Educating the Optician


Apprenticeship versus Formal Education

Originally Opticians in this country and across the world were trained via apprenticeship, as were most professions. Medicine, Law (Abraham Lincoln was an example) and many others were trained via a structured apprenticeship program, in which the apprentice was almost an indentured servant to the master. This type of training was effective for that time in history, but is not in favor in today’s complex world. According to contemporary educational research, apprenticeship lacks the ability to disseminate complex ideas.

Medicine, law and others are too complex for the one-on-one methods of the past. Many, including this author, feel Opticianry has become too complex as well, and that current “training” programs have become nothing more than cheap labor. As evidence, review the pass rates of standardized tests, such as the ABO/NCLE, and some of the more rigid state licensure examinations. In my own state of NC, apprenticeship pass rates are abysmal. Unfortunately, the “old masters” of the past are no longer with us and those being trained are not getting a complete and thorough grounding in all facets of the field.

With each new generation we are “dumbing-down” those who follow us, and this needs to change. This has been a sensitive issue for years, quite frankly. Some see the “new breed” of Optician as a threat. If apprenticeship was good enough for granddad, and good enough for me, why is it not good enough for the future? I don’t want them to get ahead of me! This kind of thought permeates the industry, and we need to find an area of compromise where we can all feel comfortable, and move into the next century!

International Comparisons

This author has often wondered how we could affect positive change in regards to education and training for current and future Opticians. To provide some insight, let’s look at our peers in several other nations across the globe.


In Canada, Opticians must attend a formal program of study and be licensed in each of the ten provinces. There are several institutions across the country where Opticians can study. In Ontario, for example, two traditional colleges, Georgian College and Seneca College, offer excellent face-to-face programs over a two year format, similar to our community/technical colleges. In Alberta, The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology offers an outstanding program via the Internet that provides training for Opticians all across the country, also a two year program offered in conjunction with apprenticeships. The student must be working and have a supervisor who reviews their clinical application to assure competency. In British Columbia, there is a condensed 6-month program at the British Columbia College of Optics that shortens the training program, but students are prepared and allowed to sit for licensure in British Columbia.

Canada allows the fitting of contact lenses, and in some provinces, sight testing, by Opticians. This is a far cry from most states in the US that has no requirement of any sort to call oneself an Optician.


The English system is similar to Canada. In reviewing the data, it is clear that English Opticians were also ahead of us in that they require formal education and licensure. There is also a bridge to become an Ophthalmic Optician (Optometrist) as well for those who wish to go further.

German Opticians are trained via a rigorous apprenticeship program that combines hands-on clinical application with classroom experiences. The training program is very structured and combines significant clinical and work experiences.

These are just a few examples of our counterparts in other areas of the world. It is enlightening to see what others are doing, and I encourage the reader to do your own search. Comparing the US to other nations may provide some insight into things not before considered.

Educational Opportunities

There are many opportunities for US Opticians to get a formal education. Let’s take a look at some of those, and hopefully you will get some idea of the depth and breadth of educational offerings here in this country.

The National Federation of Opticianry Schools

This outstanding organization is made up of schools and colleges across the country that offer degree and certificate programs for Opticians. They have an excellent website (www.nfos.org) that provides a great deal of information about not only the schools that are members, but about the profession itself. The current list of members is 35, and these institutions and programs range anywhere from the standard two-year Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree programs, to shorter, condensed certificate programs. The site provides excellent information on each individual program, so we will not take up our limited space for descriptions, but reviewing the site can provide a great deal of information for those who seek educational opportunities, both in face-to-face traditional formats, as well as distance education opportunities.

The Ophthalmic Career Progression Program

The National Academy of Opticianry offers a home-study program, utilized by several states as a component of the apprenticeship program that allows them to sit for the state licensing exam. Several states require some formal education during the apprenticeship, and this is an approved program by those states. The website for the NAO is www.nao.org. You can easily find information there regarding the OCPP. This home-study program allows the student to complete the program at home via correspondence, and in a comfortable time frame. Proctored examinations are required. The books are well written by industry professionals, and provide a solid foundation in the spectacle dispensing side of Opticianry, preparing self-directed individuals with optical theory sufficient to sit for the ABO examination.

The Contact Lens Society of America

Similar to the CPP, the CLSA offers a home-study program for contact lenses. Completed generally via correspondence with required proctored examinations, the program is well written by excellent contact lens practitioners, and provides the self-directed learner with a solid foundation in contact lenses.

NAIT Optical Sciences

As a matter of full disclosure, this author is a consultant for the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, representing the Optical Science Program here in the US. This outstanding program provides Opticians across the country the opportunity to gain a two-year diploma in Eyeglasses, Advanced Diplomas in Contact Lenses, and Sight Testing. The program is extremely well written and offered via the Internet. The courses are led by full-time instructors who are there for full support for the student across the entire depth and breadth of the course. NAIT currently partners with state optical associations to deliver the program to their respective members here in the US. Texas, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, and Kentucky are currently partner states. Information on the program can be found at the websites for each participating state partner.5/18/09