Starting a career in any medical field requires a certain amount of training, but if you have a particular interest in all things ocular, you’ll be happy to know that even with a college degree, you can still work as an optometric medical assistant. Optometry is all about the eyes and their health, including how well they work. An optometric medical assistant then, is the man or woman who assists an optometrist with their daily duties.
An optometric medical assistant is different to an optometric technician in that the technician will usually assist with lab work and a host of other duties that relate to the patient. The assistant on the other hand, fulfills duties that are less complex and that do not require contact with the actual eye, either in treatment or diagnoses. The assistants in an optometric practice will assist with keeping records of patients, answering phones and filing and even helping patients choose frames for their glasses. Very seldom, they will be called upon to assist with vision testing.
Because their duties are less extensive, they also do not need as much training or formal education as a technician, and do not earn as much money. Optometric medical assistants usually get trained on the job, and need just a high school education. The optometrist at the practice in which they work will usually determine what they do on a daily basis and may choose to help them train further.
Because of the huge demand for eye health and eye care, optometrists are struggling to keep up with the demand for appointments. They also need to consider their bottom lines, and the amount of profits they will make, so in some cases they have to assist with the diagnoses and treatment of patients.
An optometric medical assistant actually plays a crucial role in the business, since they are the one who will first identify the problem that someone may be experiencing. From high blood pressure to short-sightedness, they are the ones who will assist the optometrist in making a diagnosis.
Training To Become An Optometric Medical Assistant
To become an assistant in this field, you will need a high school diploma, and it really helps if you have particular skills, including:
- English – being able to communicate well is a benefit in any customer-facing job, and since an optometric medical assistant has to talk to customers to schedule appointments and help them choose frames, it is a bonus if they have a good vocabulary.
- Math and bookkeeping – this allows the assistant to do basic financial functions such as printing invoices and giving customers quotes.
- Typing – as the job requires, you may be called upon to add notes to client’s files and this means good typing skills. Even a basic knowledge of computers will assist in this regard.
In addition to the skills mentioned above, it helps if you have certain character traits when applying for this position. For one, having a neat appearance and friendly manner ensures that you will be able to communicate with clients effectively. You may find that some optometrists will send you on additional courses and training so that you do better at your job, though many simply require that you are good with people and a hard worker.
Some community colleges offer one-year programs that you can attend to become an optometric medical assistant and if this is something you really want to pursue, know that the American Optometric Association (AOA) also offers a certification to any optometric assistants who pass their exams. The AOA has also begun training assistants in:
- Basic optometric terminology – in an optometric practice, it is vital that the assistants know what instruments are called and how the business works. By learning terminology, they essentially learn more about the field, and can even further their training and become optometric technicians or optometrists.
- Optometric Practice Operation – based in good business principles, this course is about understanding how a practice works and what is needed to run a practice. With this knowledge, the optometric medical assistant knows what they are working towards.
- Anatomy – this generally includes the anatomy of the eye and all of the parts that are connected to it. This is important for assistants to know as they can determine whether someone is experiencing a problem in one part of their eye or in another, and helps the optometrist make a diagnosis.
- Optometric exams and treatments – this is an obvious benefit for assistants as they learn how an optometrist works.
The certifications that an assistant can complete are generally designed by optometrists, as they are the ones who will benefit from trained assistants in the long term. However, a lot of optometrists prefer to hire those candidates who have no formal training as they will take lower salaries.
If the assistant has a desire to further their training and education and become certified, they can apply to the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology. This institute offers training for the optometric medical assistants that teaches them how to perform all of the duties that their position or other more complex positions in the same field may require. Of course, this kind of qualification takes time and thus many assistants choose not to do it.
Finding A Job
The first time you look for a job, you may find that it is a little daunting to simply walk into an optometrist’s office and ask about becoming an assistant. That is why it helps to be prepared and have some details about the industry.
For those who have attended training, either at a community college or vocational school, discussing options with the college counselor or job placement officer will give you some insight into what is available. Otherwise, your best bet may be to send an email or letter to optometrists in your area, asking if they need an optometric medical assistant and whether they would be agreeable to providing you with training. If you want to work in government, you will have to take a test, depending on the state in which you live.
Generally, the outlook for finding an assistant job is quite good due to the need for vision care services. From glasses and contact lenses to checking the health of the eyeball, there is a lot of demand for optometrists, which also means a lot of demand for optometric medical assistants.
Job Duties For An Optometric Medical Assistant
Once you have secured a job, you may be asked to perform a variety of duties, including:
- Get and record patient’s histories – optometrists will generally give their optometric medical assistants a detailed form for new patients to fill in. it is then up to them to get a history from the patients, not just of their eye health but also of their general health.
- Receptionist duties – this involves scheduling appointments, doing some basic bookkeeping, answering the phones and emails and also filing.
- Preparing patients for the vision test – you may also be asked to talk patients through what the vision test involves and help with the test. An optometrist will sometimes ask an assistant to help them with the test using the instruments.
- Help patients select frames and instruct them in care techniques – an optometric medical assistant also has the responsibility of explaining to patients how they should use and take care of their glasses and contact lenses, so that they can last longer.
- Adjusting and repairing glasses – where possible, the assistant will need to adjust or repair any glasses. If they cannot do so, they will need to schedule glasses in for repairs.
- Maintaining inventory – the assistant will need to take inventory of all materials and keep them clean, so that the practice looks neat and presentable at all times.
The Work Environment For Optometric Assistants
An optometrist will usually work either in private practice in a group. Depending on where you work, you will likely share the office space with at least one or two other people. Optometrists usually rent spaces in doctor’s offices, shopping malls or even in business parks, as their needs require, but in some cases, an assistant may even work in a clinic or a hospital.
It is important that if you choose to pursue a career in this field, you understand the amount of work that needs to be done. In many cases, an optometrist’s office will be open during the day and into the evening and even on weekends. This means that you may have to work long hours or in shifts of unusual hours, and you will most likely lose your weekends.
What The Future Of Optometric Assistants Holds
As the years go past, optometric assistants will be more and more in demand. This is because people’s health needs are changing and they are taking more care of their bodies. Also, they have a lot more disposable income to spend on their optometric needs, such as glasses, contact lenses and sunglasses. Companies that design frames are also making expensive frames, which means that more money is spent at the optometrist’s office and more care is being taken when the frames are chosen.
Optometric assistants have a valuable role to play in the effective running of a good optometric practice. Although they may not be appreciated as such, their valuable role is really what keeps the business running. As an assistant, you can expect to earn between $15 000 and $30 000 a year, which is not much, but when you are starting out in the industry is not bad either.
For those who wish to start out as an optometric assistant, the very first starting point should be looking online for more information. This includes the job duties and other kinds of information about the role. Once you have done this, you should look at job shadowing an optometric medical assistant. This will give you unique insight into what the role requires. If you are still a high school student, you should consider trying to get a summer job with an optometrist.
Once you start working in a practice, you can choose to stay where you are or advance your career. As an assistant working in optometry, you will have some insight into how the business works, and so can look to further your education and your career. From this job, you can study to become an optometric technician, and help with making glasses and contact lenses and other medical duties, or even study to become an optometrist. Although the process may be long and patience is required the rewards are many.
For those who wish to have a steady career in which they can make a steady income, becoming an optometric medical assistant provides you with the opportunity to do just that. But know that as an assistant, you will need a unique skills set and a unique character. As well as patience and people skills, you will need to be able to take the initiative and think independently. This means not asking the optometrist or office manager about every detail of every task you do, as they will be busy with patients and with their own work.
And don’t think that dealing with customers will be easy. You may be faced with customers who are tired, annoyed and who don’t want to be in that optometrist’s office. No matter how they behave, it will be your responsibility to address them politely and to try and help them solve their problems. If this is something you do well, there are also chances to advance in the career field for you, especially if you work for an optometrist who sees your personality and special skills.
As an assistant, you may have to work long hours and with all manner of people, but the rewards of doing so can be large, since you are helping people and restoring vision to those who struggle with problems in this area. If you choose to become an optometric medical assistant, you will find rewards in many ways throughout your day.