Eye care has become a huge industry throughout the United States and the World because of the fact that it encompasses both medical eye care and retail sales. The fact that individuals often patronize one establishment for both their medical needs and their retail eye wear interests means that there are a few different career options that one must consider when researching professions within the vision field. The primary specialty career options within the eye care industry include that of optician, optometrist, ophthalmologist, and optical assistant. Each of these specialties has unique job responsibilities and requires different levels of education, training, and certification.
Opticians are eye wear experts who have been trained to help patients select and fit the appropriate pair of eyeglasses and contact lenses. An optician is not trained to treat or manage medical eye problems. The eye diseases that people experience are most often treated by an optometrist or ophthalmologist who has completed rigorous education, training, and licensing requirements. The optician profession is subject to state regulations in only about half of all states. Regulated states often require opticians to complete either a degree program or an apprenticeship followed by a nationally recognized certification exam. Opticians who work in unregulated states will typically be required to complete whatever requirements have been established by employers. When deciding between the medical and retail careers it is important to understand that the medical professions require far more education and training.
Individuals who want to work with patients to find the perfect pair of eyeglasses or contact lenses and select the appropriate lens customizations are well-advised to pursue the optician profession. Those who are more interested in diagnosing and treating medical eye problems should seriously consider investing the additional time and effort in becoming either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. Because there are dramatic differences between the education, training, and certification requirements of each of these professions, individuals may elect to pursue a specific career path based on the entry requirements that they are willing to accept.
Those who have elected to pursue a career as an optician will need to determine what the education and training requirements are in their area. Optician degree programs are rare and can be very inconvenient to attend. Most regulated states allow an aspiring optician to substitute the degree requirement with an apprenticeship. An apprenticeship is essentially a prolonged period of training that occurs under the supervision of an experienced optician. This type of training arrangement can be established through local optical employers. Some states do request that an apprentice register with the state prior to beginning the training process so that the number of hours worked can be tracked and documented. Once an apprenticeship has been completed, individuals will be well-prepared to complete a certification exam and begin working independently.
Regardless of whether an optician completes a degree program or an apprenticeship, most industry professionals recommend voluntary completion of a nationally recognized certification examination. The most common exam that opticians complete is offered through the American Board of Opticianry (ABO). A passing score on this exam demonstrates that an individual has met national standards for competence in opticianry. Certification also comes with many benefits including a better salary, increased job opportunities, and the ability to transfer credentials between regulated and unregulated states in the event that the optician decides to move. Furthermore, optical employers prefer to hire certified opticians since they require less training and are held in higher regard by many patients.
Individuals who feel that they would rather diagnose and treat medical eye problems should be aware that both the optometry and ophthalmology profession require a minimum of eight years of college followed by the successful completion of a rigorous series of licensing examinations. Those who would like to gain experience in the eye care industry before committing years of their life to education and training are encouraged to explore the optical assistant career path. This option requires very little training or experience and can be an excellent way to learn more about the field. Individuals who are having a hard time deciding between the different branches of the eye care industry should spend some time working as an assistant in each area. This approach will ensure that the most appropriate career path is selected and years of education and training are not wasted.