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Job Description: Helping people see better and look good at the same time is the job of a dispensing optician. Dispensing opticians help select and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses for people with eye problems. They follow prescriptions written by ophthalmologists or optometrists. Dispensing opticians recommend eyeglass frames, lenses, and lens coatings after considering the prescription and the customer's occupation, habits, and facial features. When fitting new eyeglasses, opticians use sophisticated diagnostic instruments to measure various characteristics of a client’s eyes, including the thickness, width, curvature, and surface features of the cornea (the clear covering of the eye). They also obtain a customer's prescription history 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 the information they need 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. They may also apply tint to lenses. After the glasses are made, dispensing opticians verify that the lenses meet the specifications, and then they may reshape or bend the frames with pliers for a custom fit.
Many opticians also spend time fixing and refitting broken frames, as well as instructing clients about wearing or caring for eyeglasses. Additionally, administrative duties have become a major part of their work, including keeping records on customers' prescriptions, work orders, and payments, and tracking inventory and sales.
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. Dispensing opticians observe customers' eyes, corneas, lids, and contact lenses with sophisticated instruments and microscopes. During several follow-up visits, opticians teach proper insertion, removal, and care of contact lenses.
Education and Training: Although a high school diploma is all that is required to get a job that includes a period of on-the-job training, most workers have completed at least some college courses or a degree. Classes in physics, basic anatomy, algebra, and trigonometry as well as experience with computers are particularly valuable. These classes prepare dispensing opticians to learn job skills, including optical mathematics, optical physics, and the use of precision measuring instruments and other machinery and tools.
Formal training in the field is offered in community colleges and in a few 4-year colleges and universities. Graduation from an accredited program in opticianry can be advantageous as it provides a nationally recognized credential.
As of 2009, twenty-two States require dispensing opticians to be licensed.
Salary: Median annual wages of dispensing opticians were $32,810 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $26,170 and $41,930. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,250, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $50,580.
Job Outlook: Employment in this occupation is expected to rise 13 percent over the 2008–18 decade. 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. As the share of the population in these older age groups increases and as people live longer, more opticians will be needed to provide service to them. In addition, awareness of the importance of regular eye exams is increasing across all age groups, especially children and those over the age of 65.
Recent trends indicate a movement toward a “low vision” society, where a growing number of people view things that are closer in distance, such as computer monitors, over the course of an average day. This trend is expected to increase the need for eye care services. Fashion also influences demand. Frames come in a growing variety of styles, colors, and sizes, encouraging people to buy more than one pair.
Somewhat moderating the need for optician services is the increasing use of laser surgery to correct vision problems. 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.
Overall, the need to replace dispensing opticians who retire or leave the occupation will result in very good job prospects.