Having a skilled optician is crucial to your practice running efficiently; however, there’s a lot to consider when hiring one. You need someone with a multitude of skill sets: technical skills, people skills, a business sense, fashion sense,
and depending on your state, possibly even a license.
It is important to consider what your practice needs in terms of an optical sales associate versus a lead optician. Determining how much time you or your staff have to devote to training as compared to the amount of experience you prefer your new hire to start with is also crucial.
It’s hard work to find the right fit for your team. Remember that all staff is a representation of you, so take your time and follow these steps when finding your next optician.
Tip: Consider making your interview interactive. For example, have the optician fit one of your staff members with glasses. This way you can see how they would make frame recommendations based on face shape and size as well as offer lens recommendations. You can also have them adjust glasses on a patient and neutralize a pair of glasses in a lensometer to demonstrate these hands-on skills.
For hiring, here’s what you’re looking for:
A competent optician can save you chair time by knowing when an adjustment or measurement issue is causing the patient’s complaint. Is their progressive seg height too high? This patient doesn’t need to see you. Is the patient getting headaches “every time they wear their glasses” because of poorly fitting glasses? Again, this can often be solved by your optician who assesses how the glasses fit the patient. This can save you the time of repeating refractions and also save your office lab redos when an adjustment is all that is needed.
An optician needs to be able to perform glasses adjustments and repairs efficiently and unaided. It is also helpful for them to know available options from the lab - what changes are possible when a person is having a problem that does warrant a glasses remake.
Most opticians will also require extensive knowledge of the various insurance plans your office accepts. In most cases, eyewear coverage under the patient’s insurance plan typically influences their purchasing decisions in our optical department.
Your optician will often be the one fielding patient complaints and concerns about their glasses. They need to be able to calm an upset patient, be efficient and concise with an overly talkative patient, and overall be polite and kind so patients feel welcome in your office. Of course, they also need to be someone who will get along with other staff members and doctors, and will mesh with the overall office environment.
An optician will be meeting with frame reps and guiding sales in the office. They need to be able to take instruction from you and the office management and translate that into action. They need to be able to make decisions about which frames to carry, how much inventory is needed, and not get carried away with excess purchasing when each sales rep comes in. Make it clear how much purchasing power they have.
Your optician also needs to be able to act independently, helping patients make the best decisions for their needs in regards to frames, lenses and add-ons.
Even if licensing is available in your state, someone can work as an optician with job-only experience. In this instance, they work under your license. Aside from licensing, opticians can receive a certificate of their knowledge base. There are two types of certification by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO)—one for glasses and one for contact lenses (for states that allow opticians to dispense and fit contact lenses). National Opticianry Competency Examination (NOCE) is the spectacle-related exam and the Contact Lens Registry Examination (CLRE) is for certification in contact lens dispensing.
Opticians may have been trained on the job, in an apprenticeship, through a certification training program, or through schooling that leads to an Associate’s Degree in Ophthalmic Dispensing.
- Basic ABO Certification: This can be taken by anyone with a high school diploma or equivalency who studies online materials to pass. ABO is a national certification and is not a license. ABO is valid even in non-licensed optician states. Certification is valid for three years and continuing education is needed to maintain certification.
- Advanced ABO Certification: This can be obtained only once someone has passed the Basic ABO Certification, worked for 3 years, completed 12 hours of continuing education, and taken an exam to prove advanced skills and knowledge.
- Associate’s Degree in Ophthalmic Dispensing: Opticians can also attend accredited opticianry programs for 2 years to obtain a more advanced understanding of ophthalmic optics, fitting, dispensing, and adjusting.
If your state offers licensure for opticians, you are not required to hire someone with a license. However, if you do not, anyone working as an optician is working under your license making you ultimately responsible.
Hiring a licensed or certified optician will give you peace of mind about this candidate’s skills. They should also be compensated at a higher rate because they have more training and a verified knowledge base.
What kind of optician are you looking for?
Your office may already have a lead optician, in which case, you may be looking for an optical sales associate. To find someone
who meets these criteria, you are primarily looking for someone who connects well with your existing team. This is someone who will help with glasses fittings and sales, but is not licensed or certified and may not even have experience working in the field.
If you are hiring an optical sales associate rather than an optician, it wouldn’t be expected that they know these hands-on skills ahead of time. In that case, during your interview, you will be assessing their people skills such as their ability to work together with other team members and make patients feel comfortable (while also calming the unhappy ones). Ask them how they would respond in certain situations—for example, if a patient came in upset that their glasses were taking too long to be made or they couldn’t see well with them.
If you’re hiring an optical sales associate, you or your staff may need to do a lot of up-front training to teach this person about all things optical. This includes explanations on what factors make a satisfactory glasses/frame fitting, the various lens material options, lens add-ons like photochromic, and a variety of anti-reflective coatings. They will need to understand brands, labs, what can be made in-house (if you have a lab), and what needs to be sent out. In addition to your own office workflow and point of sales system, the EHR/EMR software will also need to be covered in detail. Often labs you work with have free online training that new staff can do to familiarize themselves with optometry and optical-related terms and conditions. Be sure to ask your lab rep about these.
While technical skills are essential for a good optician or optical sales associate, they can be trained more easily than some of the other “soft” skills discussed here (eg. people skills/communication/personality). Finding someone who is a good fit for your office will uplift others and generally make your office a more positive place for both staff and patients is the person you want on your team.