Skip to main content

Keep an Eye on the Growing Number of Optometric Assistants

The job market for optometric assistants is growing in leaps and bounds.

As the baby boomers age, they are more likely to visit optometrists because of vision problems that set in during middle age. People are also developing vision problems due to computer use.

Laser surgery and the growth of the contact lens industry has made becoming an optometric assistant a hot ticket.

"There seems to be a bigger interest in the field because of these new products and technologies," says Darlene Byrd. She is the manager of the paraoptometric section and commission on paraoptometric certification for the American Optometric Association.

What is an Optometric Assistant?

An optometric assistant is another term for an optometrist's assistant. Sometimes they're called paraoptometric assistants or paraprofessionals.

An assistant's tasks are usually less extensive than those of an optometric technician, which is the next step up training-wise. Duties for an optometric assistant vary greatly, though, depending on the doctor for whom he or she works.

According to an optometrists' association, assistants might repair glasses and help patients choose lenses and frames. They might show people how to use contact lenses and other special devices. Assistants also do preliminary testing on patients and help the optometrist during exams.

In large practices, assistants may specialize in contact lenses, vision therapy, chair-side assistance, spectacle fabrication and dispensing, or office administration.

Optometrist vs. Ophthalmologist

Many people get the terms optometrist and ophthalmologist mixed up. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who can perform surgery and prescribe medicine. They can treat eye diseases and injuries.

An optometrist concentrates on keeping patients' eyes healthy and making sure they see better.

"I think there's a push by the medical community, the government and insurance companies all over North America to send people to optometrists like a family doctor and then to send them on to ophthalmology as the specialists," says Terry Theiss. He is the continuing education facilitator for an optometric assistant course.

Shelley Warrick is an optometric assistant in Bend, Oregon. "For a long time, a lot of people thought optometrists weren't as good as ophthalmologists," she says.

"But our office does a more thorough eye exam than the ophthalmologist. We do a lot more pre-screening tests with different equipment than an ophthalmologist."

How to Get Started

You can get a job as an optometric assistant without any training. But your salary and responsibilities will go up if you are trained.

A popular route for training is to get a national certification through the American Optometric Association (AOA).

Byrd says the AOA's program is growing very rapidly. "There was a trend earlier where the staff were the ones initiating the phone calls and paying for their own certification," she says.

"Now I'm seeing that reversed, where the optometrists are requesting and demanding that their staff be certified if they want to continue to work there."

The AOA's program consists of three levels, each of which takes six months.

There are also several programs associated with optometry schools or through vocational and technical schools.

The Details

Most paraoptometric employees work for optometrists engaged in private practice. Some are employed in clinics, government agencies, health maintenance organizations and various branches of the armed services.

The career is a good one for people who want flexibility. There are many part-time and full-time opportunities. Because the entire population needs eye care, you can take your career to a variety of cities and towns.

Many assistants find this service profession both stimulating and rewarding.

"I've heard many stories over the years where an optometric assistant was part of the process of detecting a tumor behind the eye," Byrd says. "Also, a person fitting somebody with their first pair of glasses who is stunned with the difference with what they can see now."


American Optometric Association
Learn more about its paraoptometric certification program

Eye Care Info
Read the latest in eye health

Back to Career Cluster


  • Email Support

  • 1-800-GO-TO-XAP (1-800-468-6927)
    From outside the U.S., please call +1 (424) 750-3900


Powered by XAP

OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.