Training should occur in every practice, and every practice needs to prepare for it.

Mentoring is highly important in an ophthalmic office. Given that many non-doctor employees don’t have a college education, there’s a huge need for training. After all, how does someone learn on the job if there’s no training program?

While many offices will tell you they have a training program, the fact is most don’t. Why? It’s probably because they aren’t prepared for it. After all, techs are hired to help the doctor, not to be teachers. Opticians and others in the office will sing a similar lament.

If the turnover of the non-doctor staff in an office is about five years, then an office will be hiring a new office staff every five years (on average). Sure, there are offices that have had the same staff for years, but there are those who turn them over quickly, too. The point to take away here is that training should occur in every office, which means that every practice needs to prepare for it.

There are two basic types of mentoring: structured and unstructured. The latter is the most common type. It involves a more experienced person responsibile for training a less experienced person, usually a recent hire or new employee. The mentor orients the new hire to the tasks and responsibilities of the position and provides some hands-on training for an unspecified period of time. Even when the mentee seems capable of handling things at a fundamental level, the mentor still keeps a watchful eye on the mentee and provides follow-up help or additional instruction as needed.

This kind of arrangement is common with opticians and techs. Either the doctor or a knowledgeable and skilled employee will provide the training and supervision. Some offices find it convenient and effective to have representatives of optical laboratories or instrument companies to do the training. Some vendors have highly qualified trainers who do this often. Because this can be an expensive proposition regarding time spent in an office, this arrangement usually is provided for optical offices that are good customers of the lab/vendor.

Structured mentoring involves a curriculum created for training and an appointed mentor (trainer/supervisor). The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO) has such a program for ophthalmic techs. This program has three levels:

• Certified Ophthalmic Assistant, an entry level core designation that confirms an assistant’s knowledge in 19 specific content areas.

• Certified Ophthalmic Technician, the second core designation level confirming knowledge in 19 specific content areas specifically designed to test the Certified Ophthalmic Assistant or program graduate who intends to advance their career in the eyecare field.

• Certified Ophthalmic Medical Technologist, a designation that recognizes those individuals who have progressed through the COA and COT levels or are training program graduates as accomplished eyecare professionals. The COMT designation confirms knowledge in 17 content areas that the ophthalmic professional seeking the COMT designation performs on a daily basis.

For each level, there’s a curricular workbook and a checklist of tasks that must be done to the doctor’s satisfaction over a specified period of time. There’s a similar program for optometric techs and opticians.
Although techs do not have to be certified, anyone who wishes to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in the ophthalmic tech world may enroll in the JCAHPO program. More information on the examinations, required coursework, required work experience and specific tasks can be found on the JCAHPO website.

The American Optometric Association has a similar training program for paraoptometric techs. It also has three levels:

• Certified Paraoptometric (CPO), who demonstrates an understanding of the concepts used in optometric care

• Certified Paraoptometric Assistant (CPOA), who demonstrates the ability to apply the concepts used in optometric care.

• Certified Paraoptometric Technician (CPOT), who demonstrates the ability to understand, apply, and interrelate the concepts used in optometric care.

• Paraoptometric Coding Certification (CPOC), demonstrating proficiency, expertise, and validating superior knowledge in an optometric coding environment.

While no mentor is required for paraoptometric certification, it’s reasonable to assume that nearly everyone will want to have a designated supervisor and trainer because the material can get pretty rigorous. You’ll find requirements for each certification, a self-study course, sample tests and a host of other preparation resources on the American Optometric Association (AOA) Paraoptometric website.

Opticians also have a structured system. The American Board of Opticianry certifies opticians at three levels, ABOC (Certified), ABOC-AC (Advanced Certified) and ABOM (Masters in Ophthalmic Optics). There is no work experience requirement for the ABOC level; anyone 18 or older may take it at any time. For the ABOC-AC, you’ll need to hold an ABOC and have taken a select number of courses to take this test. Once you’ve received your ABOC-AC, you can apply for the Masters level. A research paper on a topic approved by the Board provides access to this level. The National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE) has a similar process for contact lens fitters.

The National Academy of Opticianry created the Career Progression Program in the 1980s. This self-study program attempts to provide a full spectrum of information to help applicants prepare in a self-study way. The program requires an on-site mentor for the student. The Academy also produces a variety of study materials. The Contact Lens Society of America (CLSA) has similar materials for contact lens trainees.

These programs can be invaluable resources when training a new or current staff member. They have all been constructed by knowledgeable professionals and have withstood the test of time for their relevance. Consider using one of them for your training needs.

Every office needs to have a good idea of how it is going to train new employees before they need to provide that training. Hiring someone without knowing how that person will be trained is not a good strategy. Invest time up front to determine the training options you have and which one is best suited to your potential needs so that you’ll be ready when the time comes.

Ed De Gennaro, MEd, ABOM, is editor emeritus of First Vision Media Group.

American Board of Opticianry/National Contact Lens Examiners:

American Optometric Association, Paraoptometric Center:

Contact Lens Society of America:

Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology:

National Academy of Opticianry:


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