Interview: Carrie Wilson, Master Optician

Carrie Wilson is a prominent figure in the Optician world as she is actively social online with her Master Optician expertise and business experience as she holds a Masters degree. Somehow she found the time to write a book, National Opticianry Certification Exam Preparation, all while working her ‘day job’ as the Optician: Lab liasion for Walmart, specifically as a Senior Manager of Quality Assurance. That’s an impressive mouth-full. You can see why I wanted to pick her brain! Take a look at her answers:

For someone (or who has staff) who is new to the industry entirely, what guide/path do you advise to get them knowledge?

We are lucky that we live in an age where we can access information readily. Unfortunately, a lot of what is out there is incorrect and it can be incorrect in person as well as online. Therefore, I recommend a seeking a multichannel format for gaining knowledge.

  1. Read books. The printed word has usually been vetted pretty well by people in the industry and follow their recommendations.
  2. Become active in state and national societies. Societies are an excellent way to meet mentors in your field that you do not work with day – to – day. Optical is such a diverse field it is impossible to know all about every area and mentorship is an excellent way to know what questions a new person should ask when learning something new.
  3. Join purpose driven social media groups. Not all groups are designed to meet the same needs. Some are primarily social with information thrown in and others are primarily informational. Join the informational groups for answers to questions and save the social ones for entertainment. Also, smaller, less than 10,000 members, is better for information because it is easier to control the flow of information in smaller formats.
  4. YouTube videos are great but consider the source. Laramy-K is an excellent YouTube resource and is highly effective if the individual learns more visually than through reading text.
  5. Industry podcasts and publications can give a diversified view of the industry. A small independent podcast and a larger industry publication will give newbies different, and sometimes contradictory, viewpoints of different facets of the industry. This is ok because it is important that anyone coming into the industry realizes that the different viewpoints are what makes the industry so great and vastly different from others.

For those who are training to be an Optician that may have no mentor, leadership, training, examples, or otherwise, how do you advise they get the information needed to pass their tests?

The first step would be to at the ABO-NCLE Basic Exam Handbook. This tells the individual exactly what is on the test. The next step would be to buy a book that is updated and designed specifically to help one pass a basic exam. If the book is older, there may have been some updates to the exam that the book does not address since the exam is re-evaluated every 3 years. If the book is designed to address all of the complexities of opticianry, it will cover topics beyond the scope of a basic certification and may overwhelm someone trying to focus their knowledge search to those that will apply to basic certification. If one needs help beyond just reading, and that is a majority of people, there are tutoring and exam prep services that are available as well. This can be everything from one – on – one distance tutoring, to classes, to on-site professional development.

One of your “10 Commandments for New Opticians” is to get any certification/license you can, to show your gumption and passion for the industry. Is there a line anywhere on getting a credential that is not applicable for your job? How do you draw a line between valid credentials and just being pompous on your LinkedIn profile?

Validity is relative. Some would say that the Master in Ophthalmic Optics is an invalid certification because some employers would not consider it applicable to most jobs, particularly if the individual is in a state that does not have any requirements to practice. So, my advice would be to follow your passion, not necessarily the money. Get every certification or license that fulfills your desire to learn and helps you to fulfill your professional vision of yourself. The only line that I would draw would on creating your resume and then it would be dependent on the job that you are applying for. For example, if you are applying for a job in manufacturing lenses, I may eliminate certifications for advanced contact lens fitting or for optometric technician. This is because I do not want to distract a potential employer from the skills they are looking for.

Everyone needs to continually learn, what advice do you have for those who work with someone who is “too good” to teach or wants to harbor their “trade secrets”?

Not everyone has learned that it is not knowledge that is power but the application of knowledge and therefore horde valuable information for various reasons which are typically selfish in nature. Unfortunately, we cannot control the actions of others so when this occurs, we have to look outside of the typical apprenticeship relationship to expand our optical knowledge. This is where finding a mentor becomes critical. I have several mentors currently, even after being in the business over 20 years. Some of them don’t even know it because the relationship is totally via social media. What is important is not how the relationship is formed but that your mentor meets certain criteria.

  1. They’re knowledgeable and usually correct. You can see it in the way they communicate and how others react to them.
  2. They admit when they don’t know or when they are wrong. Not everyone is perfect and no one knows it all, but if they handle these situations with grace you know you can trust what they say.
  3. They are generous with their time and knowledge. They don’t mind answering your questions, even if they are basic to them.
  4. They are honest. It may be to the point of bluntness and may be considered rude by others but that is not their intent. Remember, someone who challenges you cares more than someone who will let you settle on mediocrity.

Is there some pattern you see in all of your years of training people that seems to re-present itself repeatedly?

The main pattern that repeats in our industry is the same pattern that we see in other apprenticeship-based industries when the training misses a formal training component; we consistently lose knowledge as it passes from one person to another. The first optician may do everything exactly the way that they are supposed to and train their apprentice to do the same but the apprentice forgets something because they don’t do it often. So, once they train someone else, they don’t train that one thing. This compounds itself down the line. As a result, I see that most opticians have a gap of about 20% in their basic knowledge skillset.

The other training error I see is assuming that years on the job or amount of sales a person has is a metric of how knowledgeable the individual is in optical sciences. Although they may correlate to each other, I have seen many instances in which they do not.

With computer and app help these days, how important do you think it is for an optician to learn and apply formulas? why?

Learning and applying are two different things. Regardless of the formula or what apps are available, the optician should know what the formula is for, how to look for it and when to apply it. It is not necessary to know the magnification formula by heart, but I do need to know that if I have a +1.00 in the OD and a +4.00 in the OS, there are things that I can do to minimize the differences in magnification and how to find that information so that I can do it. An app and the computer are perfect for finding, the mind I is critical for applying.

Certain formulas however, should be learned due to how often they are used and how basic they are to the field. For example, Prentice’s Rule and decentration should be known by every optician without having to rely on an app.

Importance in troubleshooting relativity. How do you get to the point where you can ask the right questions to find what’s wrong?

Time and trial and error are the only ways to become highly proficient in troubleshooting. This is an area where there is no quick fix because you are relying on the subjective feedback of the consumer and then applying it to the optical knowledge that you have gained over the years. One must learn what the patient means when they say they can’t see, interpret body language, assess previous prescription and wear patterns and how they affect the current eyewear, and explain how prescription changes may be viewed by the consumer. This knowledge all takes time to hone, but you can start with the basics to speed this process along or to make it unnecessary.

At the time of the sale,

  • Adjust frame fully prior to taking lens measurements
  • Ensure that the measurements are accurate for how the patient wears them
  • Observe how the patient is wearing their current pair and, if it appears to be unusual, ask why it is being worn that way
  • Look for any unusual changes in the prescription. If it appears to be a clerical error, call the doctor. If not, make the consumer aware of the changes, the potential impact it may have, and that it is normal to have an adaptation period.
  • Be smart in the way that you are recommending materials and lens design. For example, if they are a hyperope, moderate presbyope and happy in a CR39 progressive, be aware that if you put them in a freeform progressive with an aspheric design you are taking away magnification and they will most likely not appreciate it.
  • Take notes on the order so that others know what you have done and why. Also, so that you can remember.

What are your thoughts? Have a question for Carrie – Post it below!

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