An optician, or dispensing optician, is a technical practitioner who designs, fits and dispenses corrective lenses for the correction of a person's vision. Opticians determine the specifications of various ophthalmic appliances that will give the necessary correction to a person's eyesight. Some registered or licensed opticians also design and fit special appliances to correct cosmetic, traumatic or anatomical defects. These devices are called shells or artificial eyes. Other registered or licensed opticians manufacture lenses to their own specifications and design and manufacture spectacle frames and other devices.
Corrective ophthalmic appliances may be contact lenses, spectacles lenses, low vision aids or ophthalmic prosthetics to those who are partially sighted. The appliances are mounted either on the eye as contact lenses or mounted in a frame or holder in front of the eye as spectacles or as a monocle.
Opticians may work in any variety of settings such as joint practice, hospitals, laboratories, eye care centers or retail stores. However, registered opticians have to meet standards of practice and training, commit to ongoing education, hold professional liability insurance and are held to these standards by their respective regulating bodies.
A fully credentialed optician in the United States is college educated in Optical Science and is known as an Ophthalmic Optician® (O.O.) and they are credentialed by the Society to Advance Opticianry. To achieve this nationally registered title an optician must achieve a combination of a college education, American Board of Opticianry and National Contact Lens Examiners advanced certifications, or maintain their state license in both eyewear dispensing and contact lens fitting when applicable. In the United Kingdom, an ophthalmic optician was the term used for those who practiced optometry pre 1980’s and was replaced by “optometrist” in the past few decades.
Like many health care providers, opticians are regulated professionals in certain countries. The profession is often regulated by optician-specific agencies, as in Canada and some states of the U.S., or jointly with optometry such as the New Zealand Optometrist and Dispensing Opticians Board or the United Kingdom General Optical Council. Opticians may work independently or dependently with an optometrist or ophthalmologist although some opticians may work in an optical laboratory as a laboratory technical optician. Opticians convert a prescription for the correction of a refractive error into an ophthalmic lens or some other device, such as reading aids or telescopic lenses.
In the United States, an optician, through testing, may be certified by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) to fill the prescription ordered by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. Note: The ABO Exam is not nationally recognized and does not indicate a license to practice as an optician. In roughly half the states, licensing is not a requirement to make or dispense eyewear. Many eye doctors do their own dispensing, and it is frequent for eye clinics to have an optician on their premises; or, conversely, for large optical chains to have optometrists in offices on their premises.
Some opticians learn their skills through formal training programs. Professional technical schools and two-year colleges offer programs in opticianry. Two-year programs usually grant an associate degree. One-year programs offer a certificate. Training usually includes courses in optical math, optical physics, and tools and equipment use. Other opticians can apprentice to learn the required skills. Many formal education programs will accept hours worked as an apprentice to supplement or replace course credits, as well.
All provinces in Canada require opticians to complete formal training and education in opticianry and then must pass competency examinations prior to receiving governmental licensure. Some provinces (Ontario and Quebec) require a single optician's license that includes both the dispensing of eyeglasses and contact lenses, while the other provinces have two separate licenses, one each for eyeglasses and contact lens dispensing.
Recent changes to the British Columbia Opticians regulations allow qualified opticians in that province to test a person vision and prepare an assessment of the corrective lenses required for a client. Using the results of the assessment an optician is able to prepare and dispense eyeglasses or contact lenses. Opticians in Alberta are also permitted, under certain conditions, to refract and prepare and dispense eyeglasses and contact lenses
Provincial regulatory organizations
Each Canadian province has its own regulatory College or Board that provides registration or licensure to its opticians. The Regulatory body (often known as a ‘College’ but separate from, and not to be confused with, an educational institute) has a government mandate to protect the public. This includes enforcement of provincial statutes (Opticians Act) and public awareness campaigns.
The National Association of Canadian Opticianry Regulators (NACOR)
The National Association of Canadian Opticianry Regulators (NACOR) is an organization of all the provincial opticianry regulatory bodies in Canada (except Quebec). NACOR also administers Canada’s national opticianry examination(s). Since 2001, all jurisdictions (except Quebec) have agreed to and signed, the Mutual Recognition Agreement among Opticianry Regulators that ensures labor mobility to all opticians across the entire nation without need for further examination. All provinces (with the exception of Quebec) require individuals to achieve a passing mark in a national examination as a requirement of licensure as an optician.
Most Canadian provinces have their own provincial opticianry associations that look after the interests of their members at the provincial level, such as advocacy. Some provincial regulatory agencies have a dual role or purpose and also serve as the association for that province. In addition to protecting their member's interests, provincial associations also undertake public interest initiatives such as providing vision screening for children in schools, or organizing professional development seminars.
Established in 1989, the Opticians Association of Canada is a national organization of all provincial Opticianry Associations in Canada. The role of the OAC is to advocate for the various interests of opticians on a national basis.
As a prerequisite for registration in any province of Canada opticians are required to complete a course at one of the NACOR accredited teaching institutions. Persons from an international jurisdiction may apply to a provincial regulatory agency for an assessment of equivalency of their education. Such applications are not unreasonably denied.
Opticians or Dispensing Opticians are regulated by the General Optical Council (GOC). A dispensing optician advises on, fits and supplies the most appropriate spectacles after taking account of each patient’s visual, lifestyle and vocational needs. Dispensing opticians also play an important role in fitting contact lenses and advising and dispensing low vision aids to those who are partially sighted and in advising on and dispensing to children where appropriate.
The Association of British Dispensing Opticians (ABDO) is the qualifying body for dispensing opticians in the United Kingdom (UK). The Fellow of British Dispensing Opticians (FBDO) is the base qualification for UK dispensing opticians. This qualification has been awarded level 6 status (equivalent to BSc) by Ofqual Welsh Assembly Government and Council for Curriculum Examinations and Assessment(CCEA). Additional qualifications are Contact Lenses and Low Vision, have been assessed at level 7 (equivalent to an MSc).
Competencies Documents, National Accreditation Committee of Opticians (Canada) Competencies Documents of the American Board of Opticians, the National Contact Lens Examiners (USA) Society to Advance Opticianry