Dispensing Optician

The Job and What's Involved

Dispensing opticians work with patients to fit and supply them with spectacles and other optical appliances.

Optometrists (ophthalmic opticians) and ophthalmic medical practitioners (doctors specialising in eye care) carry out eye examinations and issue prescriptions to correct eye problems. Dispensing opticians interpret the prescriptions and work with patients to:

  • Give advice on different types of lenses.
  • Help them choose spectacle frames, giving advice on style, weight and colour.
  • Take measurements of their face.
  • Make up orders for spectacles to be made by ophthalmic laboratory technicians.

When the spectacles have been made, dispensing opticians:

  • Check that they match the prescriptions and final order specifications.
  • Fit the spectacles on the patient, reshaping the frames if necessary.
  • Advise patients on how to adapt to, wear and care for their spectacles.

Dispensing opticians also adjust or repair patients' spectacles, if necessary.

When an ophthalmic optician and a dispensing optician work in partnership, the dispensing optician usually manages the practice. This involves keeping records of customers' prescriptions, working orders and payments, and checking stock levels and sales figures.

The hours of work vary. Most full-time dispensing opticians work 35 to 39 hours a week over five days, from Monday to Saturday, although they may have to work on Sundays. Some work longer hours. Part-time and flexible working hours are possible.

Dispensing opticians usually work in well-lit and well-ventilated shop premises. The work involves sitting, standing and bending.

Starting salaries for newly registered dispensing opticians in a private practice may be around £14,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 5,500 dispensing opticians working in the UK. Most work in private practice, which includes large chains, small independent practices and franchises. Some work for the NHS in hospitals and a few teach.

Vacancies for dispensing opticians may be advertised in the journals Optician and Optometry Today, as well as on www.jobs.nhs.uk.

Education and Training

To become a dispensing optician, candidates need to complete a three-stage process.

The first stage is to pass a three-year course of dispensing optics at a General Optical Council (GOC) approved training institution. There are three modes of study to choose from:

  • A two-year full-time training course at a GOC-approved training institution followed by one year's salaried work in a practice under supervision, or
  • A three-year day-release training course with a GOC-approved training institution, combined with suitable employment, or
  • A three-year distance learning course offered by a GOC-approved training institution, combined with suitable employment.

The second stage is to pass all parts of the professional qualifying examinations. The examinations are run by The Association of British Dispensing Opticians (ABDO) in conjunction with training establishments.

The final stage is to register with the GOC.

Full-time courses include:

1. Honours degrees in optical management, optical dispensing, ophthalmic dispensing and ophthalmic dispensing with management - applicants need at least two A levels (including one or two from biology, physics, chemistry and maths) and five GCSE's (A*-C), including English, maths and science.

2. City University offers a foundation degree in ophthalmic dispensing - applicants typically need 3 A levels, including a science and 5 GCSE's (A*-C) including maths or physics, one other science and English language or English literature.

3. Diploma in ophthalmic dispensing - the qualifications needed are at least five GCSE's (A*-C) including maths or physics, another science subject, English language or English literature and two other subjects.

Equivalent qualifications are also accepted for these courses, such as a relevant BTEC National Diploma or the International Baccalaureate.

The exact qualifications required vary between universities and colleges, so candidates must check carefully.

To work with children or vulnerable adults it is necessary to undergo checks through the Criminal Records bureau. Some of the above courses require these checks.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Courses that trainees can study part time whilst working include:

ABDO College's three-year Dispensing Diploma course, via distance learning - students need at least five GCSE's (A*-C) including English, maths and a science subject.

Foundation degrees in ophthalmic dispensing - entry requirements vary widely from three A levels in appropriate subjects to one A level, or equivalent qualifications.

Applicants with substantial optical experience may be able to join a course without the usual qualifications.

The practical aspects of optical dispensing are learnt on the job.

Qualified dispensing opticians can take further training in specialist areas, including honours courses in:

  • Contact lenses.
  • Geometric optics of ophthalmic lenses.
  • Low visual acuity.

In order to retain their registration with the GOC, it is important that dispensing opticians undergo Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A dispensing optician should:

  • Be able to deal with scientific and mathematical information.
  • Be accurate and pay attention to detail.
  • Be able to handle ophthalmic instruments.
  • Feel comfortable working closely with patients.
  • Be patient, caring and approachable.
  • Deal with people confidently and sympathetically.
  • Have good sales skills.
  • Understand style and fashion.
  • Be able to undertake administrative duties.
  • Have business skills, if working in private practice.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion opportunities vary between employers. Many dispensing opticians have obtained assistant manager posts by the time they qualify for registration with the GOC.

Dispensing opticians may become self-employed, while some work in partnership with optometrists.

There may also be opportunities to work abroad.

Get Further Information

Association of British Dispensing Opticians (ABDO),
199 Gloucester Terrace, London W2 6LD
Tel: 020 7298 5100
Website: www.abdo.org.uk

The Federation of Ophthalmic and Dispensing Opticians (FODO),
199 Gloucester Terrace, London W2 6LD
Tel: 020 7298 5151
Website: www.fodo.com

General Optical Council (GOC),
41 Harley Street, London W1G 8DJ
Tel: 020 7580 3898
Website: www.optical.org

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