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Careers in Vision

23 Feb 2017 << back to list

Cléophée our daughter is currently in Year 12 at Strode College, and her tutors recently asked her to think about what sort of career she would like to follow.

This got me thinking about careers, and the eyecare professions in particular. There is a diverse range of possibilities, with a diverse range of required skills and opportunities. So in case any of your children, grandchildren or friends are considering what to do, I thought I would write a description of each sector. Hopefully it will prove interesting and informative. 

The most highly qualified eyecare professionals are the consultant ophthalmologists. They have already completed a medical degree before specialising into eyes. They are responsible for diagnosing and treating pathological sight threatening conditions, including cataracts, glaucoma, retinal detachments, eyelid problems and a vast number of other eye related conditions. 
Ophthalmologists will often specialise in to certain parts of the eye, or certain conditions. Whilst they will all perform routine cataract surgery, some concentrate in glaucoma management, others in the treatment of corneal disease or eyelid problems or problems at the back of the eye, including macular degeneration.

Ophthalmology is one of the more popular medical specialties because virtually all eye diseases can be seen without making an incision, and most of the work is in the outpatient department, making a better work / life balance. 

Ophthalmologists work in the Hospital Eye Service and most will also have a private practice, hopefully creating a comfortable income whilst also benefitting from an NHS pension. 

Entry requirements to medical school are generally in the region of three A grade A- levels including Biology and Chemistry.

Working alongside ophthalmologists are orthoptists. They investigate, diagnose and treat defects of binocular vision and abnormalities of eye movement. For example, they may deal with: misalignment of the eyes (strabismus or squint) double vision (diplopia) reduced vision (amblyopia). 

Orthoptists diagnose, treat and manage a range of eye conditions affecting both children and adults. Most of their work is with babies and children and will involve the correction of strabismus (misalignment of the eyes/squint) and amblyopia (lazy eye), and they also have a lead role in childhood vision screening.

Orthoptists usually work as part of a hospital team, but they may also work in community healthcare and schools.
To qualify as an orthoptist you will need to complete a degree in orthoptics at one of the following institutions approved by the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC):

  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • University of Liverpool
  • University of Sheffield.

To get a place on a course, you'll typically need five or six GCSE passes or equivalent, including English language, mathematics and at least one science, and three A-levels (including one in science) at grade B or above. Biology is preferred, but not always essential.

Optometrists test vision, identify eye health problems, prescribe glasses and fit contact lenses. They generally work in private practice either in one of the multiple stores or in independent practice, although some work alongside ophthalmologists and orthoptists in hospitals. 

To qualify as an optometrist you will need a degree in optometry, 1 year's paid, supervised work experience with a registered optometrist and registration with the General Optical Council (GOC). Current entry requirements for the degree course are A-level grades AAB with 2 A-Levels in Biology, Maths, Physics or Chemistry.

Optometrists require maths and scientific skills as well as organisational and administration skills. They use their knowledge of eye diseases to detect abnormalities and their day-to-day duties will include using a range of precision instruments, using vision measuring and testing tools, diagnosing and giving advice, prescribing, fitting and supplying glasses or contact lenses, discussing the suitability and shape of glasses frames and referring clients to specialists or ophthalmologists (eye surgeons).
Some optometrists specialise in advanced contact lenses, children’s eyecare or treatment of eye disease (alongside ophthalmologists).

Dispensing Optician
Dispensing opticians make up optometrist's prescriptions and fit customers' glasses and contact lenses. They need to complete a course approved by the General Optical Council which is either a 2-year, full-time diploma or a 3-year day release or distance learning course (if they are working in an optical practice already). They also need to pass the professional qualifying exams from the Association of British Dispensing Opticians (ABDO).

Dispensing Opticians need to have the ability to deal with scientific and mathematical information, have accuracy and attention to detail for frame fitting and keeping records. They need practical skills to handle equipment as well as selling skills. Dispensing Opticians will use an optometrist's prescription to calculate vision distances and angles, provide advice and information on a customer's options for lenses, measure for spectacles or contact lenses, use their sales and communications skills to talk to people about types of spectacle frames and fit, adjust and repair frames.

Entry qualifications on to the ABDO course are five GCSEs of grade C or above in English, mathematics, science and two other subjects. They need to have evidence of recent study (within the last five years) and/or experience in practice of five years or more.

Ophthalmic Dispensing Assistant
Ophthalmic dispensing assistants perform a vital role in the smooth running of an optical practice. They are normally experienced in helping clients choose frames and lenses, and will often also undertake clinical tests under the supervision of an optometrist to help detect and identify possible sight threatening conditions. 

Anglia Ruskin University offer a University Certificate for this role which requires one pass at A-Level and GSCEs in Maths, English and Science, or equivalent, at grade C or above.

As you can see, the eyecare professions offer a wide range of opportunities and skillsets for all abilities, and you are welcome to contact me for further advice – or google the specific role you are interested.

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