Opthalmic Assistant

An ophthalmic assistant is a person who works with an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) to provide patient care by performing many different eye-related clinical functions.

Ophthalmic assistants help ophthalmologists care for patients by taking histories, performing various procedures and tests, and preparing patients to see the doctor. Their work provides the ophthalmologist with important information to help diagnose and treat patients.


Many ophthalmic assistants are trained and learn on the job. You could be a successful ophthalmic assistant if:

  • You have a high school diploma or equivalent
  • You love helping people
  • You enjoy science
  • You are a good problem solver


A typical day in the life of an ophthalmic assistant might include these tasks:

  • Taking patient medical histories
  • Instructing patients about medications, tests, and procedures
  • Performing various vision and diagnostic tests
  • Assisting ophthalmologists with patient procedures
  • Coordinating patient scheduling
  • Supervising and training other ophthalmic assistants


Salaries and Work Environment
Ophthalmic assistants earn above-average pay, and their salaries usually increase as they gain experience and training. The Association of Technical Personnel in Ophthalmology (ATPO®), the national membership organization for ophthalmic assistants, conducts an annual survey of salaries in the field; typical salaries for ophthalmic assistants range from $30,000 to $70,000.

Men and women who choose a career in ophthalmic assisting describe many advantages and benefits. They enjoy working in a professional environment with talented and dedicated physicians and technicians. Other benefits include:

Flexible Scheduling
Most ophthalmic practices hire both full- and part-time positions, and allow a significant degree of flexibility in work schedules. This is an important benefit for working parents, those pursuing higher education, etc.

Career Opportunities
Ophthalmic assistants enjoy virtually unlimited job opportunities nationwide and internationally because of their specialized skills. Positions are usually located in hospitals, clinics, university research facilities, private practices, and in the U.S. military.

Ophthalmic assistants also have many opportunities for career advancement. Most of today's ophthalmic assistants began as entry-level personnel and worked their way up to management positions through continuing education, training, and certification.

Lifelong Learning
There are many education opportunities available to ophthalmic assistants. The options range from computer-based learning programs to home study courses, regional class sessions, and continuing education conferences.


Basic Skills and Qualifications for an Ophthalmic Assisting Career:

  • A commitment to helping people
  • Average skills in health science, math, and computers
  • Adequate vision and hearing to perform necessary clinical duties
  • The ability to learn how to operate ophthalmic equipment
  • The ability to obtain knowledge and skills on the job or through educational courses
  • Volunteer experience in health care and first aid training is helpful but not necessary.


Ophthalmic assistants obtain training in one or a combination of ways:

  • On-the-Job Training

Most ophthalmic practices have their own training programs and procedures for entry-level ophthalmic assistants with no previous experience or training in the field. Senior level ophthalmic assistants often supervise and train new employees. The training includes both on-the-job work and homework in the form of independent study courses or computer-based training programs.

  • Academic Training in an Accredited Program

Many academic institutions offer short-term (three- to six-months or two- to four-year) accredited programs in ophthalmic medical assisting. These programs offer training on state-of-the-art equipment. Students learn professional standards, and often have the opportunity to practice their skills in a clinical setting. Educational institutions also offer job placement programs to assist graduates in finding employment upon completion of their academic program.

  • Independent Study and Distance Learning

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology, Inc. (JCAHPO®) and the Canadian Ophthalmological Society (COS) offer independent study and distance learning programs to make it convenient for ophthalmic assistants to learn what they need to know.


The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO®) is recognized as an international leader in the development and conduct of certification and continuing education programs for ophthalmic medical personnel. Its certification program is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), verifying that the program meets the highest national voluntary standards for private certification.

Studies show that certified ophthalmic assistants earn better salaries and have greater opportunities for advancement than those who are not certified. Certification must be renewed every three years.

JCAHPO offers certification for ophthalmic assistants at three levels:

  • Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA®)
  • Certified Ophthalmic Technician (COT®)
  • Certified Ophthalmic Medical Technologist (COMT®)

The JCAHPO Education and Research Foundation provides scholarships for those entering the field or for ophthalmic assistants wishing to advance to the next level of certification.

The Association of Technical Personnel in Ophthalmology (ATPO®) is the professional membership organization for ophthalmic medical personnel. The organization sets standards and encourages certification, offers continuing education, provides a forum for discussion of issues confronting the profession, promotes national and international communication among members, and works to enhance the image of ophthalmic medical personnel.

You may also visit JCAHPO's My Eye Career Web site for more detailed career information.

For more information, contact:

2025 Woodlane Drive
St. Paul, MN 55125
Phone (800) 284-3937
Fax (651) 731 0410

Last updated: November 2007