OA Corner: Part 1

Sue Deal FBDO R

The role of an optical assistant (OA) is an exciting and varied one. It can be extremely rewarding, sometimes challenging – but always incredibly interesting with no two days ever the same.

If you are an OA, or are thinking of becoming one, then don’t miss this new series of articles packed with useful tips and resources for existing OAs, those new to the role as well as those thinking about becoming an OA.

What makes a good OA?

OAs give a warm welcome and help patients choose the right eyecare and eyewear products

Some qualities you will bring to the role of OA include a flair and an eye for fashion, good communication skills and a friendly approachable attitude. You may help with frame selection, which is a very important part of the eyecare process, as everyone wants to look good and have a comfortably fitting frame.

Learning about which frame shape suits which face shape and which colours suit someone’s skin tone and hair colour, together with how the lenses will look in the chosen frame, will all contribute towards a pair of spectacles that your patient will love.

There are also clinical aspects to the role, as you may be asked to become involved in the pre-screening of patients prior to their eye examination, so an interest in science and technology is useful too.

You will need good customer service skills and will have to be tactful and diplomatic at times. You can also learn practical skills, such as how to repair spectacles, and you will learn about the different types of contact lenses and their advantages and disadvantages.

How do I become an OA?

If you are working in an optical practice as a receptionist, becoming an OA could be a great career move for you. You will benefit from a more structured role – and be able to broaden your optical knowledge and develop a career pathway.

There are two training courses available from ABDO College: the Optical Assistant Course and the Senior Optical Assistant Course.

The Optical Assistant Course is a 26-week distance learning course with no exams. That’s right – no exams. To pass the course, you need to submit an assignment each week to a personally assigned tutor and achieve a minimum of 70 per cent in each assignment.

The Senior Optical Assistant Course is aimed at those who have been in practice for longer, and is set at a higher level. It is a 32-week course and exams are a part of this course.

There are no formal entry requirements for either course, but you should currently be working in practice and have someone in your practice who can act as your mentor. There are also webinars available and a practical one-day workshop held at the ABDO National Resource Centre in Birmingham.

I will cover the courses in greater detail in future articles, but if you would like to find out more you can contact the ABDO College courses team on 01227 738 829 (option one).

Becoming a dispensing optician

Once you have successfully completed the OA course, there is also the opportunity to progress your career further if you wish. Successful completion of these courses will allow you direct entry to Year 1 of the FBDO Dispensing Diploma, so you can train to become a dispensing optician. This will allow you to grow your role and brings many more career opportunities.

I hope this has given you some insight into the role of an optical assistant and the exciting opportunities available.

In next month’s article, I will explore communication skills, including verbal and non-verbal communication indicators. Knowing how best to communicate will help you, whether you are a receptionist or optical assistant.

Discover more about the OA role via ABDO’s Youth Employment UK Careers in Eyecare Hub.

Sue Deal FBDO R is a practising dispensing optician, ABDO College examiner, senior tutor and supervisor for dispensing opticians. She is also a practice visitor and external moderator for ABDO.