Optician, Dispensing

Certified Optician, Contact Lens Fitter, Contact Lens Technician, Dispensing and Measuring Optician   More Names
Dispensing Optician, Dispensing Optician Apprentice, Eyeglass Fitter, Licensed Dispensing Optician (LDO), Licensed Optical Dispenser, Licensed Optician, Ophthalmic Dispenser, Optical Assistant, Optical Dispenser, Optical Manager, Optical Technician, Optician, Optician Apprentice, Opticians, Dispensing, Optometric Assistant, Optometric Technician

Help customers select and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses to correct vision problems, usually based on prescription instructions written by an optometrist (eye specialist) or ophthalmologist (eye doctor). Recommend eyeglass frames, lenses, and lens coatings considering the prescription and the customer's occupation, habits, and facial features. Prepare instructions and work orders for ophthalmic laboratory technicians who cut, grind, and polish the eyeglass or contact lenses. Instruct clients on how to wear and care for their eyeglasses and contacts. Keep customer records.

Dispensing opticians are employed primarily by offices of physicians, retail optician chain stores, department stores, and independent optician businesses. The majority work at or manage the retail distribution outlets that serve customers who need eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other related vision products. The remainder work for various government agencies that are responsible for getting needed eyewear into the hands of children and adults who cannot afford commercial sources.

Throughout the nation and worldwide, tens of millions of children and adults rely on corrective lenses, either in the form of glasses or contacts in order to read, drive, or simply move about safely. Customers also may want or need specially tinted sunglasses and other eye apparel. Dispensing opticians are responsible for making sure that these customers, clients, and patients get the eyewear they require.

Dispensing opticians also serve as the essential "middlemen" between optometrists (eye specialists) and ophthalmologists (eye doctors), who write the prescriptions for vision products, and the ophthalmic laboratory technicians, who usually make them.

As dispensing opticians first greet customers, they begin to discuss their eyewear needs. They obtain and review a customer's prescription history to remake eyeglasses or contact lenses or verify a new prescription with the examining optometrist or ophthalmologist. They use precise diagnostic instruments to measure various characteristics of a person's eyes, including the thickness, width, curvature and surface of the cornea as well as temple width and other facial features that will affect proper eyewear sizing. Taking into account both a customer's needs and tastes, they recommend specific lenses, lens coatings, styles and colors of frames.

Based on the customer's decisions, the dispensing optician prepares a work order for the ophthalmic laboratory technician who will make the eyeglasses or contacts. This work order includes the lens prescription, measurement information, material, color and style; plus the selected frames in the case of eyeglasses.

Some dispensing opticians grind and insert lenses themselves, also applying tint to lenses when needed. After the glasses are made, they verify that the lenses meet all specifications and then bend or reshape the frames with pliers during a final custom fitting for the customer.

Dispensing opticians also help customers with reshaping twisted frames or fixing and refitting broken ones as well as teaching about the proper wear and care for eyeglasses or contacts. With further education and training, some dispensing opticians become highly specialized in fitting contacts, artificial eyes or cosmetic shells to cover blemished eyes. As part of this work, they will provide on-going instruction on the proper insertion, removal and care of contact lenses.

The administrative duties of dispensing opticians include keeping records of customer prescriptions, work orders, and payments; tracking inventory and sales; and maintaining the overall professional appearance of their office and work setting. They provide instruction for optician aides who may help them with non-clinical tasks and also may supervise practical clinical training for optician students.

Dispensing opticians require good vision, arm and hand steadiness, and eye and hand coordination skills to grasp, place, and assemble small objects. They also require good customer relations skills, including the ability to communicate well verbally and listen carefully.

The occupation of dispensing optician is an entry-level occupation that can lead directly to career ladder opportunities as a supervisor, business manager, or store owner. Additionally, some may decide to seek additional formal education to become an optometrist.

Credentials Needed: About half of the states currently require dispensing opticians to be licensed or registered to practice within their state. To find out if your state requires licensing for this occupation, see the information under the Opticians Association of America - State Licensing Boards. " States that require licensure may use one or more of the following criteria for an individual to earn their state license: (1) passing a practical state exam, (2) passing a written state exam, and/or (3) passing one or both of the basic certification exams offered by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and the related National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE). In addition, states often have other criteria such as a criminal background check.

Where state licensing exams are required, some states may require applicants to complete postsecondary training or work as apprentices to qualify to take the tests. Also some states allow graduates of opticianry programs to take the licensure exam immediately upon graduation while others require work experience of up to one-year.

The ABO sponsors an entry-level certification for those who dispense and work with eyeglasses; while the NCLE certifies those entry-level dispensers who fit and work with contact lenses. The ABO reports that both organizations certify roughly 38,000 optician dispensers, which is over half the estimated total in the United States. Of this total, approximately 30,000 opticians are certified by ABO and about 8,000 contact lens dispensers are certified by the NCLE.

The ABO and related NCLE are national, non-profit organizations which administer voluntary certification examinations for dispensing opticians and contact lens technicians. Their purposes are to identify qualified eye-wear providers by examination, urge growth of optical skills with continuing education, and approve continuing education programs.

Some Key Things to Remember: Dispensing opticians help customers select and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses to correct vision problems, usually based on prescription instructions written by an optometrist eye specialist or ophthalmologist eye doctor. They need to have both technical and customer relations knowledge and skills. Employers prefer to hire those who have completed a post-secondary certificate or degree program, or apprenticeship training. About half of the states currently require dispensing opticians to be licensed or registered to practice within the state.

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Job Growth and Wages
Percent Job Growth:  
24% - Much faster than average
Typical Wages (National):  
Annual: $27,890 - $45,910    Hourly: $13 - $22
Physical/Medical/Health Requirements

Normal color vision is required for some specialties to use optometric instruments.

Legal Requirements
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(Data Drawn from O*NET)

Career Snapshot

Typical Education:

Associate's Degree (High School + 2 or more Years)
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Percent Job Growth:

24% - Much faster than average
Find Jobs

Typical Wages:

Annual: $27,890 - $45,910

Hourly: $13 - $22