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Opticians Need to See Beyond the Horizon by Mitch Anker

It’s amazing how many changes there have been in the optical industry over the last twenty years. In Ontario optical programs have been enhanced so that now six month courses have become full-time two year programs.  Teaching Institutions are now offering post-graduate specialty training for Opticians.  Online learning is now available to us.  The reason for the change has been advances in technology, expanded interest by opticians in fulfilling the needs of their patients and the growing concern with being able to work more collaboratively with allied vision care professionals. An optician these days has a much larger choice of working opportunities. A Registered Optician (RO) can become a dispensing entrepreneur or partner with someone in a retail dispensing enterprise.  In the past decade more and more wholesalers to the profession have been employing Registered Opticians to detail their products.  The chain retailers offer opportunities for ambitious opticians to work up the corporate ladder to management and beyond.   Optometrists, recognizing the value of hiring someone who is competently trained are now hiring opticians to work in their dispensaries. Some opticians work for ophthalmologists, laser clinics, specialize in low vision work and safety work, and even provide personal consultation and dispensing in an off-site model – taking the dispensing to the busy patient in his/her office.

However we must continue to evolve to the next level so that our job opportunities enlarge to grow our presence in the increasingly competitive and innovative marketplace.  This means not only continuing education but also new forms of specialty training. Now more than ever we need to come together as a united group.  Working with the association, there are numerous roads for training we can take. While our primary training and registration allows us to fit contact lenses and work with low vision patients, these are areas that really require additional specialty training.

And of course refracting is also an advanced practice.  In speaking with many of my colleagues, the overwhelming majority tell me this is the way to go.  But where do we start?  Currently refracting isn’t part of our scope of practice.  In spite of the aggressive lobbying already done by our Association and the regulatory structure our College developed ( ) we remain at an impasse with the naysayers.  We must continue to lobby but at the same time we need to pursue specialized education to demonstrate to government and others that we are serious, we are knowledgeable, we are prepared and the public is well protected through safe practice.

Through the Ontario Opticians Association Ontario ROs are able to study with the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT)/Opticians Association of Canada (OAC) online refracting program. The NAIT/OAC program allows you to earn a living and study at the same time.  Plus if you take the Advanced Practice (AP) Course, which is ordinarily a 2-year program you will automatically be placed in AP II because of the contact lens training you receive prior to becoming eligible for registration in Ontario.  This makes the refracting training a one-year course AND you will receive a tax receipt.   Naturally you can’t properly refract without hands-on experience and that can be managed through refracting clinics organized periodically and supervised by qualified refracting professionals.

There are different models of practice we can aim for.  British Columbia Optician regulation allows Opticians to perform automated refraction without the oversight of an optometrist or an ophthalmologist.  They may only refract on those who qualify under the College of Opticians of British Columbia (COBC) Standards of Practice ( ) which excludes specific groups of people who are risk for eye disease.  There are also lower and upper age limitations.  They must give the patient a written copy of the refraction but are authorized to sign the prescription as a Registered Refracting Optician.  Opticians may charge a reasonable fee for the service.  Another part of the Standard of Practice requires Opticians to refer to the appropriate vision care professional if they cannot achieve with their refraction a level of vision as set out in the Standard.  Referral requirements are part of all professional Standards of Practice. The other model we can pursue is stand alone refraction.  There would be a Standard of Practice most likely very similar to the one in British Columbia but we would be able to use whatever method of refracting we wish all the way from trial frame and lenses to phoropters to automated systems.  I believe this is the best opportunity for us.

The OOA would like to start a political lobby group to ramp up the official lobby initiative and also encourage and enable refracting training for as many opticians as possible.  I would appreciate if you have taken the course to let me know so we can begin to develop numbers and identify potential mentors.

You need to consider any form of specialty education an investment in your personal future.  Opticians will eventually be allowed to refract but even if our lobby efforts haven’t been rewarded by the time you have completed training that knowledge and qualification widens the scope of your employment.  But think beyond yourself as well.  The push to train more ROs to refract makes our lobby effort much more impaction.

Please contact me personally via e-mail at or chat with Lorne Kashin at And of course, we’d love to speak to you in person at upcoming continuing education events.



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