Becoming an optometric tech

December 13, 2013

It wasn’t too long ago that I did not know anything about the optometric field, and now by going through the training process, I am learning everything. It is such a great feeling. I am grateful to my mentor, boss, and friend, Dr. Davis, for giving me this opportunity to advance my skills and become a certified paraoptometric technician.

 

My name is Jackie Hoffman and I began my career in January 2012 at Madelia Optometric, owned by Viktoria Davis, OD, who has been an optometrist here for nearly 15 years, in Madelia, MN, a small town of approximately 2,000 people. It is a small practice-I am the only full-time staff member, with two part-time employees.

A little background

I grew up near New Ulm, MN, on a farm with my parents and my three younger siblings. I graduated high school in 2006 and started college at Southwest Minnesota State University, where I was honored with nomination into the National Society of Leadership and Success. After 1 year there, I gave birth to my son Skyler, and I decided to take a year off school. In 2010, I earned an associate’s degree in administrative assisting, graduating summa cum laude from South Central College.

About a year later, my grandfather passed away, and I decided that I needed a change. I had always told him that when we got old, I would take care of him-I wanted to show him that I could do so with others. I went back to school at South Central College and became a certified nursing assistant. I was working at a nursing home and continued classes to become a health unit coordinator. Shortly before I graduated in 2011 with the certificate, Dr. Davis called me. I saw her for optometric care, and little did I know that she had been considering me for some time for her next open position. I accepted her offer and have worked in her practice for the past 2 years.

Learning the ropes

Before working at Madelia Optometric, I had no experience in the optometric field. I’ve worn glasses since I was in fourth grade, so I’m familiar with an optometry office, but now it’s exciting that I’m behind the scenes. When I first started, I began with the general office tasks of answering the phone, scheduling appointments, and setting up charts for the following day. On the optician side, I helped patients choose their frames and ordered the lenses through our lab’s Web-based interface. I also learned to use a lensometer to verify spectacle lens prescriptions.

Getting an education

Dr. Davis is an advocate of paraoptometric education-she successfully mentored previous staff members through the CPO (certified paraoptometric), CPOA (certified paraoptometric assistant), and (certified paraoptometric technician) CPOT exams as well as serving as the board liaison to the Minnesota Optometric Association Paraoptometric Section. However, the office was getting too busy for her to be able to teach another staff member. Through our electronic health records provider, RevolutionEHR, Dr. Davis learned of the online paraoptometric technician program offered at Madison Area Technical College (MATC).

The optometric technician program at MATC is a one-year, 27-credit technical diploma offered onsite in Madison, WI. However, the school also offers an online program for those currently working in the field. Working full time, it is a 2-year program (taking two to three classes per semester) and requires an onsite mentor to supervise hands-on training. After graduating and receiving my technical diploma, I will be able to take the CPOT written examination. Once I have passed that exam, I will become a certified CPOT. The MATC program allows successful graduates to bypass the CPO, CPOA, and CPOT practical examinations.

What I’m learning

I began classes in January 2013, and I am about to complete my second semester. During the first semester, I took Optical Dispensing 1, which included an overview of different lens materials, frame types and parts, and adjusting frames; and Basic Optical Concepts, which included conversions, hand neutralization, working with the lensometer, and calculating and transposing prescriptions. The first semester was a bit of a challenge because it had been over a year since I had taken any online classes. Thankfully, my two classes were easier because I already had one year of experience under my belt. A couple of my classmates had more experience, and others were fresh into the field. I was able to help my inexperienced classmates. After the first semester, I was named to the Dean’s List for the 2012-2013 spring semester.

This semester, I am taking Ophthalmic Pre-Testing, which includes working with patients by reviewing their case histories, measuring visual acuities, entrance testing, keratometry, and checking blood pressure; and Ocular Anatomy, which consists of learning more detail about the eye. Thus far we have learned basic terminology, eye embryology, bones of the orbit, the lacrimal system, conjunctiva, tear film, eyelids, cornea, pharmacology and common eye diseases, the veal tract, sclera, iris, DPAs, ciliary body, crystalline lens, vitreous, and choroid. We have yet to learn more in depth about the retina, extraocular muscles, optic nerve, and the visual pathway. Starting in January 2014, I will be taking Contact Lenses and Patient Relations.

I am excited to start my next semester, even though I have to again juggle a full-time job, a family, and a home. But, in the end, it is all worth it. Through all my classes, Dr. Davis has been extremely supportive and helpful. She allowed me to put my new knowledge to work almost immediately and is always willing to answer questions and provide guidance.

Looking back

After taking a look back over the last year, I have learned so much that it is hard to write everything down on paper. This program has given me the willingness to achieve, and even though I’m working full time, going to school, and raising a family, I can do it -and anyone else can, too.

Patients often ask me if I have to take classes to perform some of the measurements, and I tell them becoming certified in this field is, in a way, comparable to becoming a nurse. Nursing encompasses different levels of certification, from LPN to RN; similarly, there are several levels to becoming a certified paraoptometric. I have essentially completed the CPO, and after this year, I will have finished the equivalent of the CPOA. The CPOT is the highest level of training that an optometric technician can receive. I also tell patients that all of my coursework is online, and I have hands-on labs with my mentor Dr. Davis at the office.

Now almost 2 years later, I am becoming more of an assistant to Dr. Davis by starting patients off in the automated testing room, where I collect data from our autorefractor, keratometer, and topographer. Also, I use the visual field instrument to check the patient’s peripheral vision. I will also obtain the patient’s height, weight, and blood pressure. I will then take him to the exam room and begin to ask about general health, medications, and past medical and ocular history for himself and their immediate family. I will then finish with checking visual acuities for both distance and near.

In our optical area, I am the sole person to ask about different lens packages and frame prices. I am the frame expert in not only choosing frames for patients but also ordering and keeping up with the inventory. Every 6 months, I review our inventory and exchange our frames for newer styles and colors; I want to keep our inventory new and fresh for our patients.

It wasn’t too long ago that I did not know anything about the optometric field, and now by going through the training process, I am learning everything. It is such a great feeling. I am grateful to my mentor, boss, and friend, Dr. Davis, for giving me this opportunity to advance my skills and become a certified paraoptometric technician.