Most dispensing opticians receive training on the job or through
apprenticeships lasting 2 or more years; however, some employers
seek graduates of postsecondary training programs in opticianry.
About 20 States require a license.
Projected average employment growth reflects the steady demand
for corrective lenses and eyeglass frames that are in fashion.
Nature of the Work
Dispensing opticians fit eyeglasses and contact lenses, following
prescriptions written by ophthalmologists or optometrists. (The
work of optometrists is described in a statement
elsewhere in the Handbook. See the statement on physicians
and surgeons for information about ophthalmologists.)
Dispensing opticians examine written prescriptions to determine
the specifications of lenses. They recommend eyeglass frames,
lenses, and lens coatings after considering the prescription and
the customer’s occupation, habits, and facial features. Dispensing
opticians measure clients’ eyes, including the distance between
the centers of the pupils and the distance between the ocular
surface and the lens. For customers without prescriptions, dispensing
opticians may use a focimeter to record eyeglass measurements
in order to duplicate the eyeglasses. They also may obtain a customer’s
previous record to re-make eyeglasses or contact lenses, or they
may verify a prescription with the examining optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Dispensing opticians prepare work orders that give ophthalmic
laboratory technicians information needed to grind and insert
lenses into a frame. The work order includes prescriptions for
lenses and information on their size, material, color, and style.
Some dispensing opticians grind and insert lenses themselves.
After the glasses are made, dispensing opticians verify that the
lenses have been ground to specifications. Then they may reshape
or bend the frame, by hand or using pliers, so that the eyeglasses
fit the customer properly and comfortably. Some also fix, adjust,
and refit broken frames. They instruct clients about adapting
to, wearing, or caring for eyeglasses.
Some dispensing opticians, after additional education and training,
specialize in fitting contacts, artificial eyes, or cosmetic shells
to cover blemished eyes.
To fit contact lenses, dispensing opticians measure the shape
and size of the eye, select the type of contact lens material,
and prepare work orders specifying the prescription and lens size.
Fitting contact lenses requires considerable skill, care, and
patience. Dispensing opticians observe customers’ eyes, corneas,
lids, and contact lenses with specialized instruments and microscopes.
During several follow-up visits, opticians teach proper insertion,
removal, and care of contact lenses. Opticians do all this to
ensure that the fit is correct.
Dispensing opticians keep records on customers’ prescriptions,
work orders, and payments; track inventory and sales; and perform
other administrative duties.
Dispensing opticians work indoors in attractive, well-lighted,
and well-ventilated surroundings. They may work in medical offices
or small stores where customers are served one at a time. Some
work in large stores where several dispensing opticians serve
a number of customers at once. Opticians spend a fair amount of
time on their feet. If they prepare lenses, they need to take
precautions against the hazards associated with glass cutting,
chemicals, and machinery.
Most dispensing opticians work about 40 hours a week, although
a few work longer hours. Those in retail stores may work evenings
and weekends. Some work part time.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Employers usually hire individuals with no background as an optician
or as an ophthalmic laboratory technician. (See the statement
on ophthalmic laboratory technicians elsewhere in the Handbook.)
The employers then provide the required training. Most dispensing
opticians receive training on the job or through apprenticeships
lasting 2 or more years. Some employers, however, seek people
with postsecondary training in the field.
Knowledge of physics, basic anatomy, algebra, and trigonometry
as well as experience with computers are particularly valuable,
because training usually includes instruction in optical mathematics,
optical physics, and the use of precision measuring instruments
and other machinery and tools. Dispensing opticians deal directly
with the public, so they should be tactful, pleasant, and communicate
well. Manual dexterity and the ability to do precision work are
Large employers usually offer structured apprenticeship programs;
small employers provide more informal, on-the-job training. About
20 States require dispensing opticians to be licensed. States
may require individuals to pass one of more of the following for
licensure: a State practical examination, a State written examination,
and certification examinations offered by the American Board of
Opticianry (ABO) and the National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE).
To qualify for the examinations, States often require applicants
to complete postsecondary training or work from 2 to 4 years as
apprentices. Continuing education is commonly required for licensure
renewal. Information about specific licensing requirements is
available from the State board of occupational licensing. Apprenticeships
or formal training programs are offered in other States as well.
Apprentices receive technical training and learn office management
and sales. Under the supervision of an experienced optician, optometrist,
or ophthalmologist, apprentices work directly with patients, fitting
eyeglasses and contact lenses.
Formal training in the field is offered in community colleges
and a few colleges and universities. In 2004, the Commission on
Opticianry Accreditation accredited 24 programs that awarded 2-year
associate degrees. There also are shorter programs of 1 year or
less. Some States that offer a license to dispensing opticians
allow graduates to take the licensure exam immediately upon graduation;
others require a few months to a year of experience.
Dispensing opticians may apply to the ABO and the NCLE for certification
of their skills. All applicants age 18 or older with a high school
diploma or equivalent are eligible for the exam; however, some
States licensing boards have additional eligibility requirements.
Certification must be renewed every 3 years through continuing
education. Those licensed in States where licensure renewal requirements
include continuing education credits may use proof of their renewed
State license to meet the recertification requirements of the
ABO. Likewise, the NCLE will accept proof of renewal from any
State that has contact lens requirements.
Many experienced dispensing opticians open their own optical
stores. Others become managers of optical stores or sales representatives
for wholesalers or manufacturers of eyeglasses or lenses.
Dispensing opticians held about 66,000 jobs in 2004. Nearly one-third
worked in health and personal care stores, including optical goods
stores. Many of these stores offer one-stop shopping. Customers
may have their eyes examined, choose frames, and have glasses
made on the spot. About 30 percent of dispensing opticians worked
in offices of other health practitioners, including offices of
optometrists. Over 10 percent worked in offices of physicians,
including ophthalmologists who sell glasses directly to patients.
Some work in optical departments of department stores or other
general merchandise stores, such as warehouse clubs and superstores.
Nearly 6 percent are self-employed and run their own unincorporated
Employment of dispensing opticians is expected to grow about
as fast as average for all occupations through 2014 as demand
grows for corrective lenses. The number of middle-aged and elderly
persons is projected to increase rapidly. Middle age is a time
when many individuals use corrective lenses for the first time,
and elderly persons generally require more vision care than others.
Fashion also influences demand. Frames come in a growing variety
of styles and colors—encouraging people to buy more than one pair.
Increasing awareness of laser surgery that corrects some vision
problems will have an impact on demand for eyewear. Although the
surgery remains relatively more expensive than eyewear, patients
who successfully undergo this surgery may not require glasses
or contact lenses for several years.
The need to replace those who leave the occupation will result
in additional job openings. Nevertheless, the number of job openings
will be limited because the occupation is small. Dispensing opticians
are vulnerable to changes in the business cycle, because eyewear
purchases often can be deferred for a time.
Median annual earnings of dispensing opticians were $27,950 in
May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $21,360 and $35,940.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $17,390, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $45,340. Median annual earnings in
the industries employing the largest numbers of dispensing opticians
in May 2004 were:
Health and personal care stores
Offices of physicians
Offices of other health practitioners
Other workers who deal with customers and perform delicate work
include jewelers and precious stone and metal workers, locksmiths
and safe repairers, orthotists and prosthetists, and precision
instrument and equipment repairers
Sources of Additional Information
For general information about opticians and a list of home-study
programs, seminars, and review materials, contact:
National Academy of Opticianry, 8401 Corporate Dr., Suite
605, Landover, MD 20785. Telephone (tollfree): 800-229-4828.
For a list of accredited programs in opticianry, contact:
Commission on Opticianry Accreditation, 8665 Sudley Rd., #341,
Manassas, VA 20110.
To learn about voluntary certification for opticians who fit
eyeglasses, as well as a list of State licensing boards for opticians,
American Board of Opticianry, 6506 Loisdale Rd., Suite 209,
Springfield, VA 22150. Internet: http://www.abo.org/
For information on voluntary certification for dispensing opticians
who fit contact lenses, contact:
National Contact Lens Examiners, 6506 Loisdale Rd., Suite
209, Springfield, VA 22150. Internet: http://www.abo-ncle.org/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition