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How Do I Become a Licensed Optician?

By Susan Abe
Updated May 17, 2024
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Opticians — formally known as dispensing opticians — help customers select eyeglass frames appropriate to their lens prescriptions, facial features and budget. They also help to ensure that the eyeglasses fit the customer's face correctly and comfortably. Some opticians are trained to fit contact lenses to patients as well. In addition, dispensing opticians may work as ophthalmic laboratory technicians who actually grind and polish the eyeglass lenses according to the prescription provided by the customer's ophthalmologist or optometrist. In the US, requirements to become a licensed optician vary widely on a state-by-state basis and may include specialized training, education, successful completion of various examinations and a supervised apprenticeship of one to three years in duration.

Only about one-half of US states require opticians to be licensed. In contrast to nursing and other healthcare fields, the process of training, education, apprenticeship and formal certifications to become a licensed optician have not yet been standardized. Potential employees should contact the health licensing board or agency in the state or states in which they plan to practice to ensure they have the most accurate and specific information on licensing requirements. Most of the states that do not require a license to practice as a dispensing optician often require a minimum period of supervised apprenticeship instead.

A third of dispensing opticians holds a high school diploma only, which is the minimum amount of preparatory education required by some states to become a licensed optician. One-fifth holds an associate's degree in any field and the remainder has completed some college courses. Higher education credentials specific to this career — such as an associate's degree in opticianry — are relatively rarely earned. This is reflected by the relatively limited number of associate degree opticianry programs offered across the US.

In addition to the minimum education levels needed, other state requirements to become a licensed optician also vary considerably. Most states require at least a written examination and a practical examination. Other licensing states require completion of a two- to four-year supervised apprentice program before written and practical examinations can be undertaken to earn an optician's license. Some states require certification examinations from national optical organizations in order to become a licensed optician. Basic certifications can be obtained from the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) or from the National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE), depending upon the amount of time the prospective licensee has served under her apprenticeship.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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