By Samantha Ramcharron, A.S.

One of my favorite sayings goes, “you live and you learn.” It doesn’t sound like anything profound or straight out of a literature book, but it gets me through mistakes I’ve made. If I could go back in time, I would have pursued a job in the field before I started school. I didn’t understand the importance of obtaining real life experience in an optical, versus putting in hours at my school’s optical clinic until applying for my apprenticeship. My classmates and I were able to guide each other frequently for group projects. Therefore, I always had support and comfort with what I was doing. It’s possible if I had started working in an optical setting sooner, I would have been much more relaxed for anything involving practical and physical tasks. I have noticed a drastic improvement in my skills and knowledge since becoming an apprentice. So, I try to convince students to get a job sooner than later because applying your knowledge in this field is immensely important on the road to becoming a successful optician.

I’m sure there are opticians out there who never broke a frame or cut lenses too big or too small. Must be nice to be so perfect! However, I have made my fair share of errors in school and even as an apprentice. It’s all about learning from those mistakes. Sometimes when it gets really busy, the pressure can be intense and people are calling my name across the store for measurements, dispensing and adjustments all at the same time, and things can easily go wrong in a hectic environment. I taught myself to be conscious of the patient’s needs and not to allow the busy traffic to affect their experience with their optician. It can be difficult to achieve Zen mode when five people are waiting for me, but it helps me more to stay calm because I don’t make silly errors that way. It’s a pleasant experience for the customer because it makes them feel like they are being heard and they’ll be getting everything they want. Every customer is different and some will require more attention, so listening and understanding what is necessary for them will minimize errors. I’ve been working in customer service for about seven years, so talking to people comes naturally for me. However, without prior exposure to the field, it was difficult to apply what I was doing in school out on the sales floor and in the lab. It was interesting when things started to click and I would tell myself, “duh!” pretty frequently once I became an apprentice.

The material we learn in school is dense, and it was overwhelming when I started working in the field. I had to take one step at a time and go to my preceptor whenever I was uncertain about something. I still continue to do that, but not as often anymore. Whenever I make a mistake either at work or in everyday life, I use it as a lesson to become better. Things don’t always work out the way we want them to and that’s the best time to view it as a positive learning experience. So far on my journey to be an optician, I’ve discovered that it’s okay to make mistakes as my skills mature, and to keep an open mind that errors happen. It’s all about how we deal with them and I find the best way is to learn from our mistakes.

For a great example of the challenges to both theoretical and practical knowledge, visit for our CE At Your Service: Transitioning From the Dispensary to Lab Customer Service.