Good! Come on board!
Many Areas Have an Optician Shortage
Now is a prime opportunity to be a student or apprentice. Pay rates are good since supply is down. In the national chain at which I work, apprentice pay is higher than the general wage, and that’s just the beginning. Your pay will go up with credentials and experience. When I was an apprentice 30 years ago I doubled my pay within 3 years! I expect my current apprentice to do the same.
Opticians can also be entrepreneurs. You could own your own shop, be your own boss! Opportunities abound for either buying an existing practice or starting one from scratch. It takes a LOT of hours, a major capital outlay, and there definitely are some risks, but many feel the chance of self determinism outweighs the risks. You can even start part-time and go mobile, visiting factories for the safety trade, or making the rounds of hospitals and nursing homes. There’s a niche for everyone with a will and determination. The sky’s the limit!
Opticianry is a Noble Profession
We have deep historical roots. Lens Makers Guilds 600 years ago jealously guarded their secrets and passed them exclusively within families. It’s a lot easier now to learn the trade! Yet there’s still an element of prestige involved. Opticianry is a small profession, we often all know each other, and we have unique skills and training. There is a deep satisfaction in being an expert in your field. For instance, you can lay your hands on somebody’s frame and know exactly how to fit/fix it, or be able to diagnose and troubleshoot a patient’s problem.
Opticianry can also be fun! Opticians are medical professionals, but we’re fashion consultants too. Eyeglasses are a fashion accessory, and if you love following trends you’ll love working with frames! Every major designer house has its fingers in the optical pie, and all the minors copy the major brands. You’ll get a chance to play with color and detail as you style your patients into the perfect look. There are also conventions in New York, Las Vegas, Europe, and the East. I saw Sophia Loren, once, at Vision Expo. Got an autographed picture too.
What an Optician’s Job is Like
Sound good so far? Want to sign up? Let’s see if it really is for you.
Number one, you need to be a people person. Unless you work exclusively in lens design and fabrication your work will be with people. You’ll have to listen to them, talk to them, even touch them, and you’ll have to convince them to purchase glasses from you. The optical field is RETAIL. You’ll work retail hours and deal with the sorts of individuals everyone else in the retail world deals with, except that they will be patients to you, not customers.
You’ll run into smart patients, and stupid ones; pleasant patients and nasty ones. There will be patients that come in drunk, patients who return everything they order, those who waste hours of your time, and ones you cheer when they finally leave. You have to be nice to all of them and keep that professional, courteous smile no matter how irritatingly the ignorant/ornery patients behave. You have to have nerves of steel. It all pays off when the nice/average patient leaves with a smile and tells all her friends what a great place your practice is.
Number two… How many hats can you wear? A typical day is fast paced and you have to really multitask. You answer the phone, check in freight, answer questions, and write up orders. At the same time you dispense glasses, adjust frames, make repairs (screws and nosepads,) and trouble shoot patients having problems. The phone rings the whole time.
Better keep post-it notes because there’s always a loose end! You have to call a doctor. You have to call the lab. You have to check insurance, and you have to ship something overnight. If you have your own lab you’ll be cutting hour-jobs. If there is a doctor at your office, you’ll be booking exams, checking more insurances, collecting exam fees, and possibly fitting contacts. All the while, the phone keeps ringing!
There are lots of regulations and plenty of paperwork, LOTS of paperwork. You will frequently be at the fax machine. You will always be filing something. And you will be doing this while you are doing everything else. And did I mention that the phone just keeps on ringing?
There are people who thrive on being busy. The more to do the happier they are! If that describes you, you have a home in optical! Running a dispensary fills in all the gaps. There is never nothing to do. A person who can switch gears continually– sales one minute, problem solving the next, and keep it all organized is going to be one successful optician. All they need is to “learn their stuff.” They need to obtain the optical knowledge.
How do I Become an Optician?
Optician training takes two paths. You can go to college (It’s a two year program,) or you can apprentice and learn on the job. Some opticians do both. I completed a 3 year apprenticeship and took a night class to learn all the theory and medical facts that I couldn’t learn at work. You definitely need that knowledge to pass the tests.
Tests? Wait a minute. What tests?
In order to officially qualify as an optician you need to be certified. There are two National Certification exams given by the ABO/NCLE (American Board of Opticianry/National Contact Lens Examiners) which are offered 4 times a year and cost $275.00 each. How many exams you have to take depends upon your state. Some states have few requirements, other states have many. There are 26 states that require opticians to be licensed. Some even have their own State Practical Exams. The good thing for those that live in a licensed state is that tighter restrictions usually equals higher pay! If you have to be dual certified as well as licensed, your value goes up.
How Hard is it to Pass These Optician Exams?
The opticianry National Boards are not easy. The passing grades needed are low (You only need a C-) but the failure rate is high. About 37% of those taking the NOCE (opticianry exam) don’t pass. The failure rate for the CLRE (contact lens exam) is 47%. OUCH!
So that means you have to really study. You can’t just bluff your way through. If you decide to go the college route you’ll probably be taught “to the test,” yet all the teaching in the world won’t help you if you don’t apply it. You need to work hard at your studies.
For those going the apprentice route, you will have to be proactive. There are books, study manuals, and on-line courses that can help you get ready. Be prepared to memorize formulas and know how to use them. The technical aspect of our field involves a l0t of mathematics. Thankfully, for those who are not math enthusiasts, there are only a few formulas you will really have to learn. What you really need is practice.
Practice exams are the best way to prepare for the real thing. The ABO/NCLE offers practice exams at their official site, and many exam prep courses offer practice exams as part of their programs. The best value, however, is our own www.passyouropticalboards.com.
Our affordable site offers UNLIMITED practice exams with a wide range of questions covering every aspect of the field. You will never get the same exam twice, or even the same question twice! With over 5,000 questions in the database, the possibilities are near endless. Our deluxe test package also offers you a chance to learn from your mistakes. You will not only be provided with answers to the questions you missed, but we will also explain the answers, even doing the math out for you! How cool is that?
So if you still want to be an optician (and we really hope you do!) come join us for an exciting career. And when you get ready to take your tests, let us help you PASS YOUR OPTICAL BOARDS!