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Nature of the Work
* Although training requirements vary by State, most dispensing opticians receive their training on-the-job or through apprenticeships lasting 2 to 4 years.
* Employment of dispensing opticians is expected to increase as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2006 as demand grows for corrective lenses.
Dispensing opticians fit eyeglasses and contact lenses, following prescriptions written by ophthalmologists or optometrists. (The work of optometrists is described in a statement elsewhere in the Handbook. See the statement on physicians for information about ophthalmologists.)
Dispensing opticians help customers select appropriate frames, order the necessary ophthalmic laboratory work, and adjust the finished eyeglasses. In some States, they fit contact lenses under the supervision of an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Dispensing opticians examine written prescriptions to determine lens specifications. They recommend eyeglass frames, lenses, and lens coatings after considering the prescription and the customer's occupation, habits, and facial features. Dispensing opticians measure clients' eyes, including the distance between the centers of the pupils and the distance between the eye surface and the lens. For customers without prescriptions, dispensing opticians may use a lensometer to record the present eyeglass prescription. They also may obtain a customer's previous record, or verify a prescription with the examining optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Dispensing opticians prepare work orders that give ophthalmic laboratory technicians information needed to grind and insert lenses into a frame. The work order includes lens prescriptions and information on lens size, material, color, and style. Some dispensing opticians grind and insert lenses themselves. After the glasses are made, dispensing opticians verify that the lenses have been ground to specifications. Then they may reshape or bend the frame, by hand or using pliers, so that the eyeglasses fit the customer properly and comfortably. Some also fix, adjust, and refit broken frames. They instruct clients about adapting to, wearing, or caring for eyeglasses.
Some dispensing opticians specialize in fitting contacts, artificial eyes, or cosmetic shells to cover blemished eyes. To fit contact lenses, dispensing opticians measure eye shape and size, select the type of contact lens material, and prepare work orders specifying the prescription and lens size. Fitting contact lenses requires considerable skill, care, and patience. Dispensing opticians observe customers' eyes, corneas, lids, and contact lenses with special instruments and microscopes. During several visits, opticians show customers how to insert, remove, and care for their contacts, and ensure the fit is correct.
Dispensing opticians work indoors in attractive, well lighted, and well ventilated surroundings. They may work in medical offices or small stores where customers are served one at a time, or in large stores where several dispensing opticians serve a number of customers at once. Opticians spend a lot of time with customers, most of it on their feet. If they also prepare lenses, they need to take precautions against the hazards associated with glass cutting, chemicals, and machinery.
Most dispensing opticians work a 40-hour week, although some work longer hours. Those in retail stores may work evenings and weekends. Some work part time.
Dispensing opticians held about 67,000 jobs in 1996. About half work for ophthalmologists or optometrists who sell glasses directly to patients. Many also work in retail optical stores that offer one-stop shopping. Customers may have their eyes examined, choose frames, and have glasses made on the spot. Some work in optical departments of drug and department stores.
Employers generally hire individuals with no background in opticianry or those who have worked as ophthalmic laboratory technicians and then provide the required training. (See the statement on ophthalmic laboratory technicians elsewhere in the Handbook.) Training may be informal, on-the-job or formal apprenticeship. Some employers, however, seek people with postsecondary training in opticianry.
Knowledge of physics, basic anatomy, algebra, geometry, and mechanical drawing is particularly valuable because training usually includes instruction in optical mathematics, optical physics, and the use of precision measuring instruments and other machinery and tools. Because dispensing opticians deal directly with the public, they should be tactful and pleasant and communicate well.
Large employers generally offer structured apprenticeship programs, and small employers provide more informal on-the-job training. In the 21 States that license dispensing opticians, individuals without postsecondary training work from 2 to 4 years as apprentices. Apprenticeship or formal training is offered in most of the other States as well.
Apprentices receive technical training and learn office management and sales. Under the supervision of an experienced optician, optometrist, or ophthalmologist, apprentices work directly with patients, fitting eyeglasses and contact lenses. In States requiring licensure, information about apprenticeships and licensing procedures is available from the State board of occupational licensing.
Formal opticianry training is offered in community colleges and a few colleges and universities. In 1997, there were 23 programs accredited by the Commission on Opticianry Accreditation that awarded 2-year associate degrees in ophthalmic dispensing or optometric technology. There are also shorter programs, including some under 1 year. Some States that license dispensing opticians allow graduates to take the licensure exam immediately upon graduation; others require a few months to a year of experience.
Dispensing opticians may apply to the American Board of Opticianry and the National Contact Lens Examiners for certification of their skills. Certification must be renewed every 3 years through continuing education.
Many experienced dispensing opticians open their own optical stores. Others become managers of optical stores or sales representatives for wholesalers or manufacturers of eyeglasses or lenses.
Employment in this occupation is expected to increase as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2006 as demand grows for corrective lenses. The number of middle-aged and elderly persons is projected to increase rapidly. Middle age is a time when many individuals use corrective lenses for the first time, and elderly persons require more vision care, on the whole, than others.
Fashion, too, influences demand. Frames come in a growing variety of styles and colorsencouraging people to buy more than one pair. Demand is also expected to grow in response to the availability of new technologies that improve the quality and look of corrective lenses, such as anti-reflective coatings and bifocal lenses without the line visible in old-style bifocals. Improvements in bifocal, extended wear, and disposable contact lenses will also spur demand.
Besides job openings expected due to employment growth, the need to replace those who leave the occupation will result in additional job openings. Nevertheless, the total number of job openings will be relatively small because the occupation is small. This occupation is vulnerable to changes in the business cycle because eyeglass purchases can often be deferred for a time. Employment of opticians often falls somewhat during downturns.
According to survey results published in an April 1997 issue of Eyecare Business magazine, dispensing opticians earned an overall average salary of about $27,432. Owners, managers, and certified graduates of opticianry schools had higher earnings, as did dispensing opticians who worked in States that require licensure.
Other workers who deal with customers and perform delicate work include jewelers, locksmiths, ophthalmic laboratory technicians, orthodontic technicians, dental laboratory technicians, prosthetics technicians, camera repairers, and watch repairers.
For general information about a career as a dispensing optician, contact:
Opticians Association of America, 10341 Democracy Lane, Fairfax, VA 22030-2521.
For general information about a career as a dispensing optician and a list of accredited training programs, contact:
Commission on Opticianry Accreditation, 10111 Martin Luther King, Jr. Hwy., Suite 100, Bowie, MD 20720-4299.
For general information on opticianry and a list of home-study programs, seminars, and review materials, contact:
National Academy of Opticianry, 10111 Martin Luther King, Jr. Hwy., Suite 112, Bowie, MD 20720-4299.
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