How to become more valuable to your practice

Five steps to better assist your ophthalmologist and boost your career.

Professional Development

How to become more valuable to your practice

Five steps to better assist your ophthalmologist and boost your career.


Ophthalmologists today cannot run a practice without the help of qualified allied ophthalmic personnel. Such qualified professionals are necessary to perform a preliminary work up and provide, accurately, the highly technical testing used and required to follow and diagnose eye diseases. With these professionals, the ophthalmologist may fully concentrate on the diagnosis and treatment of their patients.

The following five steps can increase your value to your practice and to the field of ophthalmology.

Step one: Become the ophthalmic technician that your practice dreams of having.

You can bring certain traits to an ophthalmology practice that will lead you to be the ophthalmic technician of their dreams. These traits will also open the door for advancement and opportunity in the ophthalmic field. They include:

    • Setting high standards for yourself. Be honest and trustworthy, maintain an excellent work ethic, be accountable for your actions, and admit when you are wrong or make a mistake.

    • Becoming flexible. The ability to work where you’re needed, perhaps being cross-trained and working in a different role, will benefit you as well as the practice. You’ll find the variety of duties can lead to a more satisfying work day.

    • Bringing a positive attitude, every day. The number one trait you can bring to an ophthalmology practice is a positive attitude. Your attitude toward the doctors, patients, office manager, front office staff, and fellow ophthalmic professionals will dictate your success in this field. Attitude is most likely the easiest trait you can control. It may sound too easy, but just purposely smiling can increase your (and the practice’s) satisfaction on a daily basis. The practice of ophthalmology has to contend with many outside forces that decrease our job satisfaction, so don’t let your own attitude be the cause of in-office dissatisfaction.

Step two: Seek continuing education and learn new skills.

The one constant in ophthalmology is that it is ever changing with new tests, equipment, and strategies developing all the time. An ophthalmic technician must be ready, willing, and able to learn these new technologies. Most ophthalmologists will ask their ophthalmic technicians’ opinions on a new technology, before the big purchase, as they are fully aware that they must depend on the technician to run the equipment, perform the new skill accurately, and maintain the equipment. A recent survey of Ophthalmic Professional readers reports that most staff members have responsibility for recommending or purchasing equipment.

Step Three: Seek certification.

Seeking the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO) certification speaks to your desire to become successful in this field. The saying, “Knowledge is power” holds true in our field.

JCAHPO offers three levels of certification and various specialty certifications (see, “JCAHPO certification levels,” right). Many ophthalmologists have an increased respect for personnel who have, maintain, and seek higher levels of JCAHPO certification, as it demonstrates competence.

For more information and to find the required prerequisites to pursue JCAHPO certification at each level, visit

Step Four: Join the professional association.

Joining the Association of Technical Personnel in Ophthalmology (ATPO) is a way to demonstrate professionalism. ATPO is the professional membership organization of allied health personnel. You need not be certified to join. Many are confused about the difference between JCAHPO and ATPO. In short, JCAHPO is our certifying body; ATPO is our member organization.

Through ATPO, you can become a leader in your field by:

• Writing case studies for the Viewpoints publication;

• Volunteering your time, talents, and energy by becoming a committee member;

• Teaching/lecturing at various ATPO educational meetings;

• Becoming a mentor to other members;

• Sharing your ideas to further advocate for our profession.

JCAHPO certification levels

COA – Certified Ophthalmic Assistant – Basic level

COT – Certified Ophthalmic Technician – Intermediate level

COMT – Certified Ophthalmic Medical Technologist – Advanced level

Additional JCAHPO certifications

OSA – Ophthalmic Surgical Assistant. For ophthalmic personnel who assist ophthalmologists in the operating room.

ROUB – Registered Ophthalmic Ultrasound Biometrist. For ophthalmic personnel who provide pre-operative measurements by use of an A-scan.

CDOS – Certified Diagnostic Ophthalmic Sonographer. For ophthalmic personnel who perform diagnostic B-scan.

OSC – Ophthalmic Scribe Certification – For ophthalmic personnel who scribe for their ophthalmologists. A great first certification for the beginner ophthalmic assistant.

Step Five: Discover what you do best, and excel at it.

This step may include becoming proficient at assisting in a procedure, learning how to use diagnostic technology, or acquiring a skill, such as training. Consider that in most ophthalmology offices new personnel often need training. As training can become both time consuming and costly for the practice, you will add value if you can train others. You can become proficient in training in several ways. For example, ATPO offers the program, “Train the Trainer,” which is designed to provide practical skills for new trainers.

As technology improves, offices find an increased need for skilled personnel in areas such as OCT imaging, photography, ultrasound, or biometry. Explore what interests you. For example, many people are eager to assist in procedures and surgery. You might create a protocol to help others in one of these areas.

These five steps are all accumulated over years of dedication to the profession. With a positive attitude and good interpersonal skills, education, certification, professional activities, and training abilities, you will add significant value to your practice. By interfacing with others in the field, you will continue to add to your overall professionalism by helping each other grow. OP

Ms. Flaherty is a certified ophthalmic medical technologist at Stone Oak Ophthalmology in San Antonio, TX. She is an internationally recognized speaker and trainer in the eye-care industry. As owner of Ophthalmic Seminars of San Antonio, she conducts instructional seminars to ophthalmic assistants and technicians. She is currently the president of Association of Technical Personnel in Ophthalmology (ATPO) 2016-2017. You may contact Sergina by email at