Ophthalmic Technician

If you have an interest in physiology, health science, mathematics, and compassionate personal care, then a career as an ophthalmic technician could be an ideal fit. The U.S. News & World Report (2021) has rated ophthalmic medical technicians as #16 in “Best Health Care Support Jobs.” 

Ophthalmic medical technicians work with an ophthalmologist to provide patient eye care by performing mechanical and medical procedures. They are often found working in hospitals, clinics, private practices, multispecialty offices, and refractive surgery centers. 

Like nurses, ophthalmic technicians prepare patients before ophthalmologists enter the location of the appointment. They help physicians see more patients in a single day by making preliminary diagnoses, performing ophthalmic tests on eye strength and ability, and revisiting previous plans of treatment.

Apart from these essential duties, ophthalmic technicians work collaboratively with ophthalmologists and other healthcare professionals to ensure that best practices are always followed. In programs of study in the ophthalmic technician field, students can expect to engage in extended courses of study in subjects like:

  • Ophthalmic support
  • Ophthalmology
  • Nutrition
  • Surgical assisting procedures
  • Ocular disease
  • Ophthalmic imaging
  • Echography
  • Light-based imaging
  • Diagnostic procedures
  • Eye health
  • Eyecare
  • Ophthalmic practicums

Ophthalmic Technician Specialization & Career Types

Ophthalmic technician work is eye-care used in conjunction with nutrition and general health. Where you find ophthalmologists and medical operations staff, you will find ophthalmic technicians. 

The job itself is a specialization in eye care, but further subdivides into the fields of pediatric, adult, and gerontological ophthalmic care when necessary.

Admissions Requirements for Ophthalmic Technician Programs

In terms of admissions requirements for students interested in a career in technical ophthalmology support, a background in the health sciences, healthcare administration, biophysiology, wellness, and/or anatomy are prime places to begin. 

University bachelor’s programs in technical ophthalmology support typically require completion of between 120 and 140 credits of undergraduate work in technical ophthalmology support or a related field. Degrees like this are not necessarily the norm for ophthalmic technicians, though some do hold a bachelor’s degree in ophthalmic therapy, care, and patient counseling.

One- and two-year programs in ophthalmic technology typically require students to simply be eligible to enter vocational or trade school. In other words, holding a high school degree or GED is generally sufficient to apply to these types of programs.

Ophthalmic Technician Program Accreditation

Students considering ophthalmic technician programs should research a school’s accreditation status before applying. Accreditation ensures that a program has met a set of peer-reviewed standards in its curriculum. Ophthalmic technician programs may be accredited by various accrediting bodies. Programmatic accreditation can be found through the International Council of Accreditation for Allied Ophthalmic Education Programs (ICA-AOEP) and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools.

On-Campus Ophthalmic Technician Degree Programs

Duke University School of Medicine

This two-year program in ophthalmic technology from the Duke University School of Medicine provides specialized ophthalmology technician professionals the skills, knowledge, and best practices that they need to excel in the field. 

Coursework includes ophthalmology, physiology, anatomy, health sciences, and more. Duke University’s School of Medicine is a leading ophthalmic college in the field. Their expert faculty of ophthalmologists and technician trainers guide students on their path to a career as an ophthalmic technician.

  • Location: Durham, North Carolina
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: International Council of Accreditation for Allied Ophthalmic Education Programs (ICA-AOEP)
  • Tuition: $9000 for the entire program

Pima Medical Institute

This associate degree program in ophthalmic medical technology from the Pima Medical Institute positions students to enter into the career. This AAS degree trains students in critical study areas, placing a focus on physiology, eye health, the structure of the eye, and how to best prepare for the JCAHPO certification exams.

  • Location: Mesa, Arizona
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: The Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools
  • Tuition: $36,111 for the entire program

Portland Community College

This associate degree program in ophthalmic medical technology from Portland Community College can provide prospective ophthalmic technicians with the requisite knowledge they need to enter the field. This AAS degree trains students in ophthalmology, eye care, eye health, nutrition, physiology, anatomy, biology, and more. 

  • Location: Portland, Oregon
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: International Council of Accreditation for Allied Ophthalmic Education Programs (ICA-AOEP)
  • Tuition: $258 per credit

Volunteer State Community College

Students can complete an associate’s of applied science- ophthalmic technician program at Volunteer State Community College. This is a “one plus one” program where students complete their general education the first year and then their ophthalmic technician education the second year. Graduates are eligible to take the national Certified Ophthalmic Technician (COT) examination. 

Should graduates wish to pursue additional education, Volunteer State Community College has an agreement with Middle Tennessee State University to transfer the majority of the credits towards a bachelor’s degree. 

  • Location: Gallatin, TN 
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: International Council of Accreditation for Allied Ophthalmic Education Programs (ICA-AOEP)
  • Tuition: $749 per credit 

San Jacinto College

The eye care technology associate of applied science at San Jacinto College is a two-year program that prepares graduates for work as ophthalmic technicians and several other careers. This is a highly competitive program, and all applicants must interview with the program director in order to be considered for admission. Other admission requirements include passing a background check, current CPR certification, and a physical examination. 

  • Location: Pasadena, TX
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: International Council of Accreditation for Allied Ophthalmic Education Programs (ICA-AOEP)
  • Tuition: $210 per credit

Stark State College 

The ophthalmic technology program at Stark State College has both an ophthalmic assistant certificate program as well as an associate’s degree. The certificate program takes one year to complete, while the associate’s degree takes two years. Courses completed for the certificate program can count towards an associate’s degree, so students don’t have to commit to the two year program from the onset if they are unsure. 

Upon completion of the certificate program, students are eligible to take the national credentialing exam to become a Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA). Students who complete the associate’s degree in ophthalmic technology are eligible for the Certified Ophthalmic Technician (COT) examination.

  • Location: North Canton, OH
  • Duration: One to two years
  • Accreditation: International Council of Accreditation for Allied Ophthalmic Education Programs (ICA-AOEP)
  • Tuition: $313.60 per credit

Online Ophthalmic Technician Related Education Programs

​​American Academy of Ophthalmology

The AAO offers a number of concentrated ophthalmic assisting resources, textbooks, and courses of study through its ophthalmic medical assisting self-study program. These resources help prospective ophthalmic assistants educate themselves on industry standards and best practices before gaining an entry-level position in the field. The self-study program includes the option to register for a proctored COT exam overseen by the AAO.

  • Location: Online
  • Duration: Varies, self-directed
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME)
  • Tuition: $205 for textbook and online exam

Penn Foster Career School

Penn Foster Career School offers an online option exam prep program that prepares students to sit for the National Opticianry Competency Examination (NOCE). Opticians are able to dispense eyeglass prescriptions as well as help fit eyewear and use ophthalmic appliances to determine what eyesight correction may be necessary. This is a self-paced program, so students can study when it suits their schedule. Faculty and staff at Penn Foster are available to support students as they complete the course. 

  • Location: Scranton, PA
  • Duration: Seven to nine months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Secondary Schools of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Tuition: $1749 for the entire course 

Madison Area Technical College 

One hundred percent of graduates of the online optometric technician program at Madison Area Technical College have secured employment in this industry. Optometric technicians work under the supervision of an optometrist or ophthalmologist and can provide patient education, pre-test patient skills, assist with eyewear selection, and make eyeglass adjustments. 

Since this program is delivered through distance learning, students must secure an approved mentor to oversee any required lab activities. The flexible nature of this program allows students to continue working while furthering their education and career. 

  • Location: Madison WI
  • Duration: As little as one year
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE).
  • Tuition: $3,807 tuition for the entire program

Georgetown University, Department of Ophthalmology

For those looking for entry-level work in eye care, Georgetown University Department of Ophthalmology has an online ophthalmic scribe course. This distance learning program must be completed in a maximum of three months, and it prepares students to maintain patient medical records under the supervision of an ophthalmologist. At the conclusion of this program, students will take the Ophthalmic Scribe Certification examination through Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO). Completing this course and earning this certification demonstrates to potential employers that the candidate has a high degree of proficiency in this field. 

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Duration: Maximum of three months
  • Accreditation: N/A
  • Tuition: $3,807 tuition for the entire program

How Long Does it Take to Become an Ophthalmic Technician?

Expect a minimum of one year of post-secondary schooling, with up to as many as four years when considering a professional undergraduate degree and time taken to study for your chosen certification. 

An additional six months to one year of study may be required to become certified through JCAHPO, plus one to three years of clinical technical ophthalmology support experience, depending on professional certification requirements. See the section on certification below for more information.

How To Become an Ophthalmic Technician – Step-by-Step Guide

Becoming a technical ophthalmology support specialist, as mentioned above, should take students a minimum of about one year and up to four if prospective candidates take longer to gain clinical and industry experience in real-life settings. 

Step 1: Graduate High School (Four Years)

As a high school student, a focus in classes on the subjects of the health sciences, psychology, biology, statistics, and anatomy will help to build a solid foundation for courses of study in technical ophthalmology support.

Step 2: Earn an AA or AAS Degree (One to Two Years)

Aside from the more general education requirements, gaining an AA or AAS degree in ophthalmic technology would be ideal, but degrees in other fields of medical assistance or healthcare administration could also provide an aspiring healthcare professional with some foundational skills.

Step 3: Gain Industry Experience (At Least One Year)

One way to advance a career as an ophthalmic technician is to gain work experience in the healthcare industry. This prepares professionals for certification and more advanced positions, which are typically requisite in candidates being considered for positions in upper management or as clinical directors.

Step 4: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Optional, Two to Four Years)

Some ophthalmic technicians hold a bachelor’s degree in ophthalmic therapy, care, and patient counseling.

Step 5: Become a Certified Technical Ophthalmology Support Official (Less Than One Year)

Expect approximately six months to one year of study to become certified through JCAHPO, the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology, plus one to three years of clinical technical ophthalmology support experience, depending on the specific certification chosen. 

To qualify for certification through JCAHPO, candidates must hold a high school diploma or GED, have completed an accredited ophthalmic technician program, and possess the requisite on-the-job experience. 

JCAHPO certification is valid for 36 months, and recertification includes retesting or completing continuing education credits. 

See detailed information on JCAHPO certifications below.

What Do Ophthalmic Technicians Do?

Ophthalmic technicians:

  • Instruct patients about medications, tests, and procedures
  • Assist in ophthalmology surgical procedures performed by physicians
  • Collect data or measurements to help with patient diagnosis
  • Document, organize, and file patients’ medical or eye health histories
  • Perform procedures such as ophthalmic ultrasound and diagnostic testing prior to ophthalmology examination
  • Offer technical and mechanical support to ophthalmologists in whatever capacity is necessary
  • Take patient medical histories
  • Coordinate patient scheduling
  • Perform vision and diagnostic tests
  • Supervise other ophthalmic personnel
  • Train ophthalmic personnel
  • Perform office management duties
  • Perform administrative/clerical duties with regards to paperwork
  • Act in nursing or assistant positions with ophthalmologists

Ophthalmic Technician Certifications & Licensure

To become certified in technical ophthalmology support, it is necessary to go through the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO). As mentioned above, to qualify for certification through JCAHPO, candidates must hold a high school diploma or GED, have completed an accredited ophthalmic technician program, and possess the requisite on-the-job experience. Some of the specific certifications available include:

  • Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA)
  • Certified Ophthalmic Technician (COT)
  • Certified Ophthalmic Medical Technologist (COMT)
  • Ophthalmic Surgical Assisting (OSA)

Here is the basic information about each certification exam (in order of how advanced the credentials are):

  • COA exam: 200 multiple choice questions, three hours to complete 
  • COT exam: 200 multiple choice questions and a skill evaluation, five hours
  • COMT exam: 160 multiple choice questions and a performance evaluation, five hours
  • OSA exam: 75 multiple choice questions, one hour

Please note that to qualify for the OSA exam, candidates must be a COA, COT, or COMT in good standing with JCAHPO.

Another organization considered an authority in ophthalmic technical support is the Association of Technical Personnel in Ophthalmology (ATPO). ATPO offers continuing education courses, membership programs, and an ophthalmology ambassador program for those who want to raise awareness in their local communities.

How Much Do Ophthalmic Technicians Make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2020) reports that there are 26,140 ophthalmic laboratory technicians in the U.S. The BLS notes that the required entry-level education for an ophthalmic medical technician is an associate’s degree, though on-the-job and post-secondary training can increase a technician’s earning potential. On average ophthalmic technicians earn $36,640 per year. Here are the detailed salary percentiles, per the BLS:

  • 10th percentile: $24,120
  • 25th percentile: $28,290
  • 50th percentile (median):$34,440
  • 75th percentile: $41,810
  • 90th percentile: $51,630

Ophthalmic Technician Alternatives

Here are some alternatives to a career as an ophthalmic technician

Become a Phlebotomist

In order to diagnose patients’ conditions, physicians will order blood tests. Phlebotomists are trained to perform venipunctures in order to draw the blood necessary to run these tests. To perform these procedures, phlebotomists must complete a certificate program that includes hands-on training. 

  • Typical Education: Certificate
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Medical Technologists (AMT), National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT), American Society for Clinical Pathology Board of Certification (ASCP-BOC)

Become a Radiation Therapist 

Radiation therapists provide radiation therapy to patients under the supervision of a physician. Often, they must explain procedures to patients and answer questions. They must be extremely precise to apply the radiation to only the affected areas as well as ensure that they themselves stay safe from radiation exposure. 

  • Typical Education: Certificate or associate’s
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Registry of Radiologic Technologists

Become a Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacy technicians are essential to a smooth-running pharmacy. They are responsible for collecting patient information, filling prescriptions that don’t require a pharmacist, measuring and labeling medication, compounding prescriptions, and assisting with insurance and billing.  

  • Typical Education: Certificate or associate’s
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PCTB)
Kenneth Parker

Kenneth Parker

Writer

Kenneth is a feature writer, poet, and musician living in the Pacific Northwest. His writing on remote work, education, and technology has been published by BustedCubicle.com, MedicalTechnologySchools.com, and other websites. His poetry, short fiction, and album reviews have appeared in Scifaikuest, Nanoism, and No Clean Singing. His background includes time spent as an associate editor, proofreader, private grammar instructor, freelance content editor, medical claims agent, and SEO consultant. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon, where he studied literature and worked as a composition tutor.

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