Ophthalmic Assistant vs. Ophthalmic Technician: Main Diferences

By Indeed Editorial Team

June 10, 2021

Many doctors require employees in support roles to ensure that they can focus on their patients and run their offices efficiently. Ophthalmic assistants and ophthalmic technicians both support ophthalmologists, though they have different certification requirements and job duties. Understanding the differences between these two jobs can help you decide which one's the best fit for you. In this article, we define what ophthalmic assistants and technicians are and discuss their key differences and similarities so you can make an educated decision about which role is right for you.

Related: Types of Medical Assistant Jobs, Opportunities and Salary

What is an ophthalmic assistant?

An ophthalmic assistant is an entry-level ophthalmology professional. They work for an ophthalmologist, a medical doctor who specializes in treating and performing surgery on patients with eye-related issues, such as poor vision, eye diseases and other physical irregularities involving the eye. They can also prescribe eyeglasses to help their patients see more clearly.

Ophthalmic assistants help the ophthalmologist perform their day-to-day duties. They often work directly with patients by preparing them for doctor's visits, performing eye exams and assisting patients with their eye medications.

Related: How To Become an Ophthalmologist: Education and Career Requirements

What is an ophthalmic technician?

An ophthalmic technician is a mid-level ophthalmology professional. Their primary responsibilities are helping an ophthalmologist perform their daily duties. They can perform all the same duties as an assistant, but they have additional training and certification that certification allows them to perform advanced testing and operate more medical tools and machinery than ophthalmic assistants. Becoming an ophthalmic technician is often the next step after becoming an ophthalmic assistant.

Related: Ophthalmic Technician: What It Is and How To Become One

Ophthalmic assistant vs. technician

Ophthalmic assistants and technicians receive the same basic training and education, so there are many similarities between the two jobs. However, there are also several key differences between the two. When deciding which job might work best for you, consider the following comparisons:

Job duties

Both ophthalmic assistants and technicians help an ophthalmologist perform daily duties so the doctor can focus on diagnosing and treating their patients. Some duties that both assistants and technicians can perform include:

  • Recording patient information

  • Taking basic ocular measurements

  • Administering medication

  • Performing basic eye exams

  • Educating patients about medication, glasses, contact lenses, tests and procedures

  • Preparing and cleaning patient observation rooms

  • Assisting the ophthalmologist during procedures and minor surgeries

  • Applying bandages to eyes following injuries or operations

Ophthalmic technicians have more advanced certification, which allows them to perform additional clinical tasks, such as:

  • Performing more advanced eye exams and measurements, such as an A-scan or contact lens evaluation

  • Triaging patients

  • Taking and recording patients' vitals

  • Administering eye drops to dilate patients' pupils for examination

  • Preparing operating rooms for surgery, including sterilizing tools and checking equipment

  • Maintaining and troubleshooting equipment

  • Processing prescription refills

  • Performing office duties, such as ordering inventory, scheduling visits and sharing patient records with other offices

  • Answering patients' questions

Education

The minimum education requirement for both ophthalmic assistants and technicians is a high school diploma or a GED equivalent. While becoming an assistant or technician requires no further education, attending a two-year ophthalmic technician program at an accredited institution can help technicians during their certification process.

Common coursework in ophthalmic technician programs can include:

  • Medical terminology

  • Anatomy and physiology

  • Ocular anatomy and physiology

  • Microbiology

  • Ocular motility

  • Ophthalmic pharmacology

  • Eye diseases and irregularities

Certifications

Becoming either an ophthalmic assistant or technician requires certification, which has to be renewed every three years. A popular certification for assistants is the Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA) certification. For technicians, the most popular certification is the Certified Ophthalmic Technician (COT). Both certifications follow the same basic path with two primary requirements. The first requirement is completing an accredited training and education program, which typically lasts up to one year for a COA and up to two years for a COT. The second requirement for both certifications is passing a certification exam.

Passing a structured, accredited training program can allow you to take either the COA or the COT exam. You can also earn on-the-job training through internships. Taking the COA requires 1,000 hours of on-the-job training. For a COT, the path to certification requires you to work as a COA for one year or 2,000 hours. Those who train on the job to become a COT must also earn 12 credits from the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO).

Related: Definitive Guide to Internships

Areas of focus

Ophthalmic assistants primarily focus on preparation. They prepare rooms and help make patients comfortable for doctor visits. They also make sure the doctor has access to any helpful information they might need once they arrive.

Ophthalmic technicians have a more clinical focus. They make sure the doctors can focus on the patients themselves and larger procedures, such as full eyesight exams and surgeries. Technicians accomplish this by performing clinical duties such as advanced eye tests, which can provide doctors with information for making diagnoses. They can also support the doctor by performing the minor procedures a patient needs to complete their visit, allowing the doctor to spend more time with their patients.

Skills

There are many skills that can be useful for both ophthalmic assistants and technicians, which include:

  • Friendly attitude

  • Good bedside manner

  • Attention to detail

  • Effective communication

  • Basic understanding of ocular medicine

  • Strict adherence to medical laws and regulation

Some skills that can help ophthalmic technicians complete their more advanced duties include:

  • Thorough understanding of ocular medicine

  • Steady hands for applying eye drops and other procedures

  • Knowledge of ocular medical equipment

  • Understanding of operating room procedures and regulations

Upward mobility

Ophthalmic assistants and technicians both offer the opportunity for training, learning new skills and certifying for a higher position. Since both are part of the same career path, you can begin at the entry level as an assistant to gain experience and later become certified as a technician.

Technicians have upward mobility as well. Through further training, an ophthalmic technician can move forward with their career by becoming an ophthalmic technologist.

Work environments

Both ophthalmic assistants and technicians typically work in ophthalmology offices on weekdays during the day and have weekends off. There may be exceptions, so consider researching the work environment and conditions of the office where you'd prefer to work.

Salaries

Ophthalmic assistants can earn an average of $32,307 per year. Ophthalmic technicians have more advanced training and certification, so they often earn a little more than assistants. Technicians can earn an average of $41,048 per year.

Please note that none of the organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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