What is an Ophthalmic Assistant?

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Eyecare is an important part of the medical field.

Having a good vision and the right eyewear helps people manage their daily lives and perform their tasks.

While ophthalmologists, who perform surgeries, and optometry doctors, play an essential part, they are not the only ones involved in the industry.

The rest of the medical team is made of ophthalmic assistants, without whom doctors wouldn’t be able to do their job.

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Ophthalmic Assistant Job Description

Without knowing what an ophthalmic assistant does on the job we can’t really explain what this professional is.

Ophthalmic assistants deal with many daily tasks, which include:

  • Ask clients about their health histories
  • Taking ocular measurements
  • Fitting eyewear for the clients

Ophthalmic assistants also have to manage administrative tasks, including:

  • Managing patient records
  • Making sure the facility has enough supplies
  • Managing the clinic’s website
  • Answering phone calls

This job is rewarding because you will get to provide people with an essential tool that improves their life.

Unlike becoming an ophthalmologist, you will not need to spend that much time attending medical school.

So, you can get into your ideal working field without fulfilling the same requirements as doctors.

This industry is also growing, so you will not have issues in finding your first job.

To become an ophthalmic assistant, you need to study for a year or even less than that.

So, what are the requirements for starting this career?

How To Become An Ophthalmic Assistant

As an ophthalmic assistant, you will not need to get a certification as this profession is not regulated.

However, you should consider getting certification offered through the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO).

You can also get the needed training while on the job, under supervision.

JCAHPO provides different certifications, based on how much experience you have.

However, to get any of all these certifications will need to be attending a training program.

The training program you join should be approved by the International Council of Accreditation for Allied Ophthalmic Education Programs (ICA).

There are several other requirements you need to adhere to, which include:

  • Having a high school diploma or a GED
  • Being in good health
  • Being able to perform some physical tasks such as moving heavy objects around
  • Passing a background check
  • Passing a drug screening

Ophthalmic Assistant Certification

As mentioned above, you can get various certifications based on your level of experience in the field.

What is an Ophthalmic Assistant

Certified Ophthalmic Assistant

The entry-level certification you can get as an ophthalmic assistant is the JCAHPO Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA).

In order to get this certification, you need to take an exam that will cover 22 areas.

Some of these include the recording of clients’ history and eye measuring to prepare for surgery.

In order to get this certification, you have to take an exam that lasts for 3 hours.

The exam has 190 questions with multiple choice answers and can be scheduled at any Pearson Vue center in your area.

To get the first-level Ophthalmic Assistant certification, you need to complete an approved program.

For the second level certification, COA-A2, you will still need to finish an approved program.

In addition, you have to complete 500 hours of training while being supervised by an ophthalmologist.

There is a third certification, the COA-A3.

To get this certification, you need:

  • A high school diploma or a GED
  • Having finished an accredited program like the JCAHPO Career Advancement Tool (JCAT) course or the American Academy of Ophthalmology Ophthalmic Medical Assisting course
  • 1,000 hours of training while being supervised by a certified ophthalmologist.

After you complete your training program, you will have a year to take the test.

If you wait longer than a year, there are other requirements you need to adhere to, which are:

  • Completing 18 credits of class for every year since you finished training for the first 2 levels
  • 18 credits of class for each year that has passed, for level A3, if more than 3 years have passed since you finished training

Ophthalmic Technician Certification

If you want to advance and get more career opportunities, the JCAHPO gives you some options to do so.

For instance, you can apply for the Certified Ophthalmic Technician (COT) credential.

This certificate is the ideal choice for assistants who want to get in-depth knowledge of some skills.

One of these skills is keratometry, which helps to determine astigmatism.

This will teach you how to prescribe eye-wear for some specific conditions and thus assist your clients better.

In order to get the COT certification, you will need to take an exam that lasts for 3 hours and has multiple choice style answers.

Furthermore, you will also need to be examined by clinical examiners for 2 hours.

You should also know that the COT certification has 4 levels in total:

  • The T1 level is for those who just finished an approved technician training program.
  • For levels T2 and T3, you need to attend a training course and also have a minimum of 2,000 hours of work experience.
  • If you have a minimum of 6,000 hours of work experience but aren’t certified, you can get into the T4 level.

Keep in mind that you might need to take additional hours of education if too much time passed.

Ophthalmic Medical Technologist Certification

If you already took the COA and COT levels, or are specialized, you can consider this certification.

In the COMT test, some of the advanced skills that will be assessed include:

helping clients understand how to handle devices for low vision

managing complex diagnostic tools

If you are looking to get the COMT certification, you need:

  • 2 years of college
  • Having completed an approved COMT training program

No matter what JCAHPO certification you choose, you can consult a detailed handbook.

The handbook goes into detail about the skills which are tested in the exam and how much each of these weighs towards the final score.

You will also get info on how you can renew your certification once it expires.

Ophthalmic Assistant Training Programs

If you want to learn more about which programs are available, you can check out the ICA.

All the programs mentioned there are approved and include hours of theory as well as lab practice.

You can also get financial help if you cannot afford to pay for your own tuition.

Keep in mind that it is important to attend the lab practice physically in order to develop your skills.

Jobs And Salaries For Ophthalmic Assistants

You may also be wondering how much you can earn as an ophthalmic assistant.

In most states, you can expect to make anything from $13 to $27 per hour.

This also depends on where you live and your credentials.

If you live in a large city and have enough education, you will earn more compared to someone less experienced.

Jobs in the industry are also expected to grow by 20% by 2030.

Ophthalmic Assistant Jobs

As an ophthalmic assistant, you will have many tasks to complete daily.

However, your schedule will be fixed and you do not need to come in unless an emergency occurs.

Once you get the certification of your choice, you can get hired in a doctor’s office, a clinic, or an eye-wear store.

The most important aspect is getting a certification, after which it will be easy to find the job of your dreams.


We hope that know you have a better idea of what an ophthalmic assistant is as well as the role of this professional in the healthcare industry.

Perhaps we even convinced you to become one in the future!

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