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How to Become an Ophthalmic Technician

With over two decades of experience in medicine, Melissa Flagg writes patient education articles, keeping you informed about your health.

What a Technician Gets to See

An ophthalmic technician sees a variety of eyes and ocular ailments on a daily basis with the aid of a slit lamp. Like this implant after cataract surgery.

An ophthalmic technician sees a variety of eyes and ocular ailments on a daily basis with the aid of a slit lamp. Like this implant after cataract surgery.

A career as an ophthalmic technician is a very rewarding one. I spent 18 years as a tech, and I enjoyed every minute of it (well almost).

I enjoyed working directly under an ophthalmologist because I was always learning something new, and that kept me interested in the job. I also enjoyed helping patients feel at ease during exams as well. To me, it felt like I was really making a difference in the patient's experience, and that was very rewarding.

Ophthalmic technicians learn their skills in one of two ways: either through on-the-job training or by taking a two-year course at an accredited college.

All of my training was on-the-job, which is the easiest way to gain the knowledge because it is learned through experience. The trick is finding an ophthalmologist willing to train you.

What Are an Ophthalmic Technician’s Duties?

Essentially, an ophthalmic technician does the preliminary examination for the doctor, assists him in minor surgical procedures, and answers patient questions along with taking care of the examination equipment and triaging patient emergencies.

Much of the testing a technician performs is highly specialized. For example, the refraction portion of the exam (checking the glasses prescription) can take years to master. But it is the one skill that will take you anywhere. Ophthalmologists are always looking for good refractionists because they are extremely difficult to find. Refracting a patient isn’t just a skill; it’s an art form.

It’s important to remember that salary in this field is based on experience. Entry level positions obviously won’t pay as much as a senior tech position. However, due diligence can help you reach the senior technician level more quickly. I reached senior technician in 2 years, which is all but impossible. The typical time frame to reach this level is 10 years.

The Tonometer

The Goldman Tonometer that a technician uses to check a patient's intraocular pressure.

The Goldman Tonometer that a technician uses to check a patient's intraocular pressure.

Getting Started as an Ophthalmic Technician

Getting your foot in the door is probably the most difficult part of starting your career as an ophthalmic technician. Most larger ophthalmic clinics are too busy to put any considerable amount of time into training someone who has little or no experience.

But it’s not impossible to find one. Call clinics that have technician openings, and ask if they are willing to train someone without any experience. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

I started out working with my family optometrist while I was in college. He taught me the very basics of ocular anatomy and some pre-exam testing. I learned my way around the office and how to properly notate medical records. I also learned how to work with patients, which is the toughest part of the training.

After I left college, I started working for a retinal specialist, which was a much larger clinic. This is where I learned how to check a patient’s vision, read a glasses prescription and accurately check a pressure. I then went on to a much larger clinic where I was taught how to refract a patient for glasses along with everything else I’ve learned.

While it is possible to find a larger clinic that is willing to hire a technician with little or no training, it is much easier to start in a smaller clinic simply because they are not as busy. They will have the time to teach the necessary skills and still be able to answer your questions.

It is preferable to learn the skills in a larger clinic setting, however, because of the variation in patient demographics. Larger clinics have a larger patient volume per day. This means more opportunity for the technician apprentice to see a variety of ocular diseases and injuries.

Certification and Continuing Education

While certification isn’t necessary, it is a wise choice for the novice technician. The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology, or JCAHPO, offers a home study course that standardizes the skills and techniques technicians must acquire.

Alternatively, a course can be taken at an accredited college. The course is typically two years in length, and the student graduates with an expert level certification.

Certification by JCAHPO guarantees to potential employers that you know at least the basics of being an ophthalmic technician. There are three levels of certification offered by JCAHPO:

  • Certified Ophthalmic Assistant, or COA
  • Certified Ophthalmic Technician, or COT
  • Certified Ophthalmic Medical Technologist, or COMT

Number of Credits for Recertification by Certification Level

Certification LevelNumber of CE Credits Required to Recertify

COA

18

COT

27

COMT

36

Certification must be renewed every three years and requires continuing education credits. Each level of certification requires a different number of continuing education, or CE, credits in order to be renewed.

Recently, JCAHPO has allowed technicians to use self-study methods to obtain a portion of their CE credits; however, the majority of the credits must be earned through accredited courses. These courses and all certification fees are usually paid for by the physician for whom the technician is employed.

The Ophthalmic Technician as a Career

After initial training and certification, the ophthalmic technician is well on the way to a successful career. The best advice I can give to anyone seeking to make this allied health field into a lucrative and rewarding career is to keep learning.

Develop a mentor-student relationship with the doctor for whom you work. The one doctor I learned the most from was the one to which I was the closest. He took me under his wing and taught me everything I know.

That type of one-on-one learning experience is invaluable in becoming a successful and happy ophthalmic technician. Ask questions, keep learning and your career will never get boring.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 Melissa Flagg COA OSC

Comments

saad ahmad khan on January 22, 2018:

nice one

Melissa Flagg COA OSC (author) from Rural Central Florida on August 19, 2012:

Sometimes pointing it out is the kick in the ass that's needed!! :D In all seriousness you do have an objective view, which to me is quite beneficial!

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on August 18, 2012:

You're very kind, DOM but I haven't done much really. I think deep down you knew this was meant to be. All I did was point it out.

Melissa Flagg COA OSC (author) from Rural Central Florida on August 18, 2012:

lol phoenix, you sound like my hubby now! He said the same thing, I was meant to teach others what I know and help them understand and see life from a different perspective.

Indeed, had I not left, I would have missed out on quite a bit! I've actually learned quite a bit about life and have met some wonderful people. People that actually appreciate me and what I know, and that is a great feeling. Very rewarding indeed.

Thanks for being one of those wonderful people Phoenix.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on August 18, 2012:

I'm sorry you had a bad time. But like my husband says, 'Everything happens for a reason.' Had he been a good man, you probably never would have found HP and you have missed out all the lovely people here.

It's just part of the roller-coaster ride we call Life.

Here's another thing, maybe it was your lot in life to inform people.

Melissa Flagg COA OSC (author) from Rural Central Florida on August 17, 2012:

Thank you Paula!! (Love the pun lol) Writing this hub was actually quite fun. Ophthalmic techs aren't a well-known career choice, and I'm glad my enthusiasm for it came through in my writing. Thank you, Thank you for commenting and of course for the votes! :D

Suzie from Carson City on August 17, 2012:

DOM.....This hub is a wonderful commentary for anyone thinking about a new career. You are so well-informed due to your position in this field and have presented this with fact and insight...(no pun intended!)....UP+++

Melissa Flagg COA OSC (author) from Rural Central Florida on August 17, 2012:

Thank you phoenix! I do enjoy writing about ophthalmology now. I guess I just needed to get over my bitterness the last doctor I worked for had caused lol

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on August 17, 2012:

Why not, indeed? They say 'write what you know.' The fact that you enjoyed what you did gives your hub that certain something that makes it an interesting and engaging read.

Melissa Flagg COA OSC (author) from Rural Central Florida on August 16, 2012:

Awe thanks whowas. It's funny that you say that, when I left ophthalmology and started writing, I wanted nothing more than to get away from it all. But now that I've been out of it for about 8 months, I really miss it. I find myself doing more than the required CE credits because I miss the daily routine of it all. :D

I guess it was just a matter of time before I realized I really did love my career, why not write about it! :D

whowas on August 16, 2012:

Fascinating and very informative hub for anyone thinking of taking up a career as an Ophthalmic Technician (although there should be a section dedicated to just how to pronounce that! )

This article is practical and inspiring, with useful, solid info that you can take further. I love the picture of the eye at the top, too.

You clearly enjoyed your career and your enthusiasm and knowledge rings out in every word. You are a natural authority in this field.

Ticked and shared and voted up. :)