Ophthalmic Assistant Trainee Orientation

  This page is part of the Ophthalmic Assistant Basic Training Course.
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Ophthalmic medical personnel (OMPs) do tasks that the eye doctor can delegate to others. Mostly, they are information gatherers and facilitators.  They do measurements and tests that provide the doctor with the information needed to arrive at a diagnosis and to prescribe treatment.  They also assiist with documentation and patient services. Some ophthalmic medical personnel (OMP) assist with surgical procedures. Here is a list of common tasks performed by ophthalmic medical personnel:

  • History taking
  • Visual acuity measurement
  • Refractometry (measurements for the glasses prescription)
  • Tonometry (measure eye pressure)
  • Measure pupil size and reactivity
  • Test and measure eye muscle function
  • Visual field testing
  • Corneal thickness measurement
  • Corneal curvature measurement
  • Corneal topography
  • Retinal nerve fiber layer measurement
  • Retinal thickness and topography
  • Fluorescein angiography
  • A and B-scan ultrasonography
  • Assist with contact lens fitting and patient instruction
  • Prepare and assist with in-office procedures
  • Surgical assisting

Eye care team members

Ophthalmologist:  An ophthalmologist is an MD who specializes in eye care.  An ophthalmologist diagnoses and treats eye diseases with the full range of treatment options at his/her disposal, including prescription drugs and surgery.  There are several sub-specialties including glaucoma, refractive surgery, cornea, and retina. 

Optometrist:  The education of an optometrist includes 4 years of optometry school after receiving an undergraduate degree, resulting in a doctor of optometry (OD).  The optometrist prescribes glasses and contact lenses.  They also examine the eye for diseases.  The ability of the optometrist to treat diseases is limited.  This varies from state to state.  If the optometrist diagnoses a disease that he/she cannot treat, the patient is referred to an ophthalmologist for treatment.

Optician:  The optician dispenses and repairs glasses.  This involves helping the customer select an appropriate frame and explaining options regarding lenses.  The optician makes measurements to insure that the lenses fit properly to the frame.  An optician may have to be licensed, or not, depending upon state regulations.  Some opticians work in an optical lab, making glasses.

Ophthalmic Nurse:  This is usually an RN who works in the field of eye care.  Most are employed in hospitals or surgery centers where they assist the ophthalmologist with surgical procedures.

Ophthalmic Medical Personnel (OMP):  The designation generally refers to any non-doctor who works with patients in eye care, certified or not.

Ophthalmic Assistant:  An ophthalmic assistant my be certified or not.  A certified assistant uses the designation "COA".  An assistant who works for an ophthalmologist is eligible to take the certification exam after one year of continuous work experience.  A graduate of a COA school is eligible to take the exam without any work experience outside of the school curriculum.

Ophthalmic Technician:  An OMP usually does not claim to be a technician unless he/she is certified.  A certified ophthalmic technician uses the designation "COT".  A COA is eligible to take the COT certification exam after one year of work as a COA.  A graduate of a COT school is eligible to take the exam without any work experience outside of the school curriculum.

Ophthalmic Technologist:  An OMP who is a certified ophthalmic technologist uses the designation "COMT".  A COT is eligible to take the COMT exam after 3 years of work experience as a COT.  A graduate of a COMT school is eligible to take the exam without any work experience outside of the school curriculum.

Certified Retinal Angiographer (CRA):  This OMP is an ophthalmic imaging specialist who is certified by the Ophthalmic Photographer's Society (OPS).  There is also a certification status for Optical Coherence Tomography.

Certified Orthoptist (CO):  This OMP is certified to provide testing and treatment related to eye muscles and movements of the eyes.

Certified Paraoptometric (CPO), Certified Paraoptometric Assistant (CPOA), and Certified Paraoptometric Technician (CPOT):  These OMP hold certifications similar to COAs and COTs, with the difference that they work for optometrists instead of ophthalmologists.

There are other, less common, certifications in eye care.  Many of these OMP levels of certification are attainable through on-the-job training.  It is common for front desk personnel to move on to become certified assistants and technicians.


Computer skills

Become computer savvy if you are not already. Take a course if you need to. Know the windows operating system backwards and forwards. Know the parts of computer and how to take them apart and put them together.


Be a good employee

The opportunities for advancement within health care fields are generally excellent.  Your employer may be observing your character and work habits with an eye toward encouraging you to take on more responsibility, or not.  Old fashioned values like honesty, integrity, being considerate of others, and hard work are important.  A famous person once said that 60% of life is just showing up.  In other words, be on time and be ready to work.

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