Training and Development in Your Eyecare Practice

By Keli O'Connor, COMT, ABOC January 18, 2021

Training and development are essential to any organization. In eyecare, a well-trained staff is needed to run an office efficiently. Assistants and opticians are the backbones of the office, and their roles often stretch beyond aiding physicians in patient care. Triaging, patient callbacks, working the reception desk, and billing are parts of the job. Management and support staff may need to learn multiple roles to help the office to run more efficiently. Further development toward a higher skillset, front end management, and/or becoming an in-office trainer for other technicians benefits the office for obvious reasons, but potentially helps the individual’s development even more so.

It is essential to know the difference between training and development before implementing an office-wide education plan. Training is the education an employee receives at the start of their employment or when tasked with a new assignment, where development is the continuous, long-term education that employees pro-actively engage in to better themselves within an organization. Often, training is a requirement for accurately completing tasks within the job; new staff members in the onboarding process, or current technicians who are planning to start in a different subspecialty require training. Developing skills and attributes to better communicate, use time effectively, or leading and delegating are soft skills that can prove beneficial at work and at home. Specialized development, like pursuing additional certifications – either specific to one’s current role or those that prime an individual for their next step in their career—is an incentive for employees to stay within an organization while strengthening the caliber of staff.

Proper training and development are crucial to a successful business model. Work culture can be improved through morale, motivation, and individual/company pride, which happens when staff members are adequately trained and given opportunities to grow. Happy employees rarely leave their jobs. Proper training helps employees feel capable of performing their duties and gives employees the confidence to succeed in their practice role. When technicians are proud of what they do and where they do it, the morale in the office improves. Boosted pride and company morale keeps the office strong and increases employee retention, reducing money and time spent on training new hires from scratch. 

The act of training and guiding employees to develop their skills can be costly for an organization. Nationally, businesses spend tens of billions of dollars a year to train talent. When a practice quickly runs through assistants, it finds itself burning through resources in constantly onboarding and training. Without a development plan for long-term success in place, techs will continue to wait until they are fully trained to find a new job at a different office. If as much time and attention is spent on nurturing the development of staff after they have been initially trained, the practice can expect higher retention rates.

The question is not if the office should invest in the training and development of employees but how. Text and guidebooks are always a great start for beginning employees, but shadowing others in their role, or even physicians, can help learners get a true appreciation of the job. One-on-one time with coworkers with the equipment used in their roles, like slit lamps or lensmeters, is also a low-cost way to teach new hires and get them more comfortable with the flow of the office. There are several ways of learning, and it is crucial to respect each individual and how they learn best – whether audio, visual, or tactile -- for optimal training.

Visual acuity documentation, refractometry, tonometry, muscle testing, and pupil gauging are some of the technical aspects that employees need to master before seeing patients, but understanding why techs have to perform these tests and what to do if a problem arises is also important. Opticians must familiarize themselves with frame dimensions, lens design, pupillometry, and prism before they can be expected to work on the sales floor. Once the most crucial skill requirements have been met, both techs and opticians can be encouraged to learn more advanced skills relevant to the practice and ophthalmology. Learning shouldn’t stop just because basic skills have been mastered.

Clarifying educational goals and objectives creates a rubric to guide and assess training or developmental plans. Ideal training environments equipped with the proper tools and uniformly holding trainees against the same objective rubric establishes a fair, systematic learning environment that employees and trainers alike can grow from. Perhaps equally important to developing plans for new hires, is developing a team of leaders and trainers. Doing so is a conducive way to strengthen the heart of the clinic.

Although every practice varies in what its specific training and development model looks like, there are basic steps that any organization can use to outline its processes. By surveying staff, measuring key results, and ingraining training into its work culture, the practice can expect a positive training and development experience with effective results.

Overlooking employee training and development would prove disastrous in any field, but significantly so in eyecare. Legal and financial aspects of a poorly trained staff aside, assistants could cause physical harm to patients if not appropriately trained. An abraded eye from incorrectly applanating or failing to document a medication that could have interactions with certain eye drops is a very real danger. Having techs master a regimented set of technical skills is crucial to having a safe and profitable office. 

Leading through encouragement is a good first step in the development of staff members. Having tools and resources available for employee development can be as important as the training process itself. When a tech improves his or her own skillsets, they make themselves more valuable within the office and the world outside of the practice. Opticians and technicians who are proud of what they do provide better patient care and help create a better office environment.

Keli O'Connor, COMT, ABOC

Keli is a writer, optician, and ophthalmic technician who has worked in eyecare since 2008. She has managed and trained teams in both optometry and ophthalmology. Keli is the author of The Optimal Tech, a guidebook for eyecare personnel, and currently works as a clinical coordinator for a retinal degeneration center in Philadelphia, PA. Her work has been published in Translational Vision Science & Technology. When not writing, she enjoys reading and outdoor exploration. Follow her on Twitter at @KeliBOConnor.

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