I had the great opportunity to teach a class at a recent conference in Athens, Georgia. The class was on innovations in technology in the eye field. I was so glad to see the optometric technicians that attended. We had the time to have an in-depth conversation on the topics I presented, which was great. However, I was amazed that the majority of questions asked about how to become certified as a technician. None - absolutely none - of the attendees was certified. Even optometric technicians that had been in the field for many years were not certified. Not only were they not certified, but they also had no idea how to become certified. I was surprised.

With that recent session in mind, I considered why people weren’t getting certified. First and foremost, I believe a person’s future in whatever their field, should be left to the individual. It is the optometric technician’s responsibility to become more informed, and if they decide to stay in the optometric field, I believe it is a must to become certified.

Second, I think the practice should not only want, but should also request, their employees become certified. If there is a requirement for certification, I believe there should be a specific allotment of time for a person to become certified. And when people become certified and educated at their jobs, they should be rewarded with compensation and recognition for the hard work and achievement. I have only heard of a few offices that require their employees to become certified, others I’ve spoken to would prefer their employees to become certified, but do not require it. But they don’t encourage them or assist them in doing so. I think most doctors want a more educated staff because they will better understand the day to day patient care, and the better the staff will make good decisions about triage.

Third, I wish the AOA would promote certification more. Certification information could be sent out regularly to offices, especially those offices that are members of the AOA, including when testing dates are happening, locations for testing, and how to get the available study materials, it would make it easier for techs. Don’t get me wrong, the AOA website has a great Paraoptometric Section. And if you can’t find it online, you can call.

So to make things as easy as possible, we will go over the steps to take.

Step One
After working in the optometric field for approximately six months, start to study for the CPO. That is the Certified Paraoptometric test. (Please note, you do have to have your high school diploma.) The study materials cost $130.00 if you order the material under your doctor’s AOA membership number. Once you are prepared for the test, send in your application and fee of $265.00. They approve your information, and you will receive a letter with an approval code on it to call the testing facilities. There are several testing facilities in each state. You will typically know if you passed or failed the day you take the test. You will receive your scores and certification in the mail in approximately 4-8 weeks.

After passing the first test, it’s time to prepare for the second test, CPOA.(Certified Paraoptometric Assistant) After working and studying for six months after passing the CPO, you can take the CPOA. The study bundle is available on the AOA website for $230.00 (again, this is the price if ordered under your doctor’s AOA membership number.) Then, once you are prepared, send in the application, which is online on the AOA website, with the $285.00 fee.

Now, last but not least, the CPOT test. This is the final level in paraoptometric certification. CPOT stands for Certified Paraoptometric Technician. You have to work six months with the CPOA certification before taking this test. The study bundle is the same as for the CPOA testing, so you will not need to get a new study guide unless you wait a long period in between testing, the guides are updated every few years so make sure you have the most current study material. This test is two parts; a computerized written exam and a computerized practical exam. Both exams have to be taken to have the ability to use CPOT after your name. Each test cost $285.00. You have two years from taking the written test to take the practical.

That is as easy as it gets. For all of the techs that feel overwhelmed or confused about what steps to take, don’t be, it’s an easy process; the studying is the hard part. Be prepared. Don’t settle for just a 9 to 5 job. Make this your career.

Employers, push your staff to greatness. Your staff is vital for patient care, don’t be second best, have the most educated and well-trained staff around. Trust me, patients notice.

Linda Hardy is a Certified Optometric Technician and Certified Ophthalmic Assistant. She is also ABO certified and NCLE certified and a Licensed Dispensing Optician in the state of Georgia. She has been with a private optometry practice in Newnan, Georgia for 15 years as the clinical coordinator.

Linda graduated from Georgia Medical Institute as a Registered/Certified Medical Assistant in April 1996. She began working with a group of ophthalmologists as an ophthalmic assistant. She switched her career to optometry in 1999. She has had the opportunity to become knowledgeable in many areas of the eye field from assisting to opticianry.