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20-Apr. 2011

See Your Way to Becoming an Optician

If you are searching for a stable and well paying career in the health care field, your search may be over after you see what the Bureau of Labor Statistics has to say about becoming an Optician.

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Nature of the work

Helping people see better and look good at the same time is the job of a dispensing optician. Dispensing opticians help select and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses for people with eye problems, following prescriptions written by ophthalmologists or optometrists. (The work of optometrists is described elsewhere in the Handbook. See the section on physicians and surgeons for information about ophthalmologists.) Dispensing opticians recommend eyeglass frames, lenses, and lens coatings after considering the prescription and the customer’s occupation, habits, and facial features. When fitting new eyeglasses, opticians use sophisticated diagnostic instruments to measure various characteristics of a client’s eyes, including the thickness, width, curvature, and surface topography of the cornea. They also obtain a customer’s prescription history to re-make eyeglasses or contact lenses, or they may verify a prescription with the examining optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Dispensing opticians prepare work orders that give ophthalmic laboratory technicians the information they need to grind and insert lenses into a frame. (See the section on ophthalmic laboratory technicians elsewhere in the Handbook.) The work order includes prescriptions for lenses and information on their size, material, color, and style. Some dispensing opticians grind and insert lenses themselves. They may also apply tint to lenses. After the glasses are made, dispensing opticians verify that the lenses meet the specifications, and then they may reshape or bend the frames with pliers for a custom fit.

Many opticians also spend time fixing and refitting broken frames, as well as instructing clients about wearing or caring for eyeglasses. Additionally, administrative duties have become a major part of their work, including keeping records on customers’ prescriptions, work orders, and payments, and tracking inventory and sales.

Some dispensing opticians, after additional education and training, specialize in fitting contacts, artificial eyes, or cosmetic shells to cover blemished eyes. To fit contact lenses, dispensing opticians measure the shape and size of the eye, select the type of contact lens material, and prepare work orders specifying the prescription and lens size. Dispensing opticians observe customers’ eyes, corneas, lids, and contact lenses with sophisticated instruments and microscopes. During several followup visits, opticians teach proper insertion, removal, and care of contact lenses.

Work environment. Dispensing opticians work indoors mainly in medical offices, optical stores, or in large department or club stores. Opticians spend a fair amount of time on their feet. If they prepare lenses, they need to take precautions against the hazards of glass cutting, chemicals, and machinery. Although most dispensing opticians work during regular business hours, those in retail stores may work evenings and weekends. Some work part time.

Job Outlook

Employment of dispensing opticians is expected to grow about as fast as averagefor all occupations through 2018, as the population ages and demand for corrective lenses increases. Very good job prospects are expected.

Employment change. Employment in this occupation is expected to rise 13 percent over the 2008–18 decade. Middle age is a time when many individuals use corrective lenses for the first time, and elderly persons generally require more vision care than others. As the share of the population in these older age groups increases and as people live longer, more opticians will be needed to provide service to them. In addition, awareness of the importance of regular eye exams is increasing across all age groups, especially children and those over the age of 65. Recent trends indicate a movement toward a “low vision” society, where a growing number of people view things that are closer in distance, such as computer monitors, over the course of an average day. This trend is expected to increase the need for eye care services. Fashion also influences demand. Frames come in a growing variety of styles, colors, and sizes, encouraging people to buy more than one pair.

Somewhat moderating the need for optician services is the increasing use of laser surgery to correct vision problems. Although the surgery remains relatively more expensive than eyewear, patients who successfully undergo this surgery may not require glasses or contact lenses for several years. Also, new technology is allowing workers to make the measurements needed to fit glasses and therefore allowing dispensing opticians to work faster, limiting the need for more workers.

Job prospects. Overall, the need to replace dispensing opticians who retire or leave the occupation will result in very good job prospects. Employment opportunities for opticians in offices of optometrists—the largest employer—will be particularly good as an increasing number of ophthalmologists are expected to utilize better trained opticians to handle more tasks, allowing ophthalmologists to see more patients.

Job opportunities also will be good at general merchandise stores because this segment is expected to experience much faster than average growth, as well as high turnover due to less favorable working conditions, such as long hours and mandatory weekend shifts.

Nonetheless, the number of job openings overall will be somewhat limited because the occupation is small. Also, dispensing opticians are vulnerable to changes in the business cycle because eyewear purchases often can be deferred for a time. Job prospects will be best for those who have certification and those who have completed a formal opticianry program. Job candidates with extensive knowledge of new technology, including new refraction systems, framing materials, and edging techniques, should also experience favorable conditions.

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