Certification represents a very important process by which individuals demonstrate specialized knowledge and understanding within the industry. Individuals who are certified have shown that they possess a unique set of skills that are of value to society. The fact that someone has taken the initiative to complete the certification process shows that they are confident that they have a thorough understanding of the industry and are capable of providing the highest level of care.
Another reason for why certification is important is the fact that many employers and organizations use it to quickly assess whether or not a job applicant should be considered for a position or an employee is deserving of higher pay and greater responsibility. While many people may consider certification a formality, it is still a tangible metric by which administrators can easily filter candidates for hire or promotion. Since credentials are still an important part of the professional world, individuals who wish to advance in their careers should consider the impact that certification can have on their earning and employment potential.
Ophthalmic Certification Options
The majority of the content on this website focuses on optician certification through the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and the National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE). The reason why these forms of certification receive so much attention on this site is because most states that require opticians to be certified consider certification by these organizations to be the standard for optician competence assessment. ABO and NCLE certification has been specifically designed with the title of optician in mind. While this may represent the primary path to becoming an optical dispensary specialist, there are a few other allied ophthalmic titles within the eye care industry that can serve as stepping stones in the career advancement process.
The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO) is the most commonly recognized certifying organization for ophthalmic assistants, ophthalmic technicians, and ophthalmic medical technologists. These job titles represent a common progressive process for individuals who wish to pursue a career in the eye care industry. While these professionals are primarily trained to work directly with optometrists and ophthalmologists on the medical side of eye care, they do get experience in all aspects of the eye care business and may elect to continue to work on the medical side or further their career on the optical dispensary side.
Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA) Certification
This level of certification is the entry-level option for individuals who wish to become an ophthalmic allied health professional. Certification at this level usually means that an individual has completed an independent study course or training program and has passed the examination. Ophthalmic assistants can generally expect the training process to last for approximately six to twelve months. Successful completion of this process is the first step toward advancing your career.
Some of the tasks that are generally expected of certified ophthalmic assistants include:
- Measurement of visual acuity
- Measurement of intraocular pressure
- Assessment of pupils
- Administration of ocular medications
- Documentation of patient history
- Complete manifest refractometry
- Patient education
- General office upkeep
As the certified ophthalmic assistant gains new knowledge, experience, and skills they may want to consider continuing down the ophthalmic assistant professional career advancement path. The next phase in the process involves additional certification as an ophthalmic technician. The primary difference between these two levels of professional development is the amount of training and experience that an individual is required to have and includes different types of job responsibilities.
The JCAHPO offers a career advancement tool for individuals who are planning to complete an independent study course in preparation for the COA Certification Examination. There are fees associated with the various study materials. Additional resources include the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) allied health training materials and the Canadian Ophthalmological Society (COS) Distance Learning Courses. Formal training programs in your area can be found by visiting the Commission on Accreditation of Ophthalmic Medical Programs (CoA-OMP) website.
Certified Ophthalmic Technician (COT) Certification
This level of certification is the second tier of career advancement as an ophthalmic allied health professional. This option is typically available to individuals who have worked as ophthalmic assistants for at least a year or who have graduated from an ophthalmic technician training program. Technicians are trained to perform all of the assistant tasks listed above as well as operate a manual lensometer, a keratometer, and an ophthalmometer.
Certified ophthalmic technician training is generally an extension of ophthalmic assistant or orthoptist training and adds an additional six to twelve months to the learning experience. If you are planning to take the ophthalmic technician certification examination without having completed a formal degree program then you will want to make sure that you have met the following requirements:
- A minimum employment period of 2,000 hours as a COA, CO, or OC(C)
- Completion of a minimum of 12 JCAHPO Group A credits
- Successfully maintained certification as a COA, CO, or OC(C)
Once an individual has acquired extended training as an ophthalmic technician, they may wish to pursue the highest level of ophthalmic allied health professional status which requires certification as an ophthalmic medical technologist. The main difference between a technician and a technologist is the level of training and experience as well as the specialized tasks that can be performed. Individuals looking for review materials for the certified ophthalmic technician examination should visit the links included in the certified ophthalmic assistant section above.
Certified Ophthalmic Medical Technologist (COMT) Certification
This level of ophthalmic allied health professional certification represents the most prestigious tier of achievement that the JCAHPO offers. An ophthalmic technologist is qualified to perform all the tasks associated with being an ophthalmic assistant and an ophthalmic technician with the additional skills required to perform all ophthalmologic tests, assist in ophthalmic surgery, maintain ophthalmic surgical instruments, and operate highly specific equipment. As part of the expanded skill set of a technologist, an individual may:
- Perform ophthalmic photographs
- Operate ophthalmic ultrasound
- Supervise and instruct other ophthalmic personnel
Ophthalmic medical technologist training is an extension of the skilled training that an individual has received as an assistant and as a technician. A certified technologist is generally expected to have graduated from an approved training program or have prior technician training and experience. Those who intend to take the ophthalmic technologist certification exam (COMT) independent of a degree program will need to make sure they have met the following requirements:
- An employment period of 6,000 hours as a COT or 4,000 hours as a CO, or OC(C)
- Completion of a minimum of 12 JCAHPO Group A credits
- Successfully maintained certification as a COT, CO, or OC(C)
The JCAHPO does offer additional sub-specialty certifications in surgical assisting, corporate assisting, ultrasound biometry, and diagnostic sonography for individuals who have been certified at one of the core levels outlined above. These options may appeal to individuals who want to work in a particular area of the ophthalmic allied health industry or who simply want to expand their skill set.