What do you want to become?
Alternate Career Titles: Licensed Dispensing Optician, Ophthalmic Dispenser, Contact Lens Dispenser, Spectacle Frame Fitter
Career Overview: Dispensing Optician professionals provide patient advice and fitting recommendations for eyeglasses and contact lenses
Career Salary Range: $22,670 to $57,180
Estimated Years of Schooling Required: 2
Required Minimum Degree/License: Optician Certification Training Program
Become a Dispensing Optician
A Dispensing Optician is responsible for helping customers find and be fitted for appropriate eyeglass frames based upon their ophthalmic (eye) needs. This process includes initially measuring each customer’s eyes and face while reviewing their prescription needs to ultimately help them choose an ideal pair of glasses. Beyond prescription requirements, numerous factors must be accounted for when deciding upon a specific pair of frames for patients, including style preferences, athletic needs, tint options and more. Once a pair is selected, the Licensed Dispensing Optician will establish work orders and later notify clients when their glasses arrive and are ready for pick-up.
During the next visit, the Dispensing Optician will adjust eyewear as needed, and educate the consumer on their spectacles and how to best maintain them. If the glasses are later broken, these eye-based professionals are also qualified to repair or replace them. Lastly, depending on the workplace and employer, Dispensing Opticians may also be asked to complete a variety of administrative tasks throughout their work week. Examples of these coordination responsibilities include logging patient records, keeping inventory and maintaining order histories.
“A career in opticianry is never boring and is as limitless as you want to make it,” Matthew Townsend, a Licensed Dispensing Optician in Tennessee, said. “The industry is constantly changing which solves previous problems but can create new ones. While everything we do is routine, everyday is different because no two eyes or glasses are the same.”
Townsend added that he believes this career in healthcare is especially rewarding because Licensed Dispensing Opticians get to help people see the World in the clearest way possible. He suggests that “helping people get rid of distortion and blur is what this career is all about”.
“Sure we have more challenging patients, but when a toddler puts on their first pair of glasses and can begin to see their world anew you quickly feel the rewards and forget the challenges,” Townsend shared.
Daily Healthcare Career Info! Follow Us.
Stay connected to the latest Healthcare Career Advice easily through Facebook.
Education & Training
To become a Dispensing Optician, a person must first have obtained their high school diploma or the equivalent. Next, they must either pursue their associate’s degree or obtain the certification offered by the Commission on Opticianry Accreditation offered through community colleges or technical schools. Lastly, many employers will provide on-site training to ensure that their employees are able to perform all required tasks and responsibilities (i.e. measuring a customer’s eyes or adjusting their frames) to specific standards. Through these programs, classroom instruction is combined with clinical experience where learners are taught about optics, business management, eye physiology and more.
After a program is complete or certification is obtained, graduates should then take and pass the exams offered by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE). In addition, some but not all states require a license.
“The education required to become a Dispensing Optician is different in each state, but in Tennessee for example, a 2-year Associate’s Degree or an apprenticeship program is the requirement,” Townsend explained. “The course has two options, a requirement for 5,250 hours of experience or a supplementary training program through the National Academy of Opticianry which doesn’t require as many clinical hours.”
To advance in a career as a Ophthalmic Dispenser, professionals can pursue continued education courses to strengthen their qualifications. Advanced education can lead Opticians to secure greater responsibilities or managerial roles. They can also network with others in the industry in search of new roles, or consider entering a post-graduate residency program. These programs can provide insight into advanced clinical training practices, ultimately leading to an expanded career as an Optometrist.
“If a Licensed Dispensing Optician wanted to advance their career, there are several means of doing so including obtaining an Optician Advanced, Master’s Designation or contact lens advanced designation,” Townsend explained. “Career advancement really depends on the employer and the individual. In my state of Tennessee there’s not a lot you can do for pay increases other than to acquire a state license.”
Experience & Skills
“As a Dispensing Optician, customer service, troubleshooting and sales skills are essential,” Townsend said.
The ability to provide customer service is imperative in this role because customers seek these professionals out to help them make educated decisions when purchasing eyeglasses or contact lenses. Thus, patients expect their Spectacle Frame Fitter to be knowledgeable about the industry and products, as well as being able to meet each customer’s needs on a personalized level while remaining courteous.
Dispensing Opticians should also possess business acumen in order to help them to increase sales and manage inventory, as well as to ensure that all the different aspects of their optical store are running smoothly. For the business to perform well, these professionals should also be excellent communicators and decision-makers. Furthermore, Spectacle Frame Fitters should be dexteritious because they must be able to work with small tools to make fine adjustments. Strong hand-eye coordination and efficient movem
“Having a smiling, energetic personality as well as being self-motivated are two important qualities of Dispensing Opticians,” said Townsend.
Adding to this notion, to be successful as a Dispensing Optician professionals should be kind, considerate and respectful. They will come in contact with a variety of customer needs and personalities, and will need to learn how to cater to each individual, determining between wants and needs. This means that a Contact Lens Dispenser will need to be calm, friendly and most importantly, helpful. Professionals in this role should genuinely want to help their customers find products which will enhance their quality of vision, and ultimately, their life.
Most Dispensing Opticians work full-time schedules, but some do find and pursue part-time work. Depending on the employer, Contact Lens Dispensers may be required to work evenings or weekends, especially for department stores. Typically the offices of Optometrists and Physicians will also have some weekend hours as well.
Townsend explains “We look at prescribed prescriptions for glasses and interpret this information, as well as consider the preferences of the client to best meet their eyewear needs. If clients have trouble with their eyewear we will need to troubleshoot, so understanding how the lenses impact visual acuity is essential.”
The field of opticianry is undoubtedly on the rise! From 2015 to 2026, employment of Ophthalmic Dispensers is projected to grow 15 percent – a rate much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth can be attributed to an aging population with greater visual needs, an increased rate of chronic diseases which in some way impact vision, and the ability for Dispensing Opticians to aide Optometrists by handling eyewear adjustments, fittings and customer questions.
The vast majority of Licensed Dispensing Opticians are employed by the offices of Optometrists for health or personal care stores. However, other Ophthalmic Dispensers are also employed by general merchandise stores, the offices of Physicians or are self-employed. The state with the highest employment in this occupation is California, followed by Texas, Florida, New York and Michigan.
“If you are a state-licensed Dispensing Optician in my state of Tennessee, I would say finding an opportunity as a Dispensing Optician is really as easy as just applying,” Townsend explained.
As of 2016, the median annual wage for Dispensing Opticians was $35,530. While the highest earning 10 percent made more than $57,180 annually, the lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,670. The highest paying employers within this occupation are the offices of Physicians, health and personal care stores, general merchandise stores and the offices of optometrists. The top paying states for this occupation are Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Alaska.
“The earning potential in this career can be very lucrative,” Townsend confirmed.
Unions, Groups and Associations
The American Board of Opticianry and National Contact Lens Examiners (ABO-NCLE) is a national, non-profit organization designed to administer certification examinations for both Dispensing Opticians and Contact Lens Technicians. This organization also wishes to identify qualified eyewear providers through examination, urging the growth of optical skills via continued education and through approving select continued education programs.
- Decide on either the college or apprenticeship route
- Find a mentor
- Either apply to and enroll in an opticianry program, or find businesses hiring apprentices
- Gain related work/volunteer experience
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Matthew Townsend
Practice: Walmart Vision Center
Location: Jackson, TN
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“I would suggest that someone wanting to become a Licensed Dispensing Optician have an open mind and that they choose to ask lots of questions.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“The number one mistake is when professionals are overly-confident and believe they know too much too soon.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“Learners should ask every questions they do not understand, while learning from others and their own mistakes.”
Why did you choose to become a Dispensing Optician?
“I chose to become a Licensed Dispensing Optician because I found the work to be both fulfilling and challenging at the same time.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
*Credentialing organization: Commission on Opticianry Accreditation