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Ophthalmic Technician


Our sense of sight is a gift that many take for granted. Those who are not lucky enough to have healthy eyes need to see eye doctors and surgeons to help care for their eyes. Ophthalmic technicians perform ophthalmic procedures under the supervision of a licensed ophthalmologist (eye surgeon). They test and measure eye functions, using a slit lamp for abnormalities of the cornea and anterior and posterior chambers, assisting ophthalmologists in diagnosing and treating eye disorders.

Ophthalmic medical technicians help ophthalmologists provide medical eye care. They conduct diagnostic tests, measure and record vision, and test eye muscle function. They also show patients how to insert, remove, and care for contact lenses, and they apply eye dressings. They play the role of educator, teaching proper techniques for care and prevention. Under the direction of the ophthalmologist, they may administer eye medications and drops.

Various procedures performed by ophthalmic technicians include taking medical histories, diagnostic tests, refractometry, anatomical and functional ocular measurements and tests, administration of topical ophthalmic and oral medications, and assisting in minor ophthalmic medical surgery. They perform diagnostic and other ophthalmic testing procedures on patients, such as ultrasonography, perimetry, visual function, biometry, tonometry and tonography.

Ophthalmic technicians are also responsible for maintaining the tools of the trade, including optical and surgical instruments. They are also in charge of making sure that they stay sterile from one patient's examination to the next. In fact, many orthoptists are also considered ophthalmic technicians because they often work as assistants to ophthalmologists.
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  Interests and Skills  
Ophthalmic technicians are interested in helping people with eye disorders. They have excellent communication skills and can get along with people well. They have a great deal of patience, are courteous and can instill confidence in patients. They need a natural curiosity and interest in science and a great deal of sympathy and understanding. Since they are dealing with patients who may be in jeopardy of losing their vision, this can be highly stressful and emotional for both the ophthalmologist and patient.

Ophthalmic technicians should possess good depth perception, manual dexterity and color vision. They should enjoy finding solutions to problems, dealing with people, and directing the work of others. Also, ethics is a strong point for these types of people because they have to do what is right for their patients with their best interests in mind.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Test and measure eye functions to assist ophthalmologists in diagnosing and treating eye disorders and disease
  • Examine eyes, using a slit lamp for abnormalities of the cornea and anterior and posterior chambers
  • Operate testing and measuring instruments to assess patient vision, including peripheral, color and depth perception
  • Record test results and case histories
  • Assist ophthalmologists in office surgery
  • Measure intraocular pressure of eyes, also known as the glaucoma test
  • Measure the axial length of eyes using ultrasound equipment
  • Maintain sterile equipment in the office
  • Administer eye drops, ointments and medications as directed by physicians
  • Assist in fitting contact lenses
  • Conduct tests designed to detect eye diseases
  • Educate patients by explaining physicians' instructions, for example, about home care or using contact lenses
  • Ophthalmic technicians work in office and clinical settings. They work the same hours as ophthalmologists, which may include weekdays, evenings and weekends, to accommodate patients' schedules.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Ophthalmic technicians generally work in ophthalmologists' private clinics or group practices, hospitals and community clinics.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What does the future hold for ophthalmic technicians? Advancement generally takes the form of more complex responsibilities. In larger organizations, they may advance to ophthalmic technologist positions. They may also qualify for a number of administrative positions or teach medical assisting. With additional education, they could enter other health occupations such as nursing or medical technology.

  Educational Paths  
Until recently, ophthalmic technicians were trained on-the-job. These days, ophthalmologists generally prefer to hire applicants who have a diploma as a certified ophthalmic technician (COT) and who have a background in medical terminology, are computer literate and hold a valid CPR Basic Rescuer certificate.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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