No poaching allowed

September 15, 2007

Dianna Graves comments on her experience formally and informally training ophthalmic technicians. The task is often times difficult and good candidates are hard to find. Technicians however, serve an important service in a practice allowing physicians to carry out their jobs more efficiently.

Key Points

I already had graduated from college, but the teaching market had dried up. Thinking I had played the ultimate trump card-because I was sure my father would not pay for me to go to school again-I felt assured that I was going to have a pleasant summer playing softball and pumping gas.

Therefore, one can only imagine my confusion a month later when I found myself circling the Twin Cities at 25,000 feet trying to figure out how a two-degree college graduate could have been tricked into this endeavor. And so I began my training to become an ophthalmic technologist at the School of Ophthalmic Medical Technology in St. Paul, MN.

Since then, I have evolved from "just a tech" to having been the clinical manager for both the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Regions Hospital, both located in the Twin Cities area. Currently, I am the clinical services manager of several locations for the St. Paul Eye Clinic PA, Woodbury, MN.

From 1983 to the present, I have been involved in the formal-and informal-training of people whose goal it is to become an ophthalmic technician. This involvement either has been as a classroom instructor or by engaging in hands-on training of in-office staff (sometimes known as "homegrowns"). So it is safe to say that I have been actively involved in training from many different levels. No matter what that level of training is, one tenet is blatantly clear time after time: training staff to work in your office is a time-consuming and often frustrating task on many levels.

As an educator, I constantly ask physicians, administrators, and managers the following questions:

Lastly, I ask them the question that brings fear to their eyes: How hard is it for you to find well-trained staff?

If you talk with any of your colleagues about staffing, you'll notice a subtle hint of nervousness in their voices.

Let's face it, finding a tech is hard. Finding good techs is even harder.

In 2006, the JCAHPO reported that there were 15,411 certified personnel. Certified ophthalmic assistants accounted for the bulk of those numbers, with 69%, then certified ophthalmic technicians, at 26 %, and COMTs, registering at only 4% of the reporting number.

The Association of Technical Personnel in Ophthalmology reported in its 2005 salary survey that there were 27 formal certified training programs in the United States and Canada. The programs consisted of 11 for ophthalmic assistants; seven for technicians; six for technologists and three for multiple crossovers.

It doesn't take much analysis to realize that the majority of technical staffs are being trained in-office.