Learn About Being an Optician

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 10, 2019

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

What does an optician do?

Opticians fit people with prescription eyeglasses and contact lenses. They assist customers with choosing appropriate frames and lenses. Opticians perform the following tasks:

  • Determine the correct fit for glasses and lenses: To ensure that eyewear fits correctly, opticians measure the width of customers’ faces and the distance between their pupils.

  • Advise customers about choosing frames and lenses: Opticians help customers select frames and contact lenses that work with their prescriptions, fit comfortably and meet their lifestyle preferences. Many opticians make sales suggestions as they advise customers about advanced features, such as tints and coatings.

  • Transmit orders to lab technicians: Once opticians have helped customers choose eyewear and determined appropriate fits, they send orders to ophthalmic laboratory technicians to complete. These orders generally include the frame or lens type, the fit measurements and the prescription.

  • Adjust and repair eyewear: After providing customers with their new eyewear, opticians often adjust frames to achieve the optimal fit. They also repair broken frames or advise customers about replacing damaged eyeglasses.

  • Educate customers about their purchases: Opticians also inform customers about their eyewear to help them get maximum wear out of their purchases. They show them how to clean eyeglasses and how to store and sanitize contact lenses.

Average salary

Opticians generally have full-time jobs, but some work part-time schedules. Location and experience typically affect an optician’s salary.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $15.39 per hour

  • Some salaries range from $7.25 to **$31.80 per hour**

Optician requirements

Most employers require opticians to have obtained post-secondary education or an apprenticeship as well as a certification and license.

Education

Many opticians opt to pursue a post-secondary program designed to prepare them to work in the field. These programs include coursework on optics, math, science, business management and similar subjects. They also feature clinical experience to give prospective opticians interactive practice. The Commission on Opticianry Accreditation approves both two-year associate degree programs and one-year certificate programs for aspiring opticians.

Training

After earning a certificate or an associate degree, opticians typically receive on-the-job training. The length of these training programs typically depends on the company’s procedures and the candidate’s experience.

Although completing a post-secondary program is common for opticians, some pursue an apprenticeship instead. When serving as an apprentice, candidates work under the supervision of a practicing optician, giving them the opportunity to learn through hands-on experience. Most apprenticeships serve as extended training programs and last for two to three years. During an apprenticeship, candidates typically learn about the business management aspects of the field as well.

Certifications

To dispense eyeglasses or contact lenses, opticians need professional certification. The most common certifications include:

  • American Board of Opticianry (ABO): The ABO credential certifies opticians to dispense eyeglasses. Candidates have to pass a written exam to demonstrate their mastery of ophthalmic optics, ocular anatomy, ophthalmic products, instrumentation and dispensing procedures. Opticians must renew this certification every three years.

  • National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE): The NCLE certification allows opticians to dispense contact lenses. Candidates must complete a written test to show that they understand ocular anatomy, instrumentation, refractive errors, prefitting, diagnostic fitting and dispensing. This credential requires recertification every three years.

  • Advanced ABO or NCLE: Candidates can also choose to pursue an advanced version of the ABO or NCLE certifications to improve their skills and earning potential. To earn the advanced certification, candidates need to hold the basic credential, complete at least one recertification period and pass a written exam.

In addition to earning a professional certification, many opticians need a license to work in the field. Many states require candidates to complete a six-month internship and pass a written exam. Opticians must renew their licenses regularly to keep them current, which usually involves completing continuing education coursework and related paperwork every one or two years.

Skills

To be a successful optician, consider developing the following skills:

  • Communication: Since opticians work on teams with ophthalmic lab technicians, optometrists and ophthalmologists, they need strong communication skills. They should be comfortable speaking, reading and writing clearly to receive and convey instructions and contribute to the team.

  • Customer service: Because opticians handle retail sales, they must have basic customer service skills. They need to know how to anticipate customer needs and how to resolve concerns to reach satisfactory resolutions.

  • Decision-making: To make or assist with the many choices they encounter on a typical day, opticians need strong decision-making skills. They must be able to decide which eyewear fits customers’ lifestyle preferences and medical needs best and how to adjust frames for the best fit.

  • Dexterity: Opticians need the dexterity to work with small objects and tools. They must have fine motor skills and excellent coordination to adjust frames and lenses so they can help customers achieve a good fit.

  • Listening: To understand customers’ concerns, needs and wants, opticians need excellent listening skills. They have to listen carefully as customers explain the eyewear they prefer or discuss concerns regarding their purchases.

  • Sales: Because opticians are responsible for selling frames and lenses to customers, they need strong sales skills. Opticians should know the basics of persuasion so they can meet their monthly or quarterly sales quotas.

Optician work environment

Opticians may work in a variety of environments. Some work in retail settings, where they assist clients in small offices or kiosks. Others work in medical offices alongside optometrists and ophthalmologists, who provide prescriptions and treat eye conditions.

Depending on their employer, opticians may work a standard Monday-to-Friday schedule, or they may work on weekends or in evenings. Opticians who work in retail establishments may be more likely to work on weekends and in the evenings, while those who work in medical offices typically work standard business hours.

How to become an optician

To pursue an optician career, consider the following steps:

  1. Earn an associate degree: To begin your optician career, consider earning an associate degree approved by the Commission on Opticianry Accreditation. These programs usually take two years to complete.

  2. Complete an apprenticeship: Alternatively, you can consider an apprenticeship. These programs involve working under the supervision of a licensed optician and take two to three years to complete.

  3. Pursue a certification: Earn an ABO or NCLE credential to demonstrate your knowledge of dispensing glasses or contact lenses.

  4. Get a license: Determine whether your state is one of the many that require opticians to hold a current license. Meet the requirements, which usually include passing either the ABO or NCLE exam and completing a state-issued practical exam.

  5. Create a resume: When you have completed all the requirements to become an optician, create a resume that reflects your education, training, certification and licensure.

Optician job description example

Great Eyes Vision Partners is seeking an entry-level optician to join our team. The successful candidate should be prepared to fit patients of all ages with glasses and contact lenses following prescriptions from our optometrist and ophthalmologist partners. Since our clients expect quick service, the ideal candidate will have excellent time management, organization and customer service skills. If you are a licensed optician who is certified in both eyeglass and contact lens dispensing, we would like to speak with you about this position.

Related careers

If you want to learn about a career with similarities to that of an optician, options include:

  • Optometrist

  • Medical technologist

  • Pharmacy technician

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