Optometrists and dispensing opticians rely on support staff to assist in the day-to-day operations of vision clinics. An optical assistant performs many clinical and administrative tasks, allowing the optometrist to focus on more specialised work. Also known as optometric assistants, most optical assistants work in private practices, while others work in vision care clinics or for the NHS. Assistants complete many of the important tasks associated with running a successful vision clinic.
The optometrist assistant is usually the first person the patient meets. Responsible for greeting the patient, the assistant creates a comfortable environment and then assesses the patient by administering a lifestyle questionnaire. The assistant files this information into the patient's history. By making detailed notes for the optometrist, assistants help the optometrist diagnose the patient.
Optical assistants prepare patients for tests by administering eye drops and directing patients to the appropriate machines or examination rooms. They perform simple diagnostic exams, such as measuring the dimensions of each eye during a contact lens fitting. They may also assist the optometrist during an eye examination if necessary, operating diagnostic machinery or interacting with the patient. Some optical assistants even assist the optometrist during surgery.
Responsible for filing, billing and book-keeping, optical assistants perform administrative tasks that ensure that the practice runs smoothly. They answer phones and keep track of appointments. Assistants record and update patients' medical histories, taking care to document prescriptions and assessment results. By completing paperwork and online orders, optical assistants also organise and maintain inventory lists.
Optical assistants teach patients how to use and care for their glasses. They help patients select the most suitable eyeglass frames according to face shape and aesthetic preferences. Some optical assistants work in laboratory settings where they fill eyeglass prescriptions, putting lenses into frames, repairing broken frames or adjusting new frames according to the client's measurements. Assistants also help patients choose the best contact lenses for their needs, as well as teaching patients how to care for and insert the lenses. Assistants are available to contact lens wearers during follow-up appointments in case patients experience discomfort or wish to ask questions.
As of April 2014, the starting salary for a junior-level optometrists ranged from £14,000 to £17,000 per year. Optometrists typically work as assistants during their entry level year.