How to become an ophthalmic medical assistant, technician, or technologist

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If you already work in an ophthalmologist's office, and you are interested in certification, click here.

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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


How does one become an ophthalmic assistant, ophthalmic technician, or ophthalmic technologist?

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.



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.

How can help you

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.  The turnover rate for ophthalmic technicians and technologists is much less.

Ophthalmic Scribe Certification

JCAHPO has recently offered an Ophthalmic Scribe Certification. A scribe is someone who goes into the exam room with the doctor and makes a record of the exam, usually in EMR (electronic medical records). This is another way to get started in an ophthalmology career. Your advantage is that this is the only level of JCAHPO certification that does not have any pre-requisites. In other words, you could take this exam tomorrow and if you pass, you would be a Certified Ophthalmic Scribe (OSC). The certification could get you a job with an ophthalmologist, and you could furthur your career by working into a technician job and technician certification. Even if an employer is not looking for a scribe, this certification would give you a big advantage over someone else who has no experience at all, if the employer is looking for a trainee. Click here for more information on OSC certification.



Watch online job sites and local listings for ophthalmic assistant job listings in your area. Sometimes "will train" jobs are listed. offers an online Ophthalmic Assistant Basic Training Course that may give you an edge in the competition for these trainee jobs. The course includes quizzes and a certficate of completion to present to an employer. 

Employers prefer to hire someone who is already trained and has experience, but if the market is dry, the employer may be willing to train.  If you determine that an ophthalmic assistant job notice has been listed for several weeks, you might call and ask if they will consider a trainee, in particular a trainee who has already started the training process by taking the online course.

As mentioned before, another approach is to get hired as a receptionist in an eye care office.  Many, many OMPs have begun their careers at the front desk.  Once you have proven that you are a good employee, you may be able to advance into an ophthalmic assistant position when one becomes available. can help you with the Front Desk / Receptionist Training Course.  This inexpensive course includes quizzes and a certificate. It can give you an advantage in the hiring process and can give you a head-start on the job.  If you get hired as a receptionist, you can continue your training with Ophthalmic Assistant Basic Training Course. The receptionist course also has a free version on that does not include the verification tools (quizzes and certificate).

Once you are working in an eye care office, will continue to be a valuable training asset.  When it is time for you to certify, we have exam preparation courses.  When you are certified, we have CE courses that are designed to help you move to the next level of certification.