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How to become a dispensing optician

To become a dispensing optician, you’ll need to complete an undergraduate degree programme or an ophthalmic dispensing diploma.

What is a dispensing optician?

Dispensing opticians are healthcare professionals and must be registered with the General Optical Council (GOC) to practise in the UK. They supply and fit glasses, contact lenses, and other aids to suit a person’s visual, occupational, or lifestyle needs. This can include the following:

  • protective eyewear
  • glasses for children
  • low-vision aids for those with visual impairments

Dispensing opticians can help when people need clinical advice on eye care conditions. In some areas, they deliver acute eyecare services and run low-vision clinics. Dispensing opticians can also refer people to optometrists for vision tests or ophthalmologists for specialist or emergency care.

Starting your career as a dispensing optician

Choosing subjects at school

If you’re interested in a career as a dispensing optician, useful school subjects include:

  • Biology
  • Maths
  • English
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Science

Speak to your guidance teacher or careers adviser about subjects offered at your school.

Workplacements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some healthcare experience by doing a work placement or volunteering. You’ll get training, increase your knowledge, and learn new skills. This could help you when applying to college, university, or a new job with NHSScotland. 

Education and training pathway

To become a dispensing optician, you’ll need to complete an undergraduate degree in Ophthalmic Dispensing at SCQF level 10.

A list of approved programmes is available on the GOC website.

As a student, you must apply for membership with the Association of British Dispensing Opticians (ABDO) and register with the GOC. You’ll also need to join the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme, managed by Disclosure Scotland.

Once you graduate, you must complete a year of supervised practice before you apply for professional registration with the GOC.

Some dispensing opticians start their careers as trainees or optical assistants. You can then complete the (ABDO) Level 6 Diploma in Ophthalmic Dispensing by distance learning to become qualified.

Get to know the role

As a dispensing optician, you’ll supply and fit glasses based on the patient’s spectacle prescription You’ll also give people advice on the following:

  • common eye care conditions
  • how to wear and care for their glasses
  • myopia management

You may also help partially sighted patients whose vision cannot be improved by medical or surgical treatment. You’ll advise on the use of low-vision aids, such as magnifiers and both monocular and binocular telescopic aids. 

With further training, dispensing opticians can:

  • fit and supply contact lenses
  • provide enhanced clinical care, such as low-vision clinics
  • help patients with minor eye conditions

Find out more about the role of a dispensing optician on the Association of British Dispensing Opticians website.

Some typical tasks include:

  • Prepare and dispense optical prescriptions,.
  • Take measurements to make sure glasses fit correctly and comfortably and maximise a patient's vision.
  • Review requirements and provide options for types of lenses.
  • Help people choose lenses and frames.
  • Fit, adjust, and repair frames.
  • Give advice to people who need low-vision aids.
  • Give advice to parents whose children would benefit from myopia management.
  • Order lenses, frames, and other optical products.

You'll need these skills:

  • communicating
  • collaborating
  • focussing
  • initiative
  • critical thinking
  • sense-making
  • information sourcing
  • leading
  • empathy

As a dispensing optician, you’ll work with:

  • optical assistants
  • optometrists
  • ophthalmologists
  • orthoptists
  • ophthalmic nurses
  • rehabilitation workers

You could work in an opticians or a retail setting. In the NHS, you’ll work in a hospital.

Learning and development

While working as a qualified dispensing optician, you’ll need to keep your knowledge and skills up to date. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is a statutory requirement for maintaining your registration with the GOC. Registration must be renewed annually for as long as you want to practise in the UK.

NHS Education for Scotland (NES) provides support and training courses for dispensing opticians who provide care under the NHS General Ophthalmic Services (GOS) contract.

Find out more about optometric training programmes delivered by NES.

Career progression

Once you’ve qualified as a dispensing optician and gained professional experience, you could do some specialist training. 

The Contact Lens Certificate will qualify you to fit and provide advice on contact lenses from prescriptions prepared by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Extended services contact lens opticians care for patients who have suddenly developed certain eye conditions.

Professional bodies

As a dispensing optician, you must maintain your membership with the following organisations throughout your career:

You can also join Optometry Scotland, the representative body for dispensing opticians and optometrists in Scotland.

Find out more about Optometry Scotland.

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