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Differences Between an Ophthalmic Assistant and a Tech

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Medical doctors who specialize in the eye are called "ophthalmologists." The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO) recognizes three levels of certified personnel who work with ophthalmologists: ophthalmic assistants, ophthalmic technicians, and ophthalmic medical technologists. The first two levels assist ophthalmologists on a daily basis.


According to the, ophthalmology is "The branch of medicine that deals with the anatomy, functions, pathology, and treatment of the eye." Ophthalmologists are medical doctors. They have completed a four-year bachelor's degree and medical school, and performed a residency in ophthalmology. An ophthalmologist can practice general ophthalmology or specialize in any of numerous sub-disciplines, including lasik refractive surgery, pediatric ophthalmology, cornea disease, glaucoma, oculoplastics and orthoptics. No matter their specialization, they depend upon the assistance of trained personnel.

Ophthalmic Assistant

Ophthalmic assistants help ophthalmologists with clinical procedures and exams, They can perform vision tests, give a patient eye medication, take personal and family medical histories, instruct patients how to administer eye medication and perform basic eye exams such as testing pupils and measuring pinhole acuity. Training to be an ophthalmic assistant takes six months to a year, and a certification exam must be passed. An ophthalmic assistant must be re-certified every three years.

Ophthalmic Technician

Ophthalmic technicians are trained to do all the duties of an ophthalmic assistant, plus they can perform additional clinical tasks, such as neutralize spectacle lenses on a manual lensometer and measure corneal curvature with the keratometer or the ophthalmometer. An ophthalmic technician's course of study lasts one to two years and includes advanced training in visual fields, basic ocular motility, clinical optics, contact lenses, intermediate tonometry, and photography. Like ophthalmic assistants, ophthalmic technicians must receive certification to perform their work and must also renew their certification every three years.

Ophthalmic Medical Technologist

Ophthalmic medical technologists are the most highly trained personnel that assist ophthalmologists. They have all the training of an ophthalmic technician, plus many additional abilities, including being able to assist an ophthalmologist during surgery and knowing how to maintain ophthalmic equipment and surgical instruments. They can also administer advanced eye exams, including ultrasound exams. Ophthalmic medical technologists can train and supervise ophthalmic assistants and ophthalmic technicians. In addition, they must be certified in orthoptics, which is a method of exercising the eye and its muscles to cure strabismus or improve vision.


Micah Rubenstein has been writing professionally since 1985. He was the editor of the online publication GrailWorld Magazine, the host and producer of the weekly "Message In Music" radio series and a former professor at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. He teaches at Columbus State Community College and Granite State College in New Hampshire. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in music from Brown University.

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