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Contributing to Patient Care as an Ophthalmic Assistant

Ophthalmic assistants are important members of the eye care team who are responsible for performing several tasks that are necessary for preparing patients for medical eye exams and supporting the efforts of licensed providers such as ophthalmologists and optometrists. The growing demand for eye care in recent years along with the fact that most optical establishments have both a medical department and a retail dispensary means that facilities in this specialty often employ several assistants to help manage patients. This has resulted in many excellent career advancement opportunities for those who want to work in a clinical or retail setting, but who lack the drive to complete many years of college as well as a grueling licensing exam process.

There are very few regulations that impact an assistant in the ophthalmic industry and most employers are allowed to develop their own competency standards for the individuals they hire. Although there are a few colleges and universities that offer certificate programs that are tailored to the assistant, most of the organizations operating in the US develop their own in-house training period that is designed to give new assistants the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. As an assistant is becoming familiar with the responsibilities of the job, a more experienced assistant or office manager will generally supervise and provide instruction. Ophthalmologists and optometrists may also help with the training process so that the assistant is familiar with how the licensed provider prefers to have things done.

Some of the most common activities that are assigned to an ophthalmic assistant include tasks such as documenting medical histories, recording pupil and visual field findings, collecting vital signs, measuring visual acuity and eye pressure, preparing instruments, conducting automated refraction, putting drops in the patient’s eyes, educating the patient, and operating specialized equipment. Offices that use electronic medical records may also expect assistants to input information about the exam as it is being performed so that the licensed provider can focus on the patient. Those who have a few years of work experience and who have demonstrated their ability to work constructively with others may be asked to accept responsibility for administrative tasks such as interviewing job applicants, training new assistants, conducting performance reviews, and contributing to business meetings.

Although individuals do not need to complete a college degree or advanced training in order to find a job as an assistant in the eye care industry, many administrators have started encouraging assistants to complete national certification in order to demonstrate competence and help preserve the profession in the midst of vast federal regulatory changes. Many insurance agencies develop reimbursement policies based on the credentials of the provider and will pay less or reject claims for services that are delivered by employees who have no credentials. The most common exam option being used today is the certified ophthalmic assistant (COA) exam offered through the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO).

Formal competency standards within the profession do make it more challenging to compete for open job positions, but there are several benefits that come with certification including expanded employment options, a higher ophthalmic assistant salary, and the ability to transfer credentials between states. Also, certified assistants are perceived more favorably by patients because they are often viewed as being more competent and professional. Employers who understand the value of a positive public image are often willing to offer far more competitive compensation packages in order to attract top talent. This should be kept in mind when deciding whether or not certification is an important endeavor to pursue.

Individuals who are serious about entering the ophthalmic assistant profession are well-advised to learn as much about the profession as possible prior to seeking employment. An applicant who can demonstrate a passion for high quality care and who has a firm grasp of what the position requires is in a much better position to compete against others who want the job. Additional facts relating to this career path can be found at www.opticiantraining.org where visitors will discover details about factors that can affect their earning potential, activities commonly included in the standard job description, and much more.

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