Optometric technicians (OTs) are skilled eye care professionals that assist an optometrist, otherwise known as an eye doctor.
If you’re interested in a medical career but would prefer not to spend an extensive amount of time and money on medical school, becoming an ophthalmic technician is a rewarding career with training opportunities open to anyone with a high school diploma or GED.
In this blog, we discuss what an optometric technician does, how to become one, and how they differ from an ophthalmic assistant or technologist.
What does an optometric technician do?
An optometric technician’s main responsibility is to assist an eye doctor in providing care to patients.
Every office does things a bit differently, but typically, ophthalmic technicians assist with tasks like:
- Taking patient medical histories
- Performing basic eye exams and tests
- Answering questions about medications, eyeglasses, and contact lenses
- Helping with in-office procedures
- Using diagnostic instruments (lensometers, keratometers, and ophthalmometers)
- Maintaining ophthalmic equipment
- Sending prescriptions to pharmacies
- Coordinating/scheduling future appointments
An OT is there to make sure a patient’s experience at the eye doctor is as comfortable as possible and that all of a patient’s questions are answered. OTs often work with patients of all kinds—from kids getting their first pair of glasses to seniors with a variety of eye health concerns.
What is the difference between a paraoptometric, assistant, technician, and coder?
An ophthalmic technician is only one of three ophthalmic-allied health professional certifications. While technicians, assistants, and technologists all assist an eye doctor, each job has different requirements and different responsibilities around the office.
- Certified Paraoptometric (CPO) can perform visual acuity tests (a vision exam that uses an eye chart), assess pupils, administer medications, document patient history, answer patient questions, and help with general office tasks. No prior work experience is required to become a CPO, but you must pass a certification exam, which typically requires 6 to 12 months of study independently or through a training program.
- Certified Paraoptometric Assistants (CPOA) can do all of the above, but are also trained to handle specialized instruments such as a lensometer, a keratometer, and an ophthalmometer. You must be employed as a CPO for at least 2,000 hours (one year of full-time work) to become certified as a technician.
- Certified Paraoptometric Technicians (CPOT) have the most training and technical knowledge of the three roles. They are able to perform all of the duties of an assistant and a technician, but can also perform ophthalmic photographs, ultrasounds, and supervise other roles. Becoming a technologist requires a minimum of 3,000 hours employed as a CPOA (18 months of full-time work).
Each role also has specific educational requirements—you can learn more about the required courses and how the certification process works on the AOA Website
Ophthalmic Technicians vs. Optometric Technicians
Ophthalmic technicians assist an ophthalmologist—an eye doctor licensed to practice medicine and surgery—and is equipped to diagnose and treat any eye condition.
Optometric technicians assist an optometrist, an eye doctor who provides primary vision care, such as prescribing corrective lenses and administering eye exams.
Ophthalmic technicians share many of the same responsibilities as optometric technicians, such as answering patient questions and performing certain eye tests, but optometric technicians have different certification requirements. You can learn more about what it takes to become an ophthalmic technician on the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology Website.
Who else works in an optometrist’s office?
In addition to optometric technicians, there are other staff members you’ll meet when you visit an optometrist’s office. Each staff member has their own special role, but all of them are there to support patients.
Here are other staff members a patient may meet in the office:
- Optometrist and/or ophthalmologist. Both optometrists and ophthalmologists are eye doctors, though ophthalmologists are able to perform surgery and other specialized procedures. Eye doctors may specialize in treating certain eye conditions (like glaucoma) or certain patients (like pediatric eye doctors, who focus on kids).
- Opticians. Opticians can measure patients’ vision and fit them for eyeglasses or contact lenses. They often work alongside eye doctors.
- Billing and coding specialists. These specialists handle insurance paperwork to ensure each visit gets billed properly to an insurance plan. Many billing and coding specialists work behind the scenes, but they may collect co-pays or call patients if there is an issue with insurance.
- Surgical coordinators. If a patient visits an ophthalmologist for a procedure, a surgical coordinator will be the one to schedule the date of the surgery, as well as the pre- and post-op visits. Coordinators may also call patients the day before their surgery, keep track of medical information, and perform other administrative tasks.
- Front desk staff and reception. Front desk staff greet patients when they walk in, check patients into their appointments, and schedule their next visit.
How to Become an Optometric Technician
OTs must hold a high school diploma or GED—a bachelor’s degree is not typically required. There are two main ways to enter the field and become an OT, each with its own pros and cons.
- Training programs & accredited schools. Training programs for Optometric technicians typically take 1 to 2 years to complete and allow you to skip the lower levels of certification and jump right into becoming an OT. However, because they require hands-on training, these programs must be completed in person. This may not be ideal if you don’t live close to a school that offers ophthalmic training.
- On-the-job training. Many optometric technicians begin their careers as receptionists or office administrators in an optometry office, and receive on-the-job training to become an ophthalmic assistant. To become an optometric technician, you’ll need to work as an OA for at least one year. On-the-job training is great because you’re able to earn income while you learn and work your way through the levels of certification, but you’ll need to be self-motivated to stay on top of your education without the structure of a formal training program.
Your education doesn’t stop once you start a career in eye care—True Eye Experts, we encourage our team members to continue their learning by attending seminars and conferences and staying up to date with the latest advances in eye care technology.
Explore Careers in Eye Care
If you’re interested in working in the eye care field, there are plenty of rewarding career paths to choose from.
Here, at True Eye Experts, our team of optometrists and eye care staff work together to examine patients, diagnose conditions, and make treatment recommendations that best suit a patient’s needs. They also help with things like fitting patients for specialty contact lenses, helping patients choose the right eyeglasses, and make referrals to eye surgery experts.
We’re always looking for passionate people to join our optometry team at our offices in Crystal River, Lutz, North Fort Myers, New Tampa, and Trinity, Florida. If you’d like to learn more about our employment opportunities, click here to visit our Careers page.
If you’re a patient who’s ready to book a visit, click here to request an appointment. We’re always excited to see new patients!