Guide to Online Ophthalmic Technician Schools

Get key details on flexible online certificate and degree programs that can help you start a career fast in the growing field of eye care.

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Written By
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Last Updated: 09/22/2021
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As with most areas of healthcare, ophthalmology has seen a boom in demand, especially given the eye problems many suffer as they age. The need for ophthalmic technicians and assistants is particularly high given the national shortage of ophthalmic support staff caused by low unemployment rates and lack of awareness of this career niche.

Numerous ophthalmic technician schools now offer online programs to help meet this demand and make it as easy as possible for students to learn and work while also meeting other obligations. It’s a worthwhile pursuit, too, with compensation for ophthalmic technicians at a respectable median salary of $37,940.

This guide tells you what to can expect from an ophthalmic assistant or technician online program and will help you get started on finding the school that’s right for you. Along the way, you’ll learn what’s covered in the curriculum, get answers to your key questions, and find helpful information on what it takes to get certified after you complete your program.

Best Ophthalmic Technician Schools Online

A variety of programs exist using high-quality, online instruction for becoming an ophthalmic technician. To give you an idea of available programs, we’ve identified the following two that stand out in terms of affordability, flexibility, and accreditation.

Mercy College of Ohio

The Ophthalmic Assistant Certificate program at Mercy College of Ohio allows students to complete all classroom academic requirements online for maximum learning flexibility. The curriculum also involves extensive hands-on instruction that requires completion of laboratory and clinical requirements at approved locations in Toledo, Youngstown, and Cincinnati. To better accommodate schedules, labs take place just two nights a week. This certificate program is accredited by the International Council of Accreditation (ICA).

Students can complete this ophthalmic assistant online program in less than a year (two semesters), and, upon graduation, they are prepared to take the Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA) examination offered by the International Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (IJCAHPO). To help students pay for their education, Mercy College of Ohio offers various scholarship opportunities, which can cover up to 80% of tuition.

Madison Area Technical College

To gain advanced certification as quickly as possible, consider Madison Area Technical College’s Optometric Technician online program. In addition to being accredited by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE), completion of this online program results in a one-year technical diploma and eligibility to sit for the Certified Paraoptometric Technician (CPOT) designation offered through the American Optometric Association (AOA). This is unique because CPOT is an advanced-level certification. Most applicants seeking AOA certification first take their Certified Paraoptometric (CPO) and/or their Certified Paraoptometric (CPOA) exams before becoming a CPOT.

The program consists of 27 credits and takes four semesters of part-time study to complete. It can be completed fully online, allowing students to continue working full-time. Students also need to complete lab activities, which require them to obtain a mentor to assist and oversee their learning. Estimated program cost is $4,626 for both in-state and out-of-state students.

Types of Ophthalmic Technician Programs Offered Online

During your ophthalmic technician certification program online search, you might come across some programs intended for either prospective ophthalmic technicians or ophthalmic/optometric assistants. What’s the difference between these programs?

Ophthalmic/Optometric Assistant Programs

Ophthalmic/optometric assistant online programs are for those wishing to begin working in the field of ophthalmology and obtain certification quickly. Most programs have traditional, on-campus learning formats, but many also offer online learning options to create a hybrid learning model. Because assistants generally engage in fewer clinical tasks with patients than ophthalmic technicians, there are fewer academic and training requirements. Many ophthalmic assistant programs take less than a year and result in a diploma or certificate. To apply, most applicants need:

  • A completed application
  • A high school diploma or equivalent (e.g., GED)
  • Criminal background checks
  • Drug screening
  • Basic life support skills
  • Necessary vaccinations

Some schools have additional application requirements like a letter of recommendation, a personal statement, a resume, and/or admission test scores.

Ophthalmic Technician Programs

Due to the higher level of training necessary as compared to ophthalmic assistant programs, online ophthalmic technician programs aren’t very common. Among those programs that do exist, remote learning options are often available with students able to complete any general education class requirements through distance learning methods. Some schools also provide the option to earn an associate, diploma, or certificate.

Admissions requirements for ophthalmic technician programs are comparable to those for ophthalmic assistant programs. Incoming students need to complete an application, provide proof of a high school diploma or equivalent, and show they can meet the same occupational requirements necessary for most other allied health careers. These include passing a drug test and criminal background check, possessing basic life support skills, and having the necessary vaccinations.

What You’ll Learn in an Online Ophthalmic Technician Program

Given the different types of ophthalmic technician schools online, there are some fundamental differences in instruction. For instance, some programs prepare students for immediate certification after graduation with a curriculum that includes hands-on educational components. Despite these differences, there are similar learning objectives in all programs. Those include:

  • A solid grasp of the legal, professional, and ethical standards of the profession. Ophthalmology involves providing medical care in a healthcare setting, which involves various federal laws and regulations.
  • An advanced understanding of the physiology of the human eye. This knowledge allows ophthalmic technicians and assistants to think critically about the care they provide and how it affects patients.
  • Foundational knowledge concerning the business and administrative aspects of an ophthalmic medical practice, including understanding its financial and logistical needs such as billing, reordering medical supplies, and patient data management.
  • A clear understanding of how to administer the numerous ophthalmic tests and examinations necessary to properly assess, diagnose and treat patients’ eyes. This includes not just the scientific concepts behind these processes but also how to effectively use the medical tools and equipment involved.
  • Acquisition of all subject matter and knowledge necessary to take and pass a specific certification exam. Many ophthalmic technician online programs design their curriculums to prepare students to pass the written test portion of a specified national certification exam.

Common Online Ophthalmology Technician Courses

Ocular Anatomy

This is one of the first courses most ophthalmic technicians and assistant students take during. Concepts covered include parts of the human eye and how they work. Students also learn about medical terminology used in ophthalmology and how diagnostic tools and agents help eye care professionals analyze a patient’s eye.

Optical Dispensing I

This course usually consists of classroom and laboratory components. Students learn about corrective lenses and how to handle frame and lens measurements, repairs, and assembly. Students also learn the definitions and concepts used when preparing eyeglasses for patients.

Ophthalmic Clinical Practicum I

This class is common for programs that include real-world experience in addition to online or classroom instruction. Students spend time at an approved ophthalmic practice to learn how to offer proper care. With supervision, students interact with other eye care professionals and patients.

Essentials of Ophthalmic Technology

This course teaches students how an ophthalmic practice operates from a clinical perspective. This means instruction on medical tools and instruments and the role of an eye care professional in patient care. Legal and administrative concepts, such as compliance with patient privacy and workplace safety laws, are also covered.

Ophthalmic Capstone

Some programs offer a capstone class to serve as a bridge between classroom instruction and clinical practice. Faculty discuss the newest trends in eye care and how they may affect future clinical practice. There is also practice learning that involves meeting continuing education requirements and fulfilling professional responsibility.

FAQs About Online Ophthalmic Technician Schools and Programs

How much does online ophthalmic technician school cost?

Online ophthalmic technician courses are usually affordable. The following is a sample of what some ophthalmic programs offer in terms of tuition. Keep in mind that costs of attendance vary widely and depend on factors in addition to tuition, like residency status, public versus private institution, and financial aid.

Georgetown University

Ophthalmic Technician Training Program

Total Credits: N/A

$11,000 in tuition for the entire program

Mercy College of Ohio

Ophthalmic Assistant Certificate

Total Credits: 17

$400/credit

Stark State College

Ophthalmic Technology Program

Total Credits: 36

$179.60/credit (in-state)
and $308.60/credit (out-of-state)

Can I complete my ophthalmic technician program 100% online?

Many ophthalmic technician schools, like Howard Community College, offer a hybrid curriculum where students take classes online but complete labs and practicums in person. Others are mostly in-person but allow students to complete a few classes via remote learning. This is especially true of associate degree programs like those offered by Stark State College that has general education requirements that can be earned fully online.

Is financial aid available for online ophthalmic technician programs?

The overall cost of attendance of most online ophthalmology technician courses is relatively modest compared to earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. However, gaining a certificate, diploma, or other ophthalmic credentials can still cost thousands of dollars. That’s why many online ophthalmic technician schools like Mercy College of Ohio offer generous scholarships that pay up to 80% of tuition. Check out our financial aid and scholarships pages to learn more about what’s available at most schools.

Accreditation for Online Ophthalmic Technician Programs

Accreditation is the process of confirming that a school’s academic offerings meet a certain level of educational quality. It ensures that the education a student receives will be recognized by other schools and employers. There are two main types of academic accreditation: institutional and programmatic.

Institutional accreditation applies to the entire school. Programmatic accreditation only applies to a specific program. When choosing an online ophthalmic assistant or technician program, prospective students should check to see if it has programmatic accreditation and the school has institutional accreditation.

Ideally, students should only attend a school if it is institutionally accredited and the program has programmatic accreditation. For ophthalmic tech and assistant programs, students should look for accreditation by the International Council of Accreditation for Allied Ophthalmic Education Programs (ICA). For optometric technician or assistant programs, the accreditation to look for is that from the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE).

Employment and Salary Outlook for Ophthalmic Technicians

While medical assisting is not the same as working as an ophthalmic assistant or tech, their jobs are similar. In fact, an ophthalmic assistant is much like a medical assistant but instead of working for a physician they work for an ophthalmologist. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for medical assistants to grow 19% from 2019 to 2029, significant especially when compared to the 4% overall job growth rate for all professions. Even for ophthalmic laboratory technicians, the BLS projects a growth rate of 9% during that same period.

With a demand created by an aging population and greater access to medical care, the anticipated growth for ophthalmic professionals is very strong. The anticipated income potential is equally strong. According to the BLS’ compensation numbers, the lowest 10% of ophthalmic medical technicians earn $25,830 per year, while the median salary is $37,940 and the highest 10% earns $57,900.

Ophthalmic Technician Certification and Licensing

There are several certifications available for ophthalmic technicians or assistants. The Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA) is an entry-level core designation and requires applicants to pass a three-hour, multiple-choice exam. The second is the Certified Ophthalmic Technician (COT), a second core designation for individuals who want to take the next step in their career. Earning this credential requires passing a three-hour, multiple-choice exam and a skills evaluation.

For ophthalmic professionals who want to reach the highest levels of certification, there’s the Certified Ophthalmic Medical Technologist (COMT). Many applicants seeking this credential already have their COA or COT designations and become COMTs by passing an exam consisting of multiple-choice questions and a performance test. Finally, there’s the Ophthalmic Surgical Assisting (OSA) certification that offers ophthalmic professionals the ability to specialize in ophthalmic surgical assisting. Applicants must already have their COA, COT, or COMT credentials and need to pass a two-hour, multiple-choice exam.

All of the above certifications are offered by the International Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology. There are three primary ways to earn these certifications:

  • Completing an accredited ophthalmic training program that includes clinical training makes you eligible for the COA, COT, and COMT certifications.
  • Completing an accredited ophthalmic training program that does not include clinical training makes you eligible for your COA certification, but you will also need 500 hours of supervised experience in addition to completing your ophthalmic training program.
  • Obtaining 1,000 hours of supervised experience allows you to sit for the COA exam.

Online Medical Assisting Programs

What ophthalmic technicians are to ophthalmologists, medical assistants are to medical doctors, advanced practice nurses, and physician’s assistants. Depending on the office, a medical assistant helps support primary care providers administratively and/or clinically. Students complete these programs in as little as a few months for a certificate as much as two years to earn an associate degree.

Online Dental Assistant Programs

Dental assistants work with dentists to provide care for patients. Dental assistant programs are similar to ophthalmic technician online schools in that students learn the basics of operating a healthcare office and foundational medical concepts in their area of specialization. An online dental assistant program often takes less than a year to complete.

Online Resources for Ophthalmic Technician Students and Professionals