Recently at an educational conference, an optician complained that the continuing education courses he took on refraction and the visual process had nothing to do with his job as an optician. He described what he does as interpreting prescriptions, designing lenses, edging, and frame repair and adjustment. All well and good, but he seemed to miss how those two courses could expand his insight into WHY he makes those fitting decisions every day and how that information could help him make better decisions. He wanted to become better at his job, but he didn’t want to know more about it beyond the how to.

The future for opticians depends on establishing and expanding our role as the eyewear specialists. We can look at optometrists to see how that is done. Optometrists have expanded their scope of practice more and more into medical and specialized vision care. They did that through education. That specialization, however, leaves less time for designing spectacles and even contact lenses for their patients, which presents a huge opportunity for opticians.

Looking at the history of contact lenses is a superb example of opticians expanding their scope of practice. Joseph and Marcus Soper, father and son ocularists hold patents for contact lenses for keratoconus, several contact lens designs and patents, as well as having developed manufacturing techniques. Edouard Kalt was an optician who created an early glass contact lens in 1888. Optician Kevin Tuohy introduced the first corneal contact lens in 1948. There are many others. These groundbreaking developments happened because opticians saw a need for better products and had the curiosity and motivation to study, research and fill the need.

When a patient has a problem with spectacles or contact lenses, the optician is usually the first point of contact. Troubleshooting requires keen clinical acumen and the ability to see the overall picture of the patient’s visual needs balanced with lifestyle and vision correction. We need to know WHY the patient is having a problem, and WHY a particular lens choice is best. The optician has to fill the gap between the doctor and the product. Vision is the result of a complex process involving light, optical lenses, eyes and brain. The key to troubleshooting and lens design comes from the integration of learning from all facets of optics and anatomy.

Retired Major League Baseball player Fred Stanley was a utility player as shortstop, and second and third baseman. He is said to have arrived at every game with three gloves to be ready to play any position needed. Opticians are utility players too, and we have to be ready for just about any position in vision care. Education provides our “gloves.”

Linda Conlin