Job Profile: Optical Assistants, Dispensing Opticians and Optometrists

Liz Blamire

20th November 2023

An optical assistant is an entry-level job available at most high street opticians, e.g. Specsavers. Optical assistants take care of routine tasks such as making appointments, ordering glasses and contact lenses, making adjustments to glasses for customers and carrying out routine pre-screening checks.

You will need some training for this role, but this can be done 'on the job' or you can start an optical assistant apprenticeship at 16 or 18 years old.

What is a dispensing optician?

The job of a dispensing optician is to take a customer's prescription for vision correction and advise on, fit and supply the most appropriate glasses for the customer. To do this they will take into account each customer’s visual and lifestyle needs.

You must have certain qualifications to do this job and you must be registered with the General Optical Council. You can attend university on a full time, 2 year diploma, or you can do a part time day release or distance learning course, or enrol on an apprenticeship to achieve the relevant qualification. You will need good GCSEs and some qualifications at Level 3 to be eligible to undertake this qualification.

What is an optometrist?

An optometrist (also known as an ophthalmic optician) is a person qualified to test eyesight and prescribe glasses or contact lenses to correct vision.

As optometrists carry out detailed examinations of the eyes, they can also detect issues with eye health, ranging from eye injury to eye abnormalities such as macular degeneration. Sometimes, optometrists might also be the first person to notice the possibility of an underlying health issue, which is indicated by the health and condition of the eyes, such as high blood pressure or tumours.

Optometrists can refer service users onto more specialist services, such as ophthalmologists - medical doctors that specialise in diseases and disorders of the eyes.

You will need a degree in optometry for which you will need three A levels, usually including maths and one science. On completion of the degree, you must register with the General Optical Council to practice.

What a typical day is like for a Specsavers optical assistant apprentice

Liz Blamire

Liz is the current tutor2u subject lead for Health and Social Care. She is a former NHS midwife, who has worked in community, birth centre and acute hospital settings. Liz is an SSAT Accredited Lead Practitioner, who has taught Health and Social Care in FE and secondary schools, where she was a successful HOD. Liz is an experienced senior examiner and author.

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