How to Become a Dispensing Optician

Training and Education Jobs and Salaries

Most workers entering this occupation receive their training on the job, mainly through apprenticeship programs that may last two years or longer. Some employers, though, prefer to hire people who have graduated from an opticianry program. A high school diploma is all that is required to get into this occupation, but most workers have completed at least some college courses or a degree.

Classes in physics, basic anatomy, algebra, and trigonometry as well as experience with computers are particularly valuable. These prepare dispensing opticians to learn job skills, including optical mathematics, optical physics, and the use of precision measuring instruments and other machinery and tools. Most applicants for optician positions do not have any background in the field and learn mainly on the job.

Large employers usually offer structured apprenticeship programs; small employers provide more informal, on-the-job training. Apprentices receive technical training and also 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.

Formal training in the field is offered in community colleges and in a few four-year colleges and universities and the Commission on Opticianry Accreditation has accredited 21 associate degree programs. Graduation from an accredited program in opticianry provides a nationally recognized credential. There also are shorter programs of one year or less.

Twenty-one States require dispensing opticians to be licensed. States may require individuals to pass one or more of the following for licensure: a State practical examination, a State written examination, and certification examinations offered by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and the National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE). To qualify for the examinations, States often require applicants to complete postsecondary training or work as apprentices for two to four years.

Some States that license dispensing opticians allow graduates of opticianry programs to take the licensure exam immediately upon graduation; others require a few months to a year of experience. Continuing education is commonly required for licensure renewal. Information about specific licensing requirements is available from the State board of occupational licensing.

Any optician can apply to the ABO and the NCLE for certification of their skills, whether or not their State requires it. Certification signifies to customers and employers that an optician has a certain level of expertise. All applicants age 18 or older who have a high school diploma or equivalent are eligible for the exam, but some State licensing boards have additional eligibility requirements.

Certification must be renewed every three years through continuing education. The State of Texas offers voluntary registration for the occupation. Dispensing opticians deal directly with the public, so they should be tactful, pleasant, and communicate well. Manual dexterity and the ability to do precision work are essential. 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.