Careers in eyecare

I’ve been to the optician’s and it looks like it might be an interesting place to work. What are my options?

There are a number of people who work in an optical practice: the optometrist, the dispensing optician, and usually a number of optical assistants or receptionists. In some practices you will also find a laboratory where optical technicians make spectacles.

When I go to the optician’s I’m never quite sure who does what. Can you explain?

There are a number of people who work in an optical practice: the first person you will meet is likely to be the receptionist who can book your appointment. You may also meet an optical assistant in the front of the practice. They can assist you to choose frames and lenses and some may be trained to carry out initial assessments before your eye test.

The optometrist is the person who examines your eyes. They will then pass you on to the dispensing optician who is trained and qualified to offer the best advice on frames and lenses to suit your lifestyle and prescription.

In some practices you will also find a laboratory where optical technicians make spectacles. When you return to collect your new specs they may be fitted by the dispensing optician or an optical assistant.

dispensing opticians

What does a dispensing optician do?

A dispensing optician (DO) advises on, fits and supplies the most appropriate spectacles after taking account of each patient’s visual, lifestyle and vocational needs. Dispensing opticians also play an important role in advising and dispensing low vision aids to those who are partially sighted as well as advising on and dispensing to children where appropriate. They are also able to fit and provide aftercare for contact lenses after undergoing further specialist training. Career opportunities also exist to develop business skills in marketing and practice management.

Find out more about being a dispensing optician here.

What is a contact lens optician?

A contact lens optician (CLO) is a specialist practitioner who is trained and qualified to fit, and provide aftercare for, patients with contact lenses. Contact lens opticians assess whether contact lenses meet the needs of the person, resolving clinical and tolerance issues, and remain responsible for clinical decisions enabling them to provide continuity of care. The contact lens speciality is open to dispensing opticians only and involves extra study and clinical practice. Once the specialist training is completed and competence assessed, practitioners must register their speciality with the General Optical Council. They are then able to perform additional duties to those of a dispensing optician.

How do I become a contact lens optician?

Once you have qualified as a dispensing optician you can go on to study and specialise in fitting contact lenses. This course is delivered by a method called ‘blended learning’ that consists of practice based learning, block release and distance learning coursework. You receive coursework material to work through and assignment questions to answer for each part of the course. A personal tutor will mark it for you and return it to you with feedback. As the course is at advanced level, you will also need to undertake some additional research and read around the subject in order to gain a thorough understanding of the subject.

While you are studying for your CL Cert you will be training in contact lens practice.  You and your supervisor will be issued with a workbook to guide you both through this part of your training. You will learn practical skills from your supervisor and work with patients in practice (under supervision) to perfect these skills. To become a contact lens optician, you will also need to complete a set number of case records that you build up over a one-year period and makes up a part of your final examinations.

The approved training course for the contact lens speciality is run by ABDO College and Bradford College.

What is a low vision optician?

A low vision optician is a dispensing optician who has additional qualifications to support people who are blind or partially sighted, offering advice, assessment and relevant equipment to allow them to make the most of the sight that they have. Low vision courses are offeed by ABDO College and WOPEC

What does an optical assistant do?

An optical assistant works under supervision in an optical practice to assist people with choosing frames and lenses. Some optical assistants also have training to allow them to carry out initial assessments before an eye examination such as autorefraction.

How do I train to become an optical assistant?

If you are interested in becoming an optical assistant, you need to apply for a position in an optical practice that offers on the job training. As you work you will be given the chance to study for a optical assistant qualification via ABDO College.

What does an optical technician do?

An optical technician is trained and qualified to make or ‘glaze’ spectacles. They work in an optical lab which may be attached to an optician’s practice. They may also progress within industry to become senior management in optical manufacturing organisations.

How do I train to become an optical technician?

If you are interested in becoming an optical technician, you need to apply for a position in an optical lab that offers on the job training. As you work you may be given the chance to study for a qualification or complete an apprenticeship.

How do I train to become an optometrist?

Optometrists study a three or four-year degree course at a university. There are ten universities that currently offer training in Optometry. After completing the degree, trainee optometrists need to go on to complete a pre-registration year where they practice under supervision of a qualified optometrist, write up case records and take further practical exams. All optometrists need to be registered with the General Optical Council.

What is an ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist is a trained doctor who specialises in eyes.

What is an ophthalmic nurse?

An ophthalmic nurse has qualified as a nurse before going on to specialise in eyes. You will find them in a hospital eye clinic, providing care for people with eye diseases.

What is an orthoptist?

An orthoptist specialises in investigating, diagnosing and treating defects of binocular vision and abnormalities of eye movement. You will find most orthoptists working in a hospital setting, helping children who have squint or lazy eye (amblyopia).

What is an eye clinic liaison officer?

An eye clinic liaison officer (ECLO) is based in an eye clinic. They are there to talk to people who may be newly diagnosed with sight loss, and to help them get emotional and practical support from local voluntary organisations, health and social care. They can help you understand more about your eye condition.

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