Dispensing optician
Laboratory & Medical Technical

Dispensing opticians design, fit and adapt spectacles and contact lenses for customers, both adults and children, in accordance with prescriptions written by optometrists or ophthalmologists. In addition, they advise customers, who are also described as patients, on the suitability of lenses and glasses frames as well as on product care and usage.

Work Activities

Dispensing opticians' typical work activities can be broadly split into two categories: technical and retail.

Typical technical work activities include:

  • prescription analysis: interpreting optometrists' or ophthalmologists' optical prescriptions
  • calculating vision distances and angles
  • taking frame and facial measurements
  • fitting, adjusting and mending spectacle frames
  • advising partially sighted patients on the use of low vision aids
  • fitting contact lenses and advising customers on care and usage (additional training is normally required)

Typical retail work activities include:

  • advising patients on glasses frames, styles and lenses
  • stock control, including selecting, managing and ordering a range of optical products
  • consulting with sales representatives from optical product suppliers
  • ordering lenses from prescription houses and checking lenses on delivery to ensure that they meet the required specifications
  • arranging and maintaining shop displays

Store management opportunities are available to those who would like to progress. Store managers tend to be responsible for:

  • the day-to-day management of the optical practice
  • recruiting, managing, training and motivating staff, including trainee dispensing opticians
  • business development and growth through, say, marketing
  • maintaining patient and business records
  • Upholding the highest technical standards

Dispensing opticians typically work full time, around 35–40 hours per week, across five or six days, which is likely to include a Saturday or Sunday. Hours of work are usually standard (9.00 am to 5.30 pm), but this depends on the employer; evening work may be expected at some organisations. Dispensing technicians are usually based in a single location, but the odd trip to other practices within the local area may be required.

Some employers have co-ownership schemes in place. After building up their experience, some dispensing opticians become self-employed, which could be through franchise, partnerships or sole trader operations. Flexible working arrangements, such as part time and temporary locum work, are offered by employers as well, but this tends to be less common than full time, permanent contracts.

Personal Qualities and Skills

Key skills and attributes for dispensing opticians

  • Technical expertise
  • Communication skills
  • Customer service and care
  • Accuracy and attention to detail
  • Proficient in science and maths
  • Manual dexterity
  • Selling
  • Teamwork
  • Some employers require a full clean UK drivers licence

Pay And Opportunities

Typical employers of dispensing technicians

High street outlets, which include large, multiple-chain optician stores, independent optical practices and supermarkets, snap up the vast majority of dispensing opticians. These employers tend to be based in towns and cities.

The main sources of trainee dispensing optician vacancies are jobs boards targeted at university students and graduates, sector-specific jobs sites and general job search websites.

Qualifications

Qualifications and training required

To work as a dispensing optician you must be registered with the General Optical Council (GOC), which is the regulator for the UK-based optical professions. In order to register, you will be required to complete an ophthalmic dispensing course accredited by the organisation, such as the:

  • two-year, full-time diploma, which would be succeeded by one year's supervised, payed work as a dispensing optician;
  • three-year day release or distance learning course, which is available to those who already work as a pre-registration dispensing optician; or
  • two-year foundation degree programme with a year-long ophthalmic dispensing BSc degree top-up
  • In Scotland you can take a degree in Ophthalmic Dispensing at Glasgow Caledonian University – entry requirements are 3 Highers at BBC including a science subject plus English, Maths and Physics at National 5. The degree is followed by one year of supervised professional practice before applying for GOC professional registration.
  • Glasgow Kelvin College offers an Access to Ophthalmics course, which gives entry to the BSc Ophthalmic Dispensing degree course at Glasgow Caledonian University. There are no formal academic prerequisites however applicants should preferably have a gap in their formal education (4 years out of school). Applicants should have a strong interest in mathematics and physics, and preferably a good background in these subjects. Candidates will be asked to do a written/numerical exercise at interview.

In addition to the above, aspiring dispensing opticians will have to pass the professional qualifying exams of the Association of British Dispensing Opticians (ABDO).

GCSEs

A minimum of five A–C grade GCSEs, including English, maths and a science subject, are typically required to get on to one of the accredited courses. However, the ABDO has alternative courses for individuals who do not meet the GCSE requirements.

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