Dispensing opticians dispense and fit spectacles and other optical aids, working from prescriptions written by optometrists and ophthalmologists, and offer advice and guidance to patients around matters relating to eye health

You'll advise patients on various types of spectacle lenses, including different designs and materials to suit the individual patient's visual requirements. This tailored advice will also cover spectacle frames, including style, fit, 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, prescribe contact lenses and undertake follow-up appointments.

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, coatings and tints, frames and styling, and adjust, fit and repair spectacles
  • with further training, fit contact lenses, give advice on their care and use, and conduct aftercare follow-up appointments
  • take frame and facial measurements to ensure correct frame fit and positioning
  • advise patients visiting the practice on a range of eye conditions and offer appropriate advice and guidance, referring them to other eyecare professionals when appropriate
  • advise on and dispense low vision aids for partially-sighted patients
  • 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. Contact lens opticians can typically earn between £28,000 and £40,000.
  • 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. Many dispensing opticians and contact lens opticians have flexible working arrangements, and employers tend to be flexible in working hour requests to fit in with patient needs.

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. Some dispensing opticians go on to open their own practices.
  • 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 in ophthalmic dispensing, which typically takes three years, 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
  • University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) (two-years fast track).

There are currently 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 distance learning course offered by a GOC-approved training institution, combined with suitable employment as a pre-registration dispensing optician.

You must pass all parts of the Pre-Qualification Period (PQP), which includes assessments and practice-based activities. These are conducted by ABDO Exams in conjunction with the training establishments and practices. On successful completion of the examinations you're eligible to register with the GOC as a dispensing optician. ABDO will award you a Level 6 Diploma in Ophthalmic Dispensing and you are entitled to use the suffix FBDO after your name.

Anglia Ruskin University offers a Level 5 FdSc Ophthalmic Dispensing Registerable Award, which, on successful completion, makes you eligible to register directly 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
  • empathy and understanding of patients' eye health needs
  • 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.

Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.

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, franchisees or own their own practice.

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 GOC-approved training institutions or to be involved with examinations as an assessor, marker or practice visitor.

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 professional development (CPD) 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 CPD scheme is a points-based system and you must earn a minimum number of CPD points by the end of each three-year cycle to stay on the register. You can gain CPD points from taking part in a range of activities, including attending:

  • ABDO CPD 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. With further qualifications, contact lens opticians can go on to become involved in Extended Services, such as minor eye conditions and glaucoma pathways. 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 Low Vision Honours course, which is currently offered by ABDO College and Bradford College.

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 and leadership 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, children's clinics, 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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