Should opticians be licensed?

This question came up recently on an optical forum. Is professional licensing good for the optical industry? Should opticians be licensed? As an optician in a licensed state my answer, of course, is yes.  A resounding yes! 

Now, it isn’t that opticians in unlicensed states are less professional, or do less than optimal work.  After all, you don’t need a license to be well educated or do a good job!  Nor does a license pinned to your name guarantee excellence.  We all know there are plenty of opticians, licensed or otherwise, who don’t know diopters from derrieres!  But in spite of the inconveniences and costs of getting and maintaining our licenses, very few licensed opticians would give them up.  We all know exactly what would happen to our livelihoods if we did…

Unfortunately for our profession, there are voices out there, some with power enough to have impact, which advocate doing away with licensing. They even claim it is in our best interest! But the fact is that the people behind these voices… highly paid University Professors, and even higher paid politicians… do not understand our industry at all.

We who actually WORK in it know better.

Licensing benefits opticians

The first benefit opticians get from licensing is higher pay. Of course! Having a professional license increases our value. We can command better wages, and our employers are far less likely to be able to replace us with lower priced non-licensed workers.

Our opponents, of course, claim it is the other way around. They claim that licensing requirements exclude non-licensed workers and keep them in low paying positions. But they are looking at the problem completely the wrong way. They are seeing it 90° off axis! If non-licensed workers (trainees) are making lower pay than licensed opticians, then the solution is obvious.  All they have to do is GET LICENSED and they will make the higher pay!  Take away the licenses and we will ALL make the low pay.  The whole industry goes down.

If you want to raise up workers, give them MORE opportunities for advancement, not less.  Don’t keep them all down.

The less tangible, but no less important, benefit to licensing is the recognition and appreciation that comes with it.  A licensed optician is a professional. Not everyone can do it.  We have a proven, documented skill set that we can take pride in. We can command more respect.

The voices that want to eliminate licensing see us as optical salespeople. They have no idea of the knowledge we have to have or the job we actually do.  Yes, opticianry is fashion oriented, but it is also medical.  We measure, make, and dispense custom prosthetic devices that restore or enhance visual acuity.  If physical therapists, nurses, and dental hygienists hold licenses (not to mention pharmacists and others) opticians should be licensed too.

It is also worth noting here that the some of those voices which advocate against optician licensing are against ALL other licensing as well, including that of… DOCTORS!  Now what do you think of that?  I thought so….

Optician licensing benefits our industry

In the states that do have licensing there tends to be more professional involvement.  More opticians join state associations and those associations sponsor and promote education.  Opticians with these resources are better able to keep up with industry trends.

If states mandate professional licenses in opticianry, there will probably be more chances for continuing education.  More colleges will offer opticianry programs.  There may be internship or apprenticeship programs.  That means that, although there will still be non-licensed optical workers, those workers will be on a pathway to licensure.  These students will be mentored.

All of this adds up to a greater level of professional excellence.  In licensed states optical workers will tend to be more knowledgeable, better educated, and those who are learning will be paired with mentors who are.  Customer service will likely be better.

We may also lose less customers to the on-line vendors.  Customers who merely see us as eyewear sales clerks will have no qualms about bi-passing our services.  But those who see us as trusted eyecare professionals may choose to come to us instead. Our knowledge and credentials will have value.  They won’t see the on-line store as “just the same” as we are.

Optician licensing benefits everybody

In summary, the licensing of opticians provides the consuming public with better trained, more knowledgeable opticians. and these professionals can provide better service to the customers.

There is even a benefit to the states as a whole.  States that collect licensing and apprenticing fees collect more overall revenue than states which do not have licensing.  They also get extra revenue from late fees and penalties!  All that money goes to the general state coffers to be spent on the needs of the public.  States that get rid of licensing will have less revenue.  States that add licensing get more.

It’s a win/win situation!

Make the push for licensing

If your state does not yet have a licensing requirement, YOU can help make the case for it.

Work with your state’s Opticians Association to lobby for licensing.

If your state does not have a professional association for opticians, YOU can help organize one!  Network with other opticians in your state to start a professional association and work together to get it recognized by your state.  Then continue to lobby your state for regulations that will benefit our profession.  It is YOUR livelihood.  Your life’s work.  Make it the best you can!

Relevent resources:

For a great place to help you pass your certification exams: https://www.passyouropticalboards.com,

For articles consulted for this article:

http://mercatus.org/publication/bringing-effects-occupational-licensing-focus-optician-licensing-united-states

http://mercatus.org/publication/occupational-licensing-bad-competition-bad-low-income-workers

http://mercatus.org/expert_commentary/occupational-licensing-reality-differs-rhetoric

http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2015/09/27/schumer-eyeglasses-changes/