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An optician is someone who gives people the gift of better vision. They are eye experts who specialize in correcting people's vision. Opticians are qualified to design and fit lenses of all types and then give them out to patients. These lenses could be spectacle lenses (glasses), contact lenses, products called low-vision aids (magnified lenses or larger font), or even opthalmic prosthetics (artificial eyes, also known as an ocular prosthesis) for people with partial sight.
There are various types of eye practitioners; other types include optometrists or ophthalmologists. While optometry and ophthalmology are both disciplines that deal with the health and disease of the eye among other various things, opticians generally only deal with fitting and dispensing lenses. However, in countries besides the United States and Canada, licensed opticians may also examine the eyes for disease or other problems and issue their own prescriptions.
Opticians are the lens experts. People come to them after having received a prescription for corrective lenses from an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Opticians then take that prescription, consult with the patient, and come up with the best lenses option for him or her.
One of the most interesting things an optician does is actually create lenses; they may shape lenses to fit into a certain glasses frame, make their own contact lenses, or carefully prepare a prosthetic eye for a patient in need. They also create special kinds of lenses such as bifocals or trifocals to help people with complex vision problems.
Patients go to optometrists with their vision prescriptions to obtain their lenses. It is an optician’s responsibility to make sure the patient is comfortable with the lenses, and that the prescription is filled correctly. Opticians spend a lot of their time working with patients to make sure they leave comfortable and prepared to properly use whatever lenses they get. While opticians are primarily concerned with patients' vision, they must also take people’s preferences into consideration when it comes to style. Great opticians will fit patients with lenses that are both comfortable and stylistically appealing to them.
Opticians typically work in office/retail settings, sometimes among other opticians or eye doctors. They work with equipment that cuts glass and may involve chemicals, so some safety precautions are needed. Also, as opticians dispense lenses of all kinds, there may be all kinds of glasses frames or contact frames on display around the office or store. All in all, opticians work in relatively quiet and calm spaces.
In terms of licensing and education, there are different requirements for different countries, and even state to state in the United States. In some places, it is required that aspiring opticians take courses at a specialty school and earn a certificate upon completion of the program. However, in some states, opticians can enter the profession without any kind of certificate and train on the job.
The minimum educational requirement for opticians is a high school diploma with completed courses in math, science, and anatomy. However, there are better and more numerous job opportunities for aspiring opticians who go on to further education beyond high school. In the U.S., it is typical for aspiring opticians to enroll in a two-year associate's degree program. There are also universities that offer four-year bachelor's degree programs. Those who want to successfully practice should make sure they enroll in a program that is accredited by the Commission on Opticianry Accreditation (COA). Links to some accredited associate's degree programs in various states across the U.S. can be found at the bottom of this page.
Another option aspiring opticians can consider besides earning a degree is to become an apprentice with an already practicing optician. Apprentices get the opportunity to learn hands-on by working side-by-side with professional opticians; they learn how to deal with patients, and how to use all equipment involved with the job. The length of an apprenticeship depends on the employer with whom the apprentice is working.
In some states or countries, a license is required for all practicing opticians. Both the National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE) and the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) offer exams for those who wish to be certified on the national level. Further, some states require aspiring opticians to pass their own written and practical exams as offered by a state's professional licensing board. In these states, opticians are expected to receive continued education to maintain certification.