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Artificial eye-making has been practiced since ancient times by Roman and Egyptian priests. Artificial eyes used to be made out of painted clay attached to cloth and worn outside the socket. However, technology has brought us far from those days. Prosthetic eyes are now implanted into the eye socket by ocularists.

Ocularists make and fit artificial eyes. They are carefully trained technicians skilled in the arts of fitting, shaping, and painting ocular prostheses. In addition to creating the eye, the ocularist shows the patient how to handle and care for the prosthesis, and provides long-term care through periodic examinations.

The first visit to an ocularist usually takes place after eye surgery. They ocularist will remove the conformer that was inserted during surgery and replace it with a temporary prosthesis. The temporary prosthesis will be as close a fit and match as possible to the patient's existing eye. A temporary prosthetist is used to help the patient get used to wearing a prosthesis and aids in the healing of the eye socket. At that time, patients get their first glimpse of how real and natural prosthetic eyes look and how much movement they actually have.

The ocularist will measure the patient's eye socket, take a look at the shape and match the eye color, if necessary. When the prosthesis is ready, the ocularist fits it into the eye, which may then need minor adjustments to perfect the look. The ocularist teaches the patients how to insert and remove the prosthesis and properly care for it.

Like hard contact lenses, ocular prostheses need to be polished regularly in order to restore the acrylic finish and maintain the health of the surrounding tissues. It is generally recommended that patients see the ocularist one or twice yearly.

Recent developments in ocular implant technology have placed new demands on those who practice the art and science of ocularistry. Improvements in technology bring increased expectations on the part of both patients and health care professionals. The opportunity for ocularists to create a highly motile, fully supported prosthesis has been greatly improved.
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  Interests and Skills  
Ocularists need to have precise manual dexterity, strength, stamina, and patience to create ocular prostheses. They have the ability to work both alone and with a number of people, and can work quickly. They are mechanical geniuses, inventive and creative people with sound decision-making skills. Ocularists enjoy working with tools and machinery at tasks requiring precision. They are very technical and usually like having clear rules and guidelines for their work.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Design, fabricate and fit ocular prostheses, conformers and implants
  • Paint the iris and pupil of artificial eyes
  • Clean and restore ocular prostheses
  • Advise patients concerning the loss of depth perception and the care and use of ocular prostheses
  • Repair and maintain fabrication and laboratory equipment
  • Consult with ophthalmologists concerning surgical insertion of ocular prostheses
  • A typical day for an ocularist ranges from seeing patients and fitting ocular prostheses or working in the laboratory making artificial eyes. They generally work standard 40-hour workweeks with occasional overtime on evenings and weekends to accommodate patient's schedules. They spend all of their time indoors, either alone or working with people.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Ocularists are employed in artificial eye laboratories, optometry offices, clinics, and studios. They may also be self-employed.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What does the future hold for ocularists? Since they have good manual dexterity, they can move into any other profession which requires skill with the hands. They can also move into orthotics or prosthetic technology. Advancement may also be in the form of becoming a supervisor in a laboratory or open up one's own business.

  Educational Paths  
To become an ocularist, you must take an apprenticeship with an approved ocularist. The apprentice program through the American Society of Ocularists (ASO) requires that the apprentice must study all aspects of ocular prosthetics, and spend five years or 10,000 hours in practical training. The apprentice must also successfully complete 750 credits of related study courses offered by the Education Program of the ASO. Upon successful completion of all requirements, the title, Diplomate of the American Society of Ocularists, is awarded.

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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