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Entering optometry

Thinking about a career in optics? Here’s what you need to know

If you’re looking for a challenging career in healthcare that offers lots of job satisfaction, working in optics may be the answer. As well as treating and caring for eyes, optometry is about using your skills and technical understanding to make a real difference to people's quality of life.

Whether you’re still at school, considering a degree in optometry at college, or thinking about a change of direction, here’s what you need to know before entering the profession.

Why work in the optical profession?

Working in the optical profession requires a unique blend of technical knowledge and people skills. As an optometrist, you focus on science-led theory and practice, learning about the mechanics of the eye and how to test and manage eye conditions. And you continue to learn after your optometry degree, too. Optometrists and dispensing opticians are continually broadening their expertise by reading the latest research, attending interactive seminars and reading journals. Apart from the technical knowledge you get the opportunity to work with a mix of people and provide excellent patient care, making a difference to communities.

What jobs can I do in optics?

Optometrists are skilled healthcare professionals who examine eyesight, prescribes glasses or contact lenses, checks for eye conditions, as well as spot underlying health issues like diabetes and high blood pressure. An optometrist could be working for a large chain or smaller independent practice in a hospital or clinic; carrying out research in a lab; or providing sight tests in people’s homes. 

Dispensing opticians (DO) are trained to fit lenses, coatings and frames for patients, using prescriptions written by optometrists and the role requires technical expertise and good customer service skills. They advise patients on various types of lenses and spectacle frames, including advice on style, weight and colour. The majority of dispensing opticians work in either high street optometrists or for independent practices.

Optical assistants and clinical assistants are the first point of contact when a patient visits a practice. They make sure that any necessary paperwork is completed before a patient sees the optometrist. The support team is highly trained and can advise on suitable spectacle frames and lenses as well as instruct patients on how to use contact lenses safely. In addition, they may also have been trained to perform some clinical tests, but the results will be looked at by the optometrist.

What training do I need to be an optometrist?

You need As and Bs in three A-levels (or in Highers or Baccalaureate), with at least two science subjects. After which, you have to train for three (four in Scotland) years at university to obtain a degree in optometry. This needs to be followed by a year of supervised training in the workplace – your pre-registration year – where you’ll be given a series of assessment and practical exams. Once you’ve finished your training and pre-reg year, to be able to practise as a optometrist you need to register with the General Optical Council (GOC), the governing body

The following universities offer optometry degree:

What training do I need to be a dispensing optician?

As a dispensing optician, you need to complete academic and practical training over a minimum of three years to obtain fellowship of the Association of British Dispensing Opticians (ABDO). As part of your training you take part in work-based placements to help develop your practical skills as well as technical. All dispensing opticians need to register with the GOC, too. Many DOs take on further training to learn how to fit contact lenses and provide low vision aids to the visually impaired.

The following universities and colleges offer dispensing optician degrees and courses:

View the latest optical sector jobs on the Optometry Today jobs board