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 (2019) has rated ophthalmic technical support as #21 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 doing preliminary diagnoses, performing ophthalmic tests on eye strength and ability, and revisit 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
  • Eye care
  • 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 credit-hours 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 & Online 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: $1,747 per credit-hour

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

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: Contact Pima for a customized assessment

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: $116 per credit-hour for residents; $251 per credit-hour for non-residents

How Long Does it Take to Become an Ophthalmic Technician?

Expect a minimum of one year of postsecondary 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 to prepare 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 an 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 2019) reports that there are 27,960 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. Here are the detailed salary percentiles, per the BLS:

Number of professionals employed in the US (as of 2018): 27,960

  • Average annual salary: $34,797
  • 10th percentile salary: $22,360
  • 50th percentile (median): $31,830
  • 90th percentile: $50,200
Kenneth Parker

Kenneth Parker


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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