An optician makes up and fits corrective lenses according to a prescription given to him by an Optometrist or Ophthalmologist.
An optician’s role is to give people suffering from short or long-sightedness access to corrective lenses that will allow them to see clearly again. As age progresses most people’s vision gets steadily worse. Opticians are primary health care providers and hugely important in the continued well-being of individuals with deteriorating sight.
Opticians use a number of specialist tools. These are being constantly updated and they are bound by a code of practice to keep up to date with these advances.
There are around 4,000 dispensing opticians currently working in the UK. With a burgeoning elderly population, the demand for corrective lenses is set to rise in the UK so job growth for Opticians should be steady.
- An optician starting out can expect to earn a yearly salary of £18,000 – £20,000.
- With a few years experience an optician can earn £25,000 – £30,000 per annum.
- A Dispensing Optician who owns his own business can earn a lot more than this, entirely depending upon the success of his practice.
- An optician uses specialist apparatus to fit clients with the correct vision aids. In the case of spectacles they must be fitted to the head of the patient in accordance with the eye-line. Contact lenses meanwhile, have to be fitted to the patient’s eyeball, which requires the use of a keratometer.
- Once the prescription lenses have been made up, an optician tests their performance on the patient. He goes through a series of tests relating to angles in the patient’s field of vision and how the corrective lenses are affecting sight.
- A Dispensing Optician must be on hand to give advice and support to customers. He handles common queries on spectacle style and function and whether to choose contact lenses or spectacles.
- General admin tasks are also commonly the responsibility of the Dispensing Optician and they commonly operate in managerial roles.
To become a Dispensing Optician you must be registered with the GOC (The General Optical Council) and pass a test that is accredited by them. You must also sit exams set by ABDO (The Association of British Dispensing Opticians).
There are a number of training paths to becoming a qualified optician; it is generally a requirement of all that you have a minimum of 5 GCSE’s in subjects such as English, Maths and Science.
- Full-time. Studying for three years, including a two year diploma course and one training year in paid employment.
- Part-time. A three year course taken on day release for those already in relevant employment.
- Distance Learning. A three year course for those in relevant employment. A four week residential segment is included in the course.
- A Foundation Degree. Degrees are available with titles such as Dispensing Optics, Optical Management and such like.
- An optician is a client-facing role. You will be dealing with the general public so it is important you have good inter-personal skills.
- An eye for detail, colour co-ordination and style is imperative to help people make the right choice about something that may become a near permanent fixture on their face (spectacles).
- Confidence in working with specialist and technical equipment. Precise measurements and tests are the mainstay in an optician’s working life.
- A good grasp of mathematics is vital, as you will be working with complex measurements and figures and be expected to perform conversions with these.
- Managerial skills are important if you wish to advance in your career.
- Good business sense is essential if you are working in a privately owned practice.
Working as an optician means being available to the public. Nine to five hours are common, along with late openings on Thursdays and Saturday working too. Opticians usually work 5 days a week based from a shop setting. An optician’s working environment is very similar to other retail professions, with the exception that you will also be conducting specialist tests with clients away from the shop front.
Alternatively opticians may work in large hospitals, or as a teacher in a higher education establishment.
Experience working with the public in a retail setting is of benefit to anyone thinking about becoming an optician. Experience actually working in an optician’s can lead to distance learning courses and part-time study, so this is definitely beneficial.
Major employers of opticians are the big chain Optician Stores and Pharmacies which sometimes have in-house opticians. Major UK Opticians include:
Optician jobs are often advertised in the national or local press. There are also a number of specialist publications like Optometry Today and Optician Online.
Opticians usually start their working life as soon as, or before they have qualified (as a paid placement). It is a pre-requisite for membership of the GOC that opticians continue to further their skills and knowledge through their careers. The GOC enforces this through a mandatory CET (Continued Education and Training) programme.
Qualified Dispensing Opticians may study for a Contact Lens Speciality.
Opticians working for a large chain may be promoted to assistant manager and then manager. By combining forces with an optometrist and raising capital there is the option of becoming self-employed and owning your own business.
Some opticians work in higher education as teachers. Alternatively makers of opthamological instruments hire qualified opticians as sales representatives.
Also known as…
- Dispensing Optician
- Ophthalmic Surgeon
What’s it really like?
Clive Dermott is 35 years old and works as a Dispensing Optician and Contact Lens Fitter for Paine and Hunter Opticians in East Dulwich. He has been working as an optician since 1992.
Clive, tell us how you became an Optician. What were you doing before you started working in an opticians’ store?
I was at school, then college. I graduated and began working as an optician. I haven’t looked back since.
What is a typical day like in the life of an Optician?
My typical day at work involves checking the health of people’s eyes and fitting contact lenses. This means performing a slit lens exam and using a keratometer to measure the shape of the patient’s eye. To make the contact lenses, I make a calculation based on the patient’s spectacle prescription with an adjustment for the proximity of the lens to the cornea. Lastly the patient tries on the contact lenses and we check if they are performing correctly.
What are your favourite things about being an Optician?
I like helping people; sight makes a huge difference to people’s lives and sometimes they don’t even realise that till it’s fixed! Some people think they are going blind and all they needed was the right prescription. The other thing is helping the way people feel about themselves. If they have an old, shoddy pair of specs and exchange them for something more flattering, they often get a lot of positive feedback from friends and family.
Are there any things you dislike about working as an Optician?
Hard to say, not really. If there is one thing I dislike it’s the odd government legislation that prevents us from selling contact lenses over the counter when it’s fine for many chemists, supermarkets and of course the Internet. Patients generally don’t understand this and can get quite irate when we refuse to sell them. What they don’t understand is that as registered opticians, we are bound by a duty of care to our patients.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about becoming an Optician?
You must have a good bedside manner and lots of patience!
Where do you see yourself moving on from here, in terms of career progression?
I’m happy where I am, working as an optician. If I was to move on, I would tend towards IT as that is something I have always enjoyed.
Do you have any other insider tips for potential Opticians?
You need to have good medical knowledge. Mess something up with the eye and there’s going to be trouble. You have to be a very thorough kind of a person.