Ophthalmic Technician Schools

Being able to see well is essential. In order to do so, it is sometimes necessary to use the aid of glasses or contacts. Opticians, ophthalmologists, and optometrists are trained professionals who help people with vision problems and diseases and are often assisted by an ophthalmic technician.

Ophthalmic technicians have completed training and education in patient care, eye care, eye anatomy, and lens dispensing. They are critical to the smooth running of an eye care clinic as they prepare patients for meeting with the physician by administering basic tests and taking patient health histories. In some offices, ophthalmic technicians may also assist with procedures.

There are numerous paths to entering the profession of an ophthalmic technician. A prospective professional can begin with on-the-job training or complete an accredited course along with required clinical rotations. If pursuing the path of education to enter the field, students complete their courses in one or two years. Some courses even include completing an associate’s degree. Either path can lead to eligibility to sit for the International Joint Commission Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO) certified ophthalmic technician (COT) exam. Once a professional has earned the COT certificate, they can continue their work experience and education to become an ophthalmic medical technologist.

Jobs for ophthalmic technicians are growing quickly. Between 2018 and 2028, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019) anticipated 11 percent growth in job openings in this field, which is more than twice the national average of all professions during the same period (5 percent). This career is projected to continue growing as the population of the United States continues to age and the demand for eye care increases.

Anyone interested in a career with growth potential and a low barrier to entry will find pursuing a career as an ophthalmic technician to be a good choice.

Ophthalmic Technician fast facts
Projected Jobs Created9,100
Projected Job Growth11%
Average Salary$38,220
Low Salary$24,770
Median Salary$36,530
High Salary$54,830
Entry-Level EDU On-the-job training
Sourced from BLS, June 2018

*Please note that these BLS growth projections also include dental and medical appliance technicians.

Degree and Certification Programs

While many ophthalmic technicians enter the field through on the job training, there are numerous programs that can prepare those interested in pursuing this career. These programs are generally offered at community or technical colleges, although there are a few offered at hospitals and even at Duke University. All programs require students to attend their courses in person as there are significant hands-on components and lab work.

Prospective students who want to enroll in an ophthalmic technician program will need to meet the admission requirements, which include:

  • High school diploma or GED
  • At least 18 years of age
  • English fluency (many programs require an IELTS or TOEFL score for international students)
  • Physical stamina (sometimes a doctor’s evaluation is required)
  • Current CPR certification

Some programs require prerequisite courses in math and writing prior to admission. Applicants should check with their desired program to ensure they meet all the requirements.

Below is a list of top accredited programs to consider if pursuing a career as an ophthalmic technician.

  • Duke University School of Medicine has been offering a prestigious ophthalmic technician program for more than 30 years. Students learn how to take patient history, prepare patients to see the doctor, and perform tests requested by the doctor. Students spend their first three months in intensive lecture courses supplemented by lab work and workshops. The remaining nine months of the program are spent in clinical rotations where students learn to apply the skills they have learned.
  • Portland Community College’s ophthalmic technician program is the only program in the western United States that offers intermediate level training and is an accredited program by the International Council of Accreditation. This two-year course has a dedicated lab where students can learn hands-on techniques before entering a clinic. Prior to completing the program students are able to sit for the certified ophthalmic technician exam from the JCAHPO. Graduates of this course will earn an associate of applied science (AAS) in ophthalmic medical technology.
  • Cuyahoga Community College has a 16-credit certificate course on ophthalmic medical assisting for students who are part of the allied health studies program and pursuing an associate’s degree in optical technology. Many students automatically receive the certificate as part of their studies without having to take additional courses.
  • Renton Technical College offers both a certificate of completion and an associate of applied science for ophthalmic assistants. The certificate course can be completed in four quarters, whereas the associate’s program takes six. This program meets the requirements for the JCAHPO certification.
  • Mercy College of Ohio features a two-semester ophthalmic assistant program for students interested in pursuing this career. Graduates of this program are eligible to sit for the ophthalmic assistant exam (JCAHPO). Students are required to complete both lecture and clinical courses as well as a final capstone project. This program starts each fall and is two semesters long.

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Hybrid and Online Programs in Ophthalmic Technology

Hybrid and online programs allow students to complete their studies without having to attend traditional scheduled on-campus classes. Ophthalmic technician programs at universities and colleges include a hands-on component so there are no hybrid or online courses. However, students may complete approved online independent study courses and on the job training to become a certified ophthalmic assistant (COA) as a stepping stone to becoming a certified ophthalmic technician (COT).

There are some programs that afford students greater flexibility than full time, on-campus classes. Two are:

  • Camden Community College offers students the opportunity to pursue a career as an ophthalmic technician without having to give up their jobs by offering all of the required courses on Fridays and Saturdays. Clinical rotations happen at offices near where students live, decreasing travel time and allowing students to work in their communities. This program can be completed in just 12 months and graduates are eligible to sit for the COT exam.
  • Coastal Carolina Community College’s ophthalmic assistant program offers its courses from 6:00 to 9:00 pm, allowing students to work day jobs while pursuing this career. This program is a step towards an ophthalmic technician career. Students are required to complete 192 lecture-hours and 480 internship-hours in order to graduate. Most students complete this course in just nine months.

Core & Elective Courses in Ophthalmic Tech Programs

Ophthalmic technician program course offerings vary based on the length and intensity of the program. However, upon completion of the program, students will generally have the skills to:

  • Greet patients and collect their medical history
  • Perform ocular diagnostic tests
  • Assist doctors to complete examinations or simple procedures
  • Help fit eyewear to patients
  • Dispense eyewear according to state regulations
  • Maintain patient electronic health records
  • Communicate with patients and colleagues professionally, both verbally and in writing

While courses vary from program to program, typically required classes include:

  • Anatomy and physiology of the eye
  • Medical terminology
  • Basic ophthalmic clinical skills
  • Diagnostic procedures
  • Patient Care
  • Ocular disease
  • Visual acuity assessment

Students are generally required to complete practicums or internships as part of their studies.

Ophthalmic technician is an intermediate certification and, often, professionals in this field continue their education and training to obtain an ophthalmic medical technologist certification or advance into another related field such as medical assistance.

Program Accreditation

Accreditation assures students, employers, and certifying agencies that the education received meets a minimum standard of content and quality. Ophthalmic technician programs are accredited by the International Council of Accreditation (ICA). There are two main types of programs they accredit: clinical and non-clinical programs. In addition to accrediting programs for ophthalmic technicians, they also accredit ophthalmic non-clinical assistance, ophthalmic tech, and ophthalmic medical technologist programs.

Career Outlook

Currently, there is a shortage of ophthalmic technicians. With an aging population, there is an increased demand for eye care services, and this is only forecasted to continue as Baby Boomers grow older. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019), openings in this profession are expected to grow 11 percent between 2018 and 2028, which far outpaces the national average of 5 percent for all occupations.

According to the BLS (May 2018), salaries for ophthalmic technicians are as follows:

  • 10th percentile: $24,770
  • 25th percentile: $29,530
  • 50th percentile (median): $36,530
  • 75th percentile: $45,530
  • 90th percentile: $54,830

The highest paying states currently are Minnesota, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, and Alaska.

Career Facts Ophthalmic Technician
Related CareersMedical assistant, lab technician, dental technician, ophthalmic clinical assistant, ophthalmic medical technologist
Common Job TitlesOphthalmic technician, ophthalmic laboratory technicians
Technology & EquipmentDigital retinal camera, non-contact tonometer, autorefractor, optical coherence tomography, fundus photography equipment, digital medical charts, spreadsheet, and word processing software
Sourced from BLS, June 2018

Licensing & Certification for Ophthalmic Technicians

Aspiring certified ophthalmic technicians (COT) have two paths to certification from the International Joint Commission Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO): either they can attend an ICA-accredited clinical ophthalmic technician program or they can receive on-the-job training.

The most straightforward path is through education. If certification is pursued through the completion of a course, students may simply sit for the test within 12 months of graduating.

Pursuing certification through on-the-job training requires prospective professionals to first obtain a certified ophthalmic assistant (COA) certification. This can be obtained through a clinical assistant course, a basic assistant course, and 500 supervised work hours. Alternatively, candidates can complete an independent study course and 1,000 supervised work hours. Once a COA, professionals can work towards becoming a COT by completing 12 JCAHPO Group A continuing education credits and accumulating 2,000 hours of supervised work experience.

Once complete, professionals are eligible to sit for the COT exam.

Kimmy Gustafson
Kimmy Gustafson Writer

Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with a passion for sharing stories of bravery. Her love for world-traveling began when her family moved to Spain when she was six and since then, she has lived overseas extensively, visited six continents, and traveled to over 25 countries. She is fluent in Spanish and conversational in French. When not writing or parenting she can be found kiteboarding, hiking, or cooking.