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Certified Ophthalmic Assistants and Technicians

In previous blog entries, I have called our ophthalmic assistants and technicians “highly-trained.” That can easily seem like one of those buzzwords that marketing people like to throw around because it sounds good. But in North Cascade Eye Associates‘ case, it’s because “trained on the job by our teaching-certified and experienced doctors while simultaneously undergoing JCAHPO independent study before being rigorously tested to receive certification” is maybe a bit clunky to insert in there every time.

Patients are sometimes curious about our training process, especially since we have our technicians do such a large part of the testing. With one of our technicians recently passing the test for her COT and three new hires beginning training just this month, now seems like a good time to talk about it!

So let me explain what goes into our process…and then you’ll know what I really mean the next time I say “highly-trained technicians.”

On-the-Job Training

Training is covered by Dr. Maria VanNurden and Dr. Kelly Paulett. Dr. VanNurden has a Masters in teaching optometry on top of her OD. She is an excellent and thorough teacher, and our new technician hires have received their first hands-on training from her for years. Dr. Paulett joins her this year, having taught at Ohio State University’s College of Optometry, where she developed a passion for clinical teaching.

After our trainees shadow the various departments of Cascadia Eye to learn how we all work together, and then receive training on our electronic health records program, they join the previously mentioned doctors at their clinics and begin learning everything about the eye. They are given a substantial textbook to study on their own time in addition to the hands-on training.

In the first forty-five days, they are expected to:

  • Master terminology of the eye, its anatomy and physiology, and common eye conditions they will encounter.
  • Learn medical assisting practices and how to use the instrumentation to measure visual acuity, eye pressure, glare testing…and much, much more.
  • Learn how to perform the refractometry to measure patient visual acuity – with the doctor always checking for accuracy, so even if you have a trainee as your technician, you know you will get the correct prescription.

After the first month and a half, the technicians move on to the second phase of their training, which involves specialized testing and special kinds of exams, where they:

  • Learn how to use the specialized testing equipment, such as visual field tests, special cornea measuring equipment, and the OCT (which takes pictures of the back of your eye.)
  • Learn how to work with more difficult prescriptions such as prism (double vision) and to do contact lens fittings.
  • Learn to perform the specialized exams that our oculoplastics doctor and pediatric doctors need.

After the full 90 days of intensive training and study (which does include a lot more than the brief overview I have given here), Cascadia Eye decides if the trainees are a good fit for the clinic – this includes not only knowledge and skill but also personalities that work well with patients and coworkers. If the trainees pass, they move to a mentorship program as “assistants” under each of our other doctors, who oversee them closely and teach them the individual things they will need for each clinic (this includes our medical doctors as well as our optometrists.) The new technicians are considered to still be in training for a full year! Once the year is up and the doctors deem them ready, the assistants are eligible to take the test for their COA, which I will explain next.

JCAHPO Testing and Certification

JCAHPO (Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology) is an internationally recognized not-for-profit organization that administers ongoing education and certification for ophthalmic health personnel. It features different levels of certification, which are achieved by studying the JCAHPO course and taking a qualifying test, and each higher level requires the one below it to have also been achieved.

COA (Certified Ophthalmic Assistant) is the first level of certification, and most of our current technicians have reached that level. COAs must master a list of skills that can be found here. In brief, they must know how to perform all the tests and measurements I mentioned in the training section, and have undergone the full year of training and experience before receiving certification.

COT (Certified Ophthalmic Technician) is the second tier of certification, and requires that the technician has been a COA for at least a year and has proven mastery of more technical skills and knowledge – specialized testing and complicated contact lens fittings, among others. It also requires periodic re-certification and re-testing to make sure the COT is keeping up with his or her ophthalmic knowledge and skills.

Our COA’s and COT’s are expected to undergo continuing education throughout the year, which they receive at regional and sometimes national JCAHPO conventions. All of this is part of Cascadia Eye’s commitment to the highest level of care possible, especially since our technicians are such a key part of every comprehensive medical eye exam.

Contact North Cascade Eye Associates

If you would like more information, or if you would like to schedule a comprehensive eye exam at North Cascade Eye Associates, please contact us today.

In addition, join us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ to ask your questions about eyes, exams, and our practice. We’d love to hear from you – and I might write a blog to address your questions in the future.

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