Dispensing opticians dispense and fit spectacles and other optical aids, working from 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 they should wear and care for their spectacles and, with further training as a contact lens optician, their contact lenses.

You will often be the first point of contact for patients, who can range from children to the elderly.

Responsibilities

As a dispensing optician, you'll need to:

  • interpret optical prescriptions written by optometrists or ophthalmologists
  • give advice to patients on lens type, frames and styling, and spectacle repair
  • with further training, fit contact lenses and give advice on their care and use
  • take frame and facial measurements to ensure correct frame fit and positioning
  • advise partially sighted patients on the use of low vision aids
  • advise patients when adjustments or repairs to spectacles are needed
  • select, manage and order a range of optical products
  • order lenses from prescription laboratories
  • check lenses on delivery to ensure that they meet the required specifications
  • arrange and maintain displays
  • liaise with sales representatives from product suppliers
  • supervise and train student dispensing opticians.

If you're a practice manager, you'll also need to:

  • recruit staff and manage their training and professional development
  • undertake the day-to-day management of the practice, ensuring that everything runs effectively and smoothly
  • take responsibility for setting and meeting sales targets and helping the practice grow
  • maintain stock levels
  • plan and administer business development, including marketing activities and business plans
  • keep accurate patient and business records.

Salary

  • There is no set pay scale for dispensing opticians, and salaries can vary widely between employers.
  • Starting salaries for qualified dispensing opticians typically range from around £18,000 to £25,000, depending on your experience. Contact lens opticians may earn more.
  • With experience you can earn up to around £30,000. Salaries for practice managers can range from £30,000 to in excess of £40,000.

Salaries vary depending on your experience, location and type of practice.

In addition to your salary, you may also have a bonus package and other benefits such as a pension scheme, private medical insurance, professional insurance and staff discounts.

Working hours

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 two days off in a week. Many practices are also open on Sundays and bank holidays.

Part-time and temporary locum work is available.

What to expect

  • Jobs are available in most parts of the UK, primarily in towns and cities.
  • Most work is undertaken in one location, but you may need to visit other practices in the local area.
  • With experience it's possible to set up as a self-employed business owner through a franchise, partnership or sole trader operation.
  • You'll need to dress smartly and maintain a high level of courtesy and professionalism with customers.
  • You may be able to find work abroad, as registration with the General Optical Council (GOC) is recognised in some overseas countries.

Qualifications

To work as dispensing optician you must be registered with the GOC, the regulator for the optical professions in the UK. In order to be eligible to register, you must pass a course of study (typically three years, four years in Scotland) in ophthalmic dispensing at one of the training institutions approved by the GOC. These are:

  • ABDO College
  • Anglia Ruskin University
  • Bradford College
  • City and Islington College
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • UCLan (two-years fast track).

There are three modes of study to choose from:

  • a two-year, full-time training course at a GOC-approved training institution followed by one year's salaried work as a dispensing optician in a practice under supervision
  • a three-year day release training course with a GOC-approved training institution, combined with suitable employment as a pre-registration dispensing optician
  • a three-year blended learning course offered by a GOC-approved training institution, combined with suitable employment as a pre-registration dispensing optician.

You must usually also pass all parts of the Professional Qualifying Examinations, which are conducted by ABDO Exams in conjunction with the training establishments. On successful completion of the examinations you're eligible to register with the GOC as a dispensing optician.

However, if you take the Ophthalmic Dispensing Registerable Award FdSc at Anglia Ruskin University, you're eligible to register with the GOC without taking any further assessments or examinations.

Check with course providers for details of which mode of study they offer and entry requirements.

All students will also need to pass an enhanced criminal records check.

Skills

You'll need to show:

  • an aptitude for science and maths
  • the ability to handle ophthalmic instruments
  • a strong commitment to customer care and a customer-focused approach to work
  • confidence in dealing with people
  • communication skills, to give clear advice to customers
  • listening skills, to ensure you're giving the customer the best advice
  • sales skills, and the ability to inspire customer loyalty
  • commercial awareness
  • teamworking skills, and the ability to lead and motivate staff
  • a flexible approach to work and the ability to adapt to change
  • self-motivation
  • attention to detail.

Work experience

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.

Employers

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 - in these roles, you're more likely to specialise in areas such as low-vision aids. It's also possible to work in prescription laboratories 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:

Specialist recruitment agencies such as Flame Health and Inspired Selections also handle vacancies.

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.

Professional development

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 and you must earn a minimum number of CET points by the end of each three-year cycle to stay on the register. You can gain CET points from taking part in a range of activities, including attending:

  • ABDO CET events
  • conferences, workshops and lectures
  • peer review or discussion events.

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 Bradford 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 BSc (Hons) Career Progression Programme provides the theory and practical knowledge you need to practise as a pre-registered optometrist.

The UCLan MSc Optometry offers a blended learning programme over three years allowing dispensing opticians to learn online, alongside week-long residential on-campus blocks to embed learning into clinical and practical skills throughout each year.

Career prospects

After qualifying, many dispensing opticians choose to take on additional management responsibilities and some move into a management or leadership position in a practice. The Association of British Dispensing Opticians offers management courses leading to accredited qualifications for registered dispensing opticians.

It's also possible to take on a supervisory role, supervising student dispensing opticians.

You can also progress clinically by undertaking additional responsibilities in areas such as contact lens dispensing, minor eye conditions, low vision, glaucoma and diabetic screening.

After gaining experience, you can enter self-employment or partnership, running your own practice or a franchise business.

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