An optical assistant is someone who works in an optometry office or ophthalmology clinic performing a wide variety of administrative and clinical tasks. The exact nature of the job will vary depending on the type of employer. Some of the more common tasks include documentation of patient histories, entering data into the health record, scheduling appointments, and patient education. Other tasks might include general office upkeep, restocking inventory, filing insurance claims, and resolving customer conflicts.
Education and Training:
The educational requirements for becoming an assistant are minimal. Most optical employers only require that an assistant have a high school diploma or equivalent. An assistant will usually learn the required skills through direct on-the-job training. An employer will typically have an experienced assistant teach new employees how to perform the tasks listed above. While there are usually no formal educational requirements for being an assistant, some employers may favor applicants who have completed at least an Associates Degree at a community college, vocational school, or technical training facility. Prior experience as an assistant in a medical setting is also preferred by most employers.
Most states have no formal requirements when it comes to an optical assistant being certified. Some employers give preference to applicants who have been certified by the American Optometric Association (AOA). Individuals who have a high school diploma and have worked in the field for at least six months are eligible to earn the Certified Paraoptometric (CPO) credential. The AOA does require that an assistant pass the written exam prior to receiving this designation. An assistant who has received the CPO credential and worked for an additional six months will become eligible to receive the Certified Paraoptometric Assistant (CPOA) designation. This level of certification also requires that an assistant pass a written exam.
An optical assistant earns, on average, around $28,000 per year. The amount that an assistant will make generally depends on the type of employer, educational background, past experience, and the geographic region in which they work. An assistant may make as little as $20,000 per year or as much as $40,000 per year. Generally, an assistant will start at the lower end of the salary range and gradually work their way up the pay scale as they acquire more experience and an expanded set of skills. An assistant may eventually be asked to take on more of an administrative role which typically results in a higher salary.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the optical assistant industry will grow by 31% from 2010 to 2020. This is much faster than the average for other occupations. Much of this growth can be attributed to an aging population and a rise in demand for medical services and fashionable eyeglasses. Optical employers have been hiring more assistants to help manage the influx of new patients. These strong growth projections make a career as an assistant one of the most appealing career opportunities available.