How to Become an Ophthalmic Medical Assistant

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Ophthalmology is a field of medicine that focuses on conditions of the visual pathways. Ophthalmic medical assistants are medical professionals that provide essential assistance to ophthalmologists and other health care professionals.

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What does an ophthalmic medical assistant do?

Ophthalmic medical assistants help provide eye and vision care services to a variety of patients. They record patient medical histories, conduct diagnostic tests, measure the function of eye muscles, and measure and record vision. They provide instruction to patients regarding treatment and maintaining contact lenses. They apply dressings to the eyes and help ophthalmologists during surgery. They also set up and clean optical and surgical instruments. Some ophthalmic medical assistants administer medications under the direct supervision of physicians. Ophthalmic medical assistants often perform administrative tasks such as answering telephones and scheduling patient appointments.

What kind of training does an ophthalmic medical assistant need?

Ophthalmic medical assistants need some type of formal postsecondary training. Many vocational and technical schools and community colleges offer programs for medical assistants. Prospective ophthalmic medical assistants typically complete courses in ophthalmology, medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, insurance processing, and accounting. Many aspiring ophthalmic medical assistants complete internships to gain practical experience in the field. Most employers provide on the job training to enable new ophthalmic medical assistants to learn the necessary policies and procedures. Many ophthalmic medical assistants gain certification from the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology. Ophthalmic medical assistants often complete continuing education to maintain their certifications, keep their skills current, and stay abreast with advancements in the field.

What are the prospects for a career as an ophthalmic medical assistant?

Employment of all medical assistants, including ophthalmic medical assistants is expected to grow much faster than average for all professions, increasing 34% from 2008 to 2018 (1). The growing and aging population and increased need for ophthalmology care will drive job growth for ophthalmic medical assistants.

Job prospects should be excellent especially for ophthalmic medical assistants with advanced training, professional certification, and extensive experience. Many job openings will arise from the need to replace ophthalmic medical assistants that retire, transfer, or leave the profession for other reasons.

How much do ophthalmic medical assistants make?

As of February 2010, ophthalmic medical assistants with less than 1 year experience earn average hourly rates between $10.24 and $12.50. Those with 1 to 4 years experience earn average hourly rates between $11.92 and $15.32 (2).

A career as an ophthalmic medical assistant is an excellent choice for individuals with a strong interest in ophthalmology and providing necessary assistance. Ophthalmic medical assistants must have a solid understanding of ophthalmology and the ability to perform many different duties. Patience, detail orientation, manual dexterity, and good problem solving skills are necessary characteristics. Ophthalmic medical assistants must have excellent communication and interpersonal skills and the ability to work effectively as part of a team. They must also be able to help patients feel at ease.

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