If you have a combination of technical and customer services skills and enjoy helping people, a career as a dispensing optician could be for you
As a dispensing optician you will dispense and fit spectacles and other optical aids, to both adults and children, working from the prescriptions written by optometrists and ophthalmologists.
You'll advise patients on various types of lenses and spectacle frames, including style, weight and colour. You'll also advise on how patients should wear and care for their spectacles and, with further training as a contact lens optician, their contact lenses.
As a dispensing optician, you'll need to:
If you're a store manager, you'll also need to:
There is no set pay scale for dispensing opticians, and salaries can vary widely between employers. In addition to your salary, you may also have a bonus package and other benefits such as staff discounts.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are usually 9am to 6pm, although large multiple-chain stores are sometimes open during the evenings. You'll typically work between 35 and 40 hours a week, Mondays to Saturdays, with one day off in the week. Many practices are also open on Sundays and bank holidays, so weekend work is common.
Part-time and temporary locum work is sometimes available.
To qualify as a dispensing optician you must pass a three-year course of study in ophthalmic dispensing at a training institution approved by the GOC. These are:
There are three modes of study to choose from:
As well as a Fellowship Dispensing Diploma course leading to the ABDO Level 6 FBDO qualification, ABDO College, working in conjunction with Canterbury Christ Church University, offers a two-year Foundation Degree course followed by a third year BSc Degree course in Ophthalmic Dispensing, leading to BSc (Hons) and ABDO Level 6 FBDO qualifications.
You must also pass all parts of the professional qualifying examinations, which are run by the Association of British Dispensing Opticians (ABDO) in conjunction with the training establishments.
Finally, you must register with the GOC. It's illegal to practise while not GOC-registered.
You'll need to show:
New entrants to the profession may have experience working in an optical environment in roles such as optical assistant, receptionist or sales assistant.
Sending speculative applications to independent practices or large multiple chains can be a good way to find out about work experience opportunities.
The majority of dispensing opticians work in high street outlets for large, multiple-chain optician stores or for independent practices. There are also a number of dispensing opticians who are self-employed or in partnerships.
A small number of dispensing opticians work in hospitals where you're more likely to specialise in areas like low-vision aids. It's also possible to work in prescription houses or for manufacturers of frames, lenses and other vision aids.
There are a limited number of opportunities to teach at a GOC-approved training institution.
Look for job vacancies at:
Most large employers advertise vacancies on their own websites. You could also try making a targeted speculative application to independent practices or large multiple chains.
You must undertake mandatory continuing education and training (CET) in order to keep your skills and knowledge up to date and to remain registered with the GOC. Your GOC registration must be renewed annually for as long as you wish to practise in the UK.
The GOC CET scheme is a points-based system that runs over a three-year cycle and you must earn a minimum number of CET points by the end of each cycle to stay on the register. You can gain CET points from taking part in a range of activities, including attending:
Once qualified, you can do further study and clinical practice to become a specialist practitioner qualified to supply and fit contact lenses. Approved training for the contact lens specialty is provided by the ABDO College and City and Islington College.
If you have a specialist interest in patients with low vision, you could take the ABDO College Low Vision Honours course.
Some dispensing opticians decide to become optometrists. The University of Bradford offers a programme of study that allows dispensing opticians to graduate with a BSc Optometry in 18 months (six months of distance learning, followed by 12 months of study at the university). This career progression programme provides the theory and practical knowledge you need to practise as a pre-registered optometrist.
After qualifying, many dispensing opticians choose to take on additional management responsibilities. Opportunities to move up the management ladder are most often found in high street multiple chains or independent practices. It's also possible to take on a supervisory role - supervising trainee dispensing opticians.
After gaining experience, you can enter self-employment or partnership, running your own practice or a franchise business. However, competition from the large multiple chains can make setting up in private practice challenging so some dispensing opticians are now opting to take on a franchise with one of the major chains.