Are you interested in becoming an ophthalmic assistant or ophthalmic technician? These are two wonderful job opportunities to consider! The role of ophthalmology technician is actually considered to be one of the top 13 best health care support jobs in the United States, and one of the top 20 jobs that do not require a college degree!
These two ophthalmic professions have a lot in common, but some key differences set them apart from one another. Let’s take a closer look at the job requirements and day-to-day responsibilities of ophthalmic assistants and ophthalmic technicians to help you make an informed decision for your future.
How to Become an Ophthalmic Assistant
An ophthalmic assistant is an entry-level role, making it a great job opportunity for those looking to get into the field of ophthalmology who have more limited experience. The role of assistant requires a lower level of certification than that of a technician.
To become an ophthalmic assistant, you need at least a high school diploma or GED equivalent. You must then obtain a certification, typically the Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA) certification, which must be renewed every three years. The COA certification includes a training/education requirement as well as an exam. The COA certification exam covers 22 specific content areas, is three hours long, and includes nearly 200 multiple-choice questions.
With more experience and training, ophthalmic assistants can eventually advance to the role of ophthalmic technician. It’s a great place to start if you want to slowly work your way up the ophthalmology support ladder!
What Does an Ophthalmic Assistant do?
An ophthalmic assistant works for an ophthalmologist and assists them in their day-to-day duties. An ophthalmologist is an eye doctor who can treat eye diseases, prescribe medication, fit eyeglasses and contact lenses to correct vision problems. Unlike optometrists, ophthalmologists are licensed to practice medicine and perform surgery.
Ophthalmic assistants play a supporting role to ophthalmologists, educating patients, recording patient information, administering medications, performing basic eye exams, taking basic ocular measurements, applying bandages, preparing and cleaning observation rooms, and assisting the ophthalmologist during minor procedures. Many of these duties take place before the patient’s appointment with the ophthalmologist.
How to Become an Ophthalmic Technician
As previously mentioned, an ophthalmic technician requires a more advanced level of certification compared to an ophthalmic assistant. It’s considered a mid-level role in the field of ophthalmology.
Though only a high school diploma or GED equivalent is technically required for the role, many technicians choose to attend a two-year ophthalmic technician program at an accredited institution, which can help make the certification process easier. Alternatively, you can participate in an internship for one year (or 2,000 hours) to earn on-the-job training and also gain 12 credits from the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO) to qualify for certification.
The most popular certification for this role is the Certified Ophthalmic Technician (COT). The COT exam is similar to the COA exam but includes an additional two-hour-long Skill Evaluation consisting of seven key skills areas.
With additional training and experience, technicians can work to become certified ophthalmic technologists, which is an even more advanced role.
What Does an Ophthalmic Technician do?
An ophthalmic technician may perform all the duties of an ophthalmic assistant listed above, as well as additional clinical tasks because they have a more advanced certification under their belt. Additional duties may include performing more advanced eye exams and measurements, triaging patients, taking patient vitals, administering eye drops to prepare for examinations, checking and preparing tools and equipment in operating rooms, maintaining equipment, processing prescription refills, answering patient questions, and performing office duties.
Do You Need an Ophthalmic Associates Degree?
Whether you’re looking to become an ophthalmic assistant or technician, an ophthalmic technician program can help you obtain the necessary training and education for certification, pass the exam with flying colors, land a great job, and achieve your professional goals. That being said, a degree is certainly not required; as mentioned above, there are alternate ways to earn the required optometry staff training and education for certification in either role.
If you do plan to continue your education, there are certificate, associate’s degree, and bachelor’s degree programs available through many technical schools, community colleges, and universities in the United States. For ophthalmic technicians, most programs take two years to complete and cover topics such as medical terminology, ocular anatomy, ocular physiology, microbiology, ocular motility, ophthalmic pharmacology, eye diseases, and eye irregularities.
If you want to take your education and career even further and become an optometrist or ophthalmologist, be sure to read our guide to the top optometry schools.
What are Ophthalmology Consultants and How Can They Help Your Career?
An ophthalmology consultant is a professional who advises ophthalmologists and their staff to help them run a successful practice and enjoy a rewarding career. Consultants are most commonly hired by ophthalmology practices for help in areas such as practice assessments, practice valuations, staffing analyses, accounts receivable analyses, etc.
That being said, ophthalmology consultants can also be a great resource for those who are just starting out in their ophthalmology careers. If you’re unsure about which profession in the field of ophthalmology is best for you, or you need help choosing the right program to match your goals, you may benefit from consulting with a professional ophthalmology advisor– or, at the very least, networking with some established eye care professionals to learn from their experiences.
Becoming an Ophthalmic Assistant and More with PECAA’s Support
If you’re interested in becoming an eye care professional, an ophthalmic assistant is just one of many exciting and rewarding job opportunities to consider. Read our guide to the best optometry jobs to explore even more opportunities and find out which is best for you.
No matter where you’re headed in the field of ophthalmology, PECAA is an invaluable resource for optometrists, ophthalmologists, ophthalmic assistants, and ophthalmic technicians alike. PECAA members can access consulting services, staff training, networking opportunities, marketing support, discounts and rebates, coaching, and so much more. We even offer a free student membership for optometry students who want to get a head start on their future as eye care professionals!