The ophthalmic assistant profession is one of the most popular entry-level employment options in the eye care industry today. This career path provides a unique opportunity to have a positive influence on the lives of others by performing tasks that need to be completed before, during, and after the medical eye examination. In most cases, the assistant is hired to administer ancillary testing, document changes in medical complaints, provide patient education, and much more. Although this is an entry-level work opportunity that generally requires very little education, there are a number of factors to consider when establishing an informed projection of how much an individual can reasonably expect to earn.
Since most of the tasks included in the standard ophthalmic assistant job description can be learned by completing a brief in-house training program and hands-on instruction, employers will usually consider hiring applicants who have very little college education and experience. The fact that most states have no regulations affecting assistants means that the employer has a lot of leeway to establish their own set of employment standards. While a high school diploma or GED may be enough to find work, those who take the time to complete a couple years of college credit through a local community college or a vocational school can expect to become a more competitive applicant and may even be offered a higher level of pay due to the fact that they have demonstrated an ability to commit to completing a task.
One of the most beneficial credentials that an assistant can add to a resume includes prior experience in the specialty along with positive reviews from previous employers and coworkers. Although employers do hire individuals who have never worked in the profession before, they are not willing to offer as high of a salary because they know that they will have to invest more time and money in order to train the inexperienced assistant. In addition, an employee who is new to the field will consume more resources as they learn how to perform tasks in an efficient and effective manner. Opportunities such as part-time employment, volunteering, and job shadowing provide great options for gaining experience for those who are having a difficult time finding full-time work or who want to begin networking with individuals who are willing to provide advice and guidance throughout the career advancement process.
Beyond formal education and experience, one of the best ways to improve ones earning power is to successfully pass a national certification exam that is specific to the specialty. The Joint Commission for Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO) is one of the most widely recognized certification organizations within the industry and they offer several exam options including the Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA) exam. Completion of this exam demonstrates that an individual has the basic knowledge and skills required to provide high quality care and will make a great employee. Several employers may prefer to hire a certified assistant because they know that credentialed personnel are received better by patients and because fewer resources need to be invested in training the new employee.
Education, experience, and certification are three of the most effective methods available for increasing ophthalmic assistant earning power. Additional factors that could impact the size of ones salary include things like the type of employer, geographic location, and responsibilities within the facility. An assistant who works for a large organization and who has been assigned administrative tasks can expect to earn more than those who work in smaller facilities and who focus solely on clinical activities. In addition, individuals who want to live and work in a small community that has very few medical facilities can expect to be paid less and have fewer advancement opportunities because there are not as many companies competing against each other to attract top talent.