need to renew their certification every three years. The ABO/NCLE also offers advanced certification that focuses specifically on the advanced level knowledge and skills needed for ophthalmic dispensing: providing spectacle, contact lens, and refraction services.
The ABO also has a master's program which requires candidates to write a technical thesis of at least 2,000 words. Candidates must already have completed the advanced certification program. Once the thesis is completed, it must be reviewed and approved by the masters committee. Upon approval of the thesis by this committee, the title of ABO Master (ABOM) is conferred.
Enrollment in opticianry programs is down as of 2001. There currently is a shortage of dispensing opticians, and that shortage is expected to worsen as the United States' population grows older and has more need of opticianry services. As people age, they need corrective lenses for presbyopia, cataracts, and other agerelated disorders. With these more complicated refractions, opticians with secondary education and a strong knowledge of optics are likely to be in more demand than ever. Also, knowledgeable consumers are more aware of the importance of a good eyeglass and contact lens fit. As this consciousness grows, opticians with more education will be sought out by patients as well as employers.
Current trends also play a part in the demand for opticians. In recent years, eyewear has become more of a fashion statement than ever before. Patients will look to the optician to find the correct frame and lens that will let them see well and look stylish at the same time. Skilled opticians will be able to provide the patient with frames that offer the correct optics for these newer styles.
Opticians who dispense contact lenses will also be in higher demand as the types of lenses available to patients continue to increase. Patients who were once restricted from wearing contact lenses, such as those who need bifocals or have astigmatism, now are able to successfully
wear contact lenses. These and other innovations will require more experienced contact lens fitters to meet the demands of these patients.
As of 2001, opticians are lobbying in several states to receive permission to increase their scope of practice to include refraction. If they are allowed to do so, the need for new opticians would increase even further. Optical shops would likely grow larger to include tasks that previously only an ophthalmologist or optometrist could perform.
Cornea—The clear outer covering of the front of the eye.
Lens—A device that bends light waves.
Ophthalmologist—A medical doctor who specializes in diseases of the eye and eye surgery.
Optometry—The profession of examining the eye for defects, diseases, or faults of refraction, and prescribing pharmaceuticals, corrective lenses, or exercises to treat these conditions. Optometrists(O.D.s) are trained and licensed to detect and treat ocular symptoms and diseases.
Polycarbonate—A very strong type of plastic often used in safety glasses, sport glasses, and children's eyeglasses. Polycarbonate lenses have approximately 50 times the impact resistance of glass lenses.
Presbyopia—A condition affecting people over the age of 40 where the system of accommodation that allows focusing of near objects fails to work because of age-related hardening of the lens of the eye.
Refraction—Method of determining the optical status of the eyes. Lenses are placed before the patient's eyes while reading from an eye chart. The result is the eyeglass or contact lens prescription.
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American Board of Opticianry. 6506 Loisdale Rd., Suite 209, Springfield, VA 22150. (703) 719-5800. <http://www.ncleabo.org>.
Commission on Opticianry Accreditation. 7023 Little River Turnpike, Suite 207, Annandale, VA 22003. (703) 941-9110. <http://www.coaccreditation.com>.
National Academy of Opticianry. 8401 Corporate Drive, Suite 605, Landover, MD 20785. (800) 229-4828. <http://www.nao.org/home.htm>.
Opticians Association of America. 7023 Little River Turnpike, Suite 207, Annandale, VA 22003. (703) 916-8856. <http://www.opticians.org>.
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