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Blog: Why staff certification is worth the investment


investment charts

Margie Recalde, OD, FAAO

When it comes to training, Henry Ford’s famous quote rings true even today: “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay."

I understand the fear of staff leaving for greener pastures after you invested time and money. Yet the costs and risks of keeping staff who are untrained and underperforming will ultimately affect your bottom line.

Let’s explore the top three benefits of encouraging professional staff certification for your office staff.

1. Happier staff

Happier staff translates to happier patients and increased productivity.  Research shows that productivity is increased by 20 percent when employees are happy. For salespeople (such as opticians), the difference is even higher with a 37 percent increase in sales.  They become motivated when goals are set, and they feel valued when you invest in their education.

Related: Consider outsourcing opportunities in your practice

I remember when I received my Fellowship of the American Academy of Optometry certification. It gave me a sense of accomplishment and worth. It also strengthened my commitment to lifelong learning.

Imagine your staff’s boost in confidence and self-esteem when they are professionally certified. Their new name tags and/or business cards will proudly display their certifications. Those extra letters after their names can transform employees’ outlooks on their future. The public recognition will increase their self-confidence and improve job performance and job satisfaction. It is good for them and good for you.

2. Decrease staff turnover

Stagnancy creates a tedious and dreary office culture. The average person stays employed in the office for about four years.2 That’s a lot of staff coming and going in your office when patients value personable care. That relationship between doctor and patient also occurs with your staff. It makes patients uneasy when they don’t see their favorite optician or front desk receptionist anymore and have to reconnect with a new staff member.

A high turnover rate is costly. The cost of replacing an employee is 33 percent of the salary, plus the cost to recruit, interview, hire, and train adds an additional expense.  

Also consider the complexity in finding a new staff member who matches well with your current staff. Sometimes, a wrong hire who doesn’t match your office culture can bring down the entire office’s morale. It doesn’t matter if the new hire is qualified. If his personality doesn’t fit well with your current staff, you have to decide whether it’s worth it to continue training the person. In my experience, you can’t train personality.

3. More professional image

“All staff are professionally certified.” Doesn’t that have a nice ring to it? How many offices in your area have this statement as part of their office culture? I would wager that it’s few and far between.

Patients will likely have greater confidence and trust in your office if they know staff is held to the highest professional standard. Staff from other offices will be curious and interested in finding out how your office achieved office wide staff certification. It’s a goal that is worth achieving.

Professional certification opportunities 
Fortunately, there’s certification for practically every position you have in your office. Here is a list of options to explore. All certifications require a minimum high school diploma or equivalent.

Certification for opticians and contact lens technicians
Certification information and registration for the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE) can be found on the website. It costs $225 to register for each exam. Candidates who have two to three years of hands-on experience are more successful in passing, I have found.

Related: How implementing a hiring process netted a great staff

Below are brief summaries of the exams for each certification, obtained from the ABO and NCLE website.

• American Board of Opticianry (ABO)
The exam includes ophthalmic optics, ocular anatomy, ocular physiology, pathology, refraction, ophthalmic products, instrumentation, dispensing procedures and finally laws, regulations and standards.

Training courses are available online:
- Optician Works (free study guide)
- Essilor’s ECP University ($499 for 12 months)
- If you are a member of an alliance group, you may be able to obtain training courses at a discount.

Related: Teaching skills for successful technicians

• National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE)
Elements of the exam cover ocular anatomy, physiology, pathology, refractive errors, instrumentation for measurement and observation, prefitting, diagnostic fitting, dispensing, follow-up, and last a section on regulatory and administrative topics.

Certification for front desk receptionist, ophthalmic technicians, and billing
If you are a member of the American Optometric Association (AOA), all paraoptometric/optometric staff may become associate members for free. This grants them access to membership benefits and services including free continuing education credits, staff study materials, and discounts on Optometry’s Meeting, the AOA annual meeting. For more information on certification and registration, visit the AOA website. You will also find a plethora of training material on this website or check your alliance group for additional materials.

A summary of each certification from AOA’s website is shown below.

1. Certified Paraoptometric (CPO) qualifications:
• Minimum 6 months full-time optometric field.
• The CPO typically carries out a wide variety of front desk procedures such as scheduling appointments, recalling patients, handling insurance forms, accepting payments, and screening telephone calls. He may also be trained in the different styles of eyewear, frame repair and adjusting, office materials purchasing, and other duties of a non-technical nature.
• Application fee $280.

2. Certified Paraoptometric Assistant (CPOA) qualifications:
• A CPO plus an additional six months employment.
• A graduate (within the last five years) or a student currently enrolled in the last semester of study of a Commission on Paraoptometric Certification (CPC) approved optometric assistant program.
• Have three years or more work experience in the optometric field and receive approval from the CPC to bypass the CPO exam prior to submitting exam application. Employer must complete a form to attest to this experience.
• Under the supervision of an optometrist, the CPOA may perform technical duties such as taking detailed patient histories, measuring visual acuity, measuring keratometry, glaucoma screening, blood pressure testing, and measuring pupillary distance.
• Application fee $300.

3. Certified Paraoptometric Technician (CPOT)
• CPOA with a minimum of six months additional employment in the optometric field.
• A graduate (within the last five years) or student currently enrolled in the last quarter of study of Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE) approved optometric technician program.
• All candidates attempting to earn the CPOT credential must successfully complete the CPOT written and clinical examinations within a period of 18-months before the CPOT credential will be awarded.
• Under the supervision of an optometrist, the CPOT may perform technical duties such as taking detailed patient histories, measuring visual acuity, measuring keratometry, glaucoma screening, blood pressure testing, and measuring pupillary distance. They may order prescription eyewear, modify contact lenses, explain contact lens care regimens, photograph the interior of the eye, supervise staff, and other duties delegated by the optometrist
• Application fee $300 for written exam and $300 for clinical exam.

4. Certified Paraoptometric Coder (CPOC)
• Minimum of two years of experience in the optometric coding and billing field.
• CPOC are responsible for ensuring that all the information about diagnoses and procedures for patients is accurate and complete. This prevents delays in reimbursement from insurance companies or denials of claims. A CPOC coder can be the first line of defense against non-compliance and improper coding for the provider and assists employer in maintaining compliance with state and federal laws.
• Application fee $280.

Having just embarked on encouraging professional certification for my office staff, here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way.
• Determine if professional certification is optional or mandatory for a staff position. This will dictate if you will be required to cover educational expenses and registration fees or if it will be at your discretion. Certification is optional at my office, but the registration fee is reimbursed once the staff member shows proof of certification. However, continuing education courses and renewal fees to maintain certification are staff responsibility. Consider training materials that can be shared among staff to save on cost.
• Incentivize staff with a raise. Calculate how much of a raise you will give for each certification. Also, will you be able to utilize all certifications for your office. For instance, are you able to utilize a staff member’s certification for NCLE?
• Consider an employee certification contract that holds the staff member liable if he decides to leave the office before a certain time period after obtaining certification. Your HR consultant will help you finalize the contract to make sure it is legal for your state.

Remember, it is a win-win situation when you support your staff in furthering their educations.

Sybil F. Sershi, a marketing and organizational advisor, firmly believed in taking care of staff.  Her quote summarizes the importance of staff perfectly: “The way your employees feel is the way your customers will feel. And if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers.”5

More by Dr. Recalde: 10 eyecare apps for more efficient patient care



1. Preston C. Promoting Employee Happiness Benefits Everyone. Forbes. Available at: www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2017/12/13/promoting-employee-happiness-benefits-everyone/#1ae24f8d581a. Accessed 12/10/19.

2. Doyle, A. How Often Do People Change Jobs? The Balance Careers. Available at: https://www.thebalancecareers.com/how-often-do-people-change-jobs-2060467. Accessed 12/16/19.

3. Lucas S. Can Employee Training and Development Reduce Employee Turnover? AnthemBenefits Guide. Available at: thebenefitsguide.com/is-employee-training-and-development-the-key-to-reducing-turnover/. Accessed 12/10/19.

4. Caramela S. Paying for an Employees Professional Certification: 4 Benefits for Your Company. Bus News Daily. Available at: www.businessnewsdaily.com/9292-obtain-professional-certification.html. Accessed 12/10/19.

5. Stershic, S. Sybil's Story. Quality Service Marketing. Available at: http://www.qualityservicemarketing.com/about. Accessed 12/16/19.

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