How to become an ophthalmic medical assistant, technician, or technologist
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It is possible to get an entry level ophthalmic assistant job with no school and no prior experience
Some basic information first:
Ophthalmic assistants, technicians and technologists assist ophthalmologists in providing eyecare. This can be a rewarding career with many possibilities for advancement. In the USA, a person does not have to be certified to work in the field. Certification is desirable in that it improves your knowledge and pay. It also increases the chances for advancement.
Ophthalmology offices and clinics would prefer to hire experienced, certified personnel, but this is often not possible. There has been a shortage of experienced assistants and technicians for many years. There are ophthalmic assistant and technician schools, but there are few of them. School enrollment is low because of the expense and time committment. (There is more information about schools toward the end of this page.) Eyecare employers are often forced to hire inexperienced people and train them (on-the-job training).
How eyetec.net can help you
At present, there is no accredited online school that results in certification. There are two components to training: didactic (book) training and hands-on training. The problem with online training is that there is no concurrent hands-on training available like there is in a conventional school setting. However, certification is not required to work in the field. Eyetec.net can help you find an entry level job because we can provide a jumpstart on the didacting training. We believe an employer will consider your "pre-training" as a big advantage when compared to someone who has no training at all. Eyetec.net has several basic training courses that are inexpensive and have a relatively short time committment.
What is an ophthalmic assistant?
An ophthalmic assistant is a health care worker who assists an ophthalmologist. An ophthalmologist is an MD who specializes in eye care. Click this link for more information on the various careers involved with eye care. There are three levels of certification for this type of ophthalmic medical personnel (OMP). An ophthalmic technician is a higher level of certification than an ophthalmic assistant, and an ophthalmic technologist is a higher level of certification than an ophthalmic technician.
How much do ophthalmic medical personnel earn?
Ophthalmic medical personnel generally earn between $20K and $70K per year. An entry level ophthalmic assistant job will be on the low end. A certified ophthalmic technologist can earn $70K+ per year. Most OMPs make somewhere in-between. Earning power depends on many factors. Here are some general factors:
- Certified personnel make more than uncertified personnel.
- The higher the level of certification, the higher the pay.
- The more responsibility you take, the more you get paid.
- Supervisors make more than those who are supervised.
- Technically, the higher your skill level and the more skills you have, the more money you make.
- Those who work in large cities make more than those who work in small towns.
- Those who live on the coasts make more than those who work in the middle of the country.
- Most important: those who solve problems make more than those who make problems.
What do ophthalmic medical personnel do?
They do tasks that the eye doctor can delegate to others. Mostly, they are information gatherers. They do measurements and tests that provide the doctor with the information needed to arrive at a diagnosis and to prescribe treatment. Some OMPs assist with surgical procedures. Here is a list of common tasks performed by ophthalmic medical personnel:
- History taking
- Visual acuity measurement
- Refractometry (measurements for the glasses prescription)
- Tonometry (measure eye pressure)
- Measure pupil size and reactivity
- Test and measure eye muscle function
- Visual field testing
- Corneal thickness measurement
- Corneal curvature measurement
- Corneal topography
- Retinal nerve fiber layer measurement
- Retinal thickness and topography
- Fluorescein angiography
- A and B-scan ultrasonography
- Surgical assisting
More information about schools for ophthalmic assistant, ophthalmic technician, or ophthalmic technologist vs. on-the-job training
There are two ways to enter the field. You can go to a school or a training program for ophthalmic medical personnel, or you can advance in the field via on-the-job-training (OJT). There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods.
The are two advantages to attending a school or training program for ophthalmic medical personnel. One advantage is that you can become a technician or a technologist without working your way through the lower level(s) of certification. The other advantage is that it is a structured program with a defined timeline. The main disadvantage is that it costs money and time. Another disadvantage is that certification is not guaranteed. The program graduate must still take the certification exam in order to become certified.
Is a school right for you?
This first step is to determine if attending a school is right for you. Schools for Ophthalmic Medical Personnel. At present, there is no online school that results in certification. The problem with online training is that there is no concurrent hands-on training available like there is in a conventional school setting.
For many people, attending a school or a training program may not be an option. There may not be a school close by and/or the expense of time and money may be too great. Fortunately, there is an on-the-job training option. As previously mentioned, the problem is finding an employer who will hire you as a trainee. One factor in your favor is that the turnover rate for ophthalmic assistant jobs is fairly high.
Eyetec.net has a training method that may help you get a job without any experience. This is discussed at the top of this page.
The primary advantage of the OJT method is that you are being paid while you learn and advance. A disadvantage is that there is usually a loose structure to the training program and you must be a "self-starter" in terms of learning. Another disadvantage is that it is generally more difficult to get an entry level ophthalmic assistant job this way. It is often a "catch-22" situation. You can't get an ophthalmic assistant job unless you are experienced, and you can't get experience unless you have a job. The OJT OMP must work his/her way through the levels of certification. You can't become a COT® (technician) unless you have worked as a COA® for one year. You can't become a COMT® (technologist) until you have worked as a COT® for three years.
Many OMPs get their start in the field by taking a job in an ophthalmology office as a receptionist or in some other "office" job. The receptionist proves to be a good employee, and then the receptionist is trained to be an ophthalmic assistant when a job opens up. The new assistant can advance in the field by becoming a certified assistant and then training/studying to become a certified technician and then a certified technologist, all while working in the field and being paid.