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Career Guide: Opticians, Dispensing

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nature of the Work

Helping people see better and look good at the same time is the job of a dispensing optician. Dispensing opticians help select and then fit eyeglasses and contact lenses for people with eye problems, following prescriptions written by ophthalmologists or optometrists. (The work of optometrists is described elsewhere in the Handbook. See the section on physicians and surgeons for information about ophthalmologists.) Dispensing opticians recommend eyeglass frames, lenses, and lens coatings after considering the prescription and the customer’s occupation, habits, and facial features. They measure clients’ eyes, including the distance between the centers of the pupils and the distance between the ocular surface and the lens. For customers without prescriptions, dispensing opticians may use a focimeter to record eyeglass measurements in order to duplicate their existing eyeglasses. They also may obtain a customer’s previous record to re-make eyeglasses or contact lenses, or they may verify a prescription with the examining optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Dispensing opticians prepare work orders that give ophthalmic laboratory technicians the information they need to grind and insert lenses into a frame. (See the section on ophthalmic laboratory technicians elsewhere in the Handbook.) The work order includes prescriptions for lenses and information on their size, material, color, and style. Some dispensing opticians grind and insert lenses themselves. They may also apply tint to glasses. After the glasses are made, dispensing opticians verify that the lenses have been ground to specifications. Then they may reshape or bend the frame by hand or using pliers so that the eyeglasses fit the customer properly and comfortably.

Many opticians also spend time fixing, adjusting, and refitting broken frames. They instruct clients about adapting to, wearing, or caring for eyeglasses. Additionally, administrative duties have become a major part of their work, including keeping records on customers’ prescriptions, work orders, and payments, and tracking inventory and sales.

Some dispensing opticians, after additional education and training, specialize in fitting contacts, artificial eyes, or cosmetic shells to cover blemished eyes. To fit contact lenses, dispensing opticians measure the shape and size of the eye, select the type of contact lens material, and prepare work orders specifying the prescription and lens size. Fitting contact lenses requires considerable skill, care, and patience. Dispensing opticians observe customers’ eyes, corneas, lids, and contact lenses with specialized instruments and microscopes. During several follow-up visits, opticians teach proper insertion, removal, and care of contact lenses.

Work environment. Dispensing opticians work indoors mainly in medical offices, optical stores, or in large department or club stores. Opticians spend a fair amount of time on their feet. If they prepare lenses, they need to take precautions against the hazards of glass cutting, chemicals, and machinery. Most dispensing opticians work about 40 hours a week, although a few work longer hours. Those in retail stores may work evenings and weekends. Some work part time.


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