Ophthalmic Technician Schools

Being able to see well is essential. To do so, it is sometimes necessary to use 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 with required clinical rotations. If pursuing the education path 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 (IJCAHPO) certified ophthalmic technician (COT) exam. Once a professional has earned the COT certificate, they can continue their work experience and education to become ophthalmic medical technologists.

Jobs for ophthalmic technicians are growing quickly. Between 2021 and 2031, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022) anticipated a 15 percent growth in job openings for ophthalmic medical technicians, which is much higher than 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.

The BLS also has data for ophthalmic laboratory technicians. These technicians often use automated equipment to make lenses. These techs, commonly known as optical laboratory technicians, manufacture lenses for optical instruments, such as binoculars and telescopes. The BLS states that the demand for ophthalmic laboratory technicians will grow 4 percent between 2021 and 2031.

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 Created9,900
Projected Job Growth15%
Average Salary$41,120
Low Salary$28,910
Median Salary$37,180
High Salary$58,500
Entry-Level EDU Postsecondary nondegree award
Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician Fast Facts
Projected Jobs Created (2021-31) 700
Projected Job Growth (2021-31) 4%
Average (Mean) Salary $38,910
Low Salary (10th Percentile) $28,080
Median Salary (50th Percentile) $37,270
High Salary (90th Percentile) $56,190
Entry-Level Education On-the-job training

Degree and Certification Programs

While many ophthalmic technicians enter the field through on-the-job training, numerous programs can prepare those interested in pursuing this career. These programs are generally offered at community or technical colleges, although a few are 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

Duke University School of Medicine has been offering a prestigious ophthalmic technician program for more than 30 years. Students learn how to take patient histories, 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.

Upon completion, graduates receive a certificate and are prepared to pass the IJCAHPO certification exam for ophthalmic technicians.

  • Location: Durham, NC
  • Accreditation: International Council of Accreditation for Allied Ophthalmic Education Programs (ICA-AOEP); Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 12 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $9,690

Portland Community College

Portland Community College’s ophthalmic technician program is the only program in the western United States that offers intermediate-level training and is accredited 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.

Before completing the program, students can 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.

Since 2010, 100 percent of Portland Community College’s ophthalmic technician program students have passed their written COT certification exam. Generally admitting 24 to 28 students each fall based on a point system, this 91 to 98-credit program includes courses such as pharmacology for allied health; ocular disease; ocular pharmacology; ophthalmic office procedures; introduction to ophthalmics; ocular anatomy and physiology; and EHR in ophthalmology.

  • Location: Portland, OR
  • Accreditation: International Council of Accreditation for Allied Ophthalmic Education Programs (ICA-AOEP); Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($123 per credit); non-resident ($258 per credit)

Cuyahoga Community College

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 taking additional courses.

Combining clinical experience and academic instruction under professional supervision, this program includes anatomy and physiology of the eye; introduction to fabrication principles; ophthalmic assisting directed practice; refractometry; advanced patient care; and introduction to patient care.

  • Location: Cleveland, OH
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two semesters
  • Estimated Tuition: County residents ($124.54 per credit); Ohio residents ($154.08 per credit); out-of-state residents ($291.19 per credit)

Palm Beach State College

Palm Beach State College offers an associate in science degree program in ophthalmic medical technology, preparing students for well-paid, high-demand careers working with eye surgeons and physicians to improve and evaluate people’s vision. This four-semester program’s competency-based curriculum consists of didactic classroom experiences, hands-on optical analysis, and specialized training in vision testing. Through extensive clinical internships, students develop technical proficiency, including hands-on training in the college’s state-of-the-art medical clinic.

Offered at the Palm Beach Gardens campus, this 72-credit program includes courses such as physical and geometric optics; ophthalmic lenses; anatomy and physiology of the eye; ocular pathology and pharmacology; advanced ophthalmic procedures; refractometry; contact lens theory; and vision care.

  • Location: Lake Worth, FL
  • Accreditation: International Council of Accreditation for Allied Ophthalmic Education Programs (ICA-AOEP); Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four semesters
  • Estimated Tuition: In-state ($101 per credit); out-of-state ($363 per credit)

Volunteer State Community College

Volunteer State Community College’s associate of applied science degree in ophthalmic technician program is a one-plus-one program comprising one year of general education courses plus one year of ophthalmic-specific technical courses. Graduates will be eligible to take the certified ophthalmic technician exam.

This 60-credit program includes courses such as medical terminology; introduction to ophthalmic technology; ocular anatomy and physiology; basic ophthalmic pharmacology; introduction to ophthalmic diseases; ophthalmic optics; ophthalmic procedures; and ocular motility, among others.

  • Location: Gallatin, TN
  • Accreditation: International Council of Accreditation for Allied Ophthalmic Education Programs (ICA-AOEP); Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 12 months
  • Estimated Tuition: In-state ($215 per credit); out-of-state ($749 per credit)

Triton College

Triton College’s associate in applied science degree in ophthalmic technician program comprises 60 to 64 credits. Graduates of this program will be able to collect data for testing and treatment administration properly, interpret the patient’s present illness history for determining appropriate diagnostic testing, practice within OSHA safety regulations, safely apply proper procedures for testing, and utilize professionalism and effective communication skills for accurately providing a complete patient history.

The curriculum includes courses such as patient care introduction; medical terminology essentials; drug calculations; ocular anatomy & physiology; ophthalmic optics; ocular pharmacology; and ophthalmic procedures.

  • Location: River Grove, IL
  • Accreditation: International Council of Accreditation for Allied Ophthalmic Education Programs (ICA-AOEP); Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Five semesters
  • Estimated Tuition: In-district ($143 per credit); out-of-district ($367 per credit); out-of-state ($465 per credit)

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Hybrid and Online Programs in Ophthalmic Technology

Hybrid and online programs allow students to complete their studies without attending 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).

Some programs afford students greater flexibility than full-time, on-campus classes. Three are:

Pima Medical Institute

Pima Medical Institute offers an ophthalmic medical technician associate degree program via on-ground and hybrid delivery methods. While the program includes online components, completing this program requires on-ground attendance at the Denver campus and cannot be completed solely via distance education.

The program provides students with the knowledge and skills needed for work as professional entry-level ophthalmic medical technicians. This 73.5-credit program includes courses such as ocular anatomy and physiology; ocular disease; refractometry; contact lenses; ocular motility; surgical assisting; optics and advanced refractometry; ophthalmic photography and imaging; and clinical externship.

  • Location: Denver, CO
  • Accreditation: International Council of Accreditation for Allied Ophthalmic Education Programs (ICA-AOEP); Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 20 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $36,855

Camden Community College

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.

As part of the curriculum, students will delve into topics such as ocular pharmacology; clinical procedures; ophthalmic optics; medical history taking; anatomy of the eye; introduction to contact lenses; basic psychology; and clinical rotations.

  • Location: Blackwood, NJ
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 12 months
  • Estimated Tuition: In-county ($115 per credit); out-of-county ($119 per credit)

Georgetown University Medical Center

Georgetown University Medical Center offers a part-time evening program for students who are already certified ophthalmic assistants. The focus of this program is to prepare professionals who already have experience in this field to sit for the COT exam.

Therefore, students will attend more workshops and cover more advanced materials than the traditional 12 months in-person option. This program has no college credit, but students will be awarded a certificate from Georgetown.

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 6 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $3,700

Core and 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 in completing 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.

An 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). They accredit two main types of programs: clinical and non-clinical. 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, which is only forecasted to continue as Baby Boomers grow older.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022), openings in this profession are expected to grow 15 percent between 2021 and 2031, which far outpaces the national average of 5 percent for all occupations.

According to the BLS (May 2021), salaries for the 65,700 ophthalmic medical technicians are as follows:

  • Annual mean wage: $41,120
  • 10th percentile: $28,910
  • 25th percentile: $30,950
  • 50th percentile (median): $37,180
  • 75th percentile: $46,700
  • 90th percentile: $58,500

The highest-paying states currently are Alaska, Minnesota, New Jersey, California, and Oregon.

Career Facts Ophthalmic Technician
Related CareersMedical assistant, lab technician, dental technician, ophthalmic clinical assistant, ophthalmic medical technologist
Common Job TitlesOphthalmic technicians and 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 2023

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 education. If certification is pursued through course completion, students may sit for the test within 12 months of graduating.

Pursuing certification through on-the-job training requires prospective professionals first to 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.