Becoming An Optician: Karen Michaelson, ABOC

Karen A. Michaelson, ABOCWhat is your advice for someone working their way to become an Optician?

Know that you can learn the trade. What we can’t teach is the passion, ability to empathize, and care. Surround, network and connect with positive influencers in the industry. We love to help and support our all the new professionals coming into the industry. If you treat it as a career vs a job that will completely change the way you think about it. There are so many facets, I personally promise you will never get bored!


Why should anyone get certified/licensed?

I am in an unlicensed state. My father dispensed for 76 years and fought for certification through grass roots lobbying, hours and years of a tireless fight that unfortunately was not won. Honestly, being ABO certified since 1982 to me there was and is no choice, for me it is pride and commitment. If you are doing it just for a couple more dollars an hour, that is the wrong reason. The only way in the future to keep Opticianry as a profession regardless of what happens in the metaverse or virtually is to treat it like a profession. With that being said, I have seen many professionals that are certified that do not have passion. What I say is “that is a piece of paper on the wall is all”. I have worked with some brilliant people that aren’t certified but could acquire easily but to them it is not about that piece of paper. Bottom line, I will take someone with personality, passion, care and compassion and train the trade any day over someone with that piece of paper that lacks the attributes that makes us so important to our patients.


In your experience, what is the best way to prepare for an Opticianry test?

There are so many options now, technology has made our lives so much simpler when it comes to this. Honestly, when you ask the question on social media and you get links and answers as to what to study, the only reason you won’t pass is you aren’t putting the effort and time into achieving the outcome of passing. There is NO excuse! I went to a technical college that had lab and practical knowledge that prepped me for the test. I can still calculate with formulas but that is not needed now in the typical Optician role. You need to pay those dues to understand at a deep level of why you are doing what you are doing.


What do you remember as being a prominent part of the test or that you were surprised to see on the test?

That is a LONG time ago, LOL. I think it is always the calculations and formulas that trigger test anxiety. I also believe that the practical gets people because they think they know. So much of our job is hands on and taking a test without actually doing the actions throws people. I promise you if you were in a room of people and the test question asked what you do if the right temporal side of the frame is high, what do you do? People will be air adjusting to ensure they are right.


How do you decide if an additional credential should be earned?

That is up to the individual and their goals. I did take the masters exam many years ago and missed passing by 2 questions. That was enough for me to know I was right where I needed to be. We all have great strengths and areas that we may not excel at. That is why the team you are on, the optical community that is so vast and the learning platforms we have access is at your fingertips. Let me tell, you keep your friends close and all the optical geeks closer.


Jessica Curnew featured in May 2022 INVISION
Karen Michaelson featured in May 2022 INVISION


What was the point when you decided to attain your license/certification?

When my father said “you are going to do this right and will not be coming into this profession without it, end of story.”


What do you feel is your strongest skill as an Optician?

Care, compassion and concern is my foundation. I have worked in almost every facet of the industry so I can see things from every angle. With that being said I always look at it from the patients POV or the empty chair in the room, the customer.


What role have you held that best helped you to be the Optician you are today?

I worked as an independent Optical Consultant and that was baptism by fire with every door I stepped through. Working corporate was one of the biggest blessings and learning periods in my career. I planned my career out early because I did not want to burn out and wanted to be a lifer. I am writing a book that will publish in the summer and I will give away all my little secrets of career longevity.


What is your advice to someone who lacks sales skills or confidence?

This is a loaded question. I feel that many people fail as eye care team members not due to what they lack but to what the expectations are and training they receive. I have lived through this (and not all that long ago) and yet we still do the same thing over and over…insanity I think they call it. Ask questions, focus on a couple areas that are easy for you and master and continue to ask for support and guidance. Hey – call me anytime!


If you are no longer an Optician in the traditional sense on a daily basis, how did your Optician skills help you with what you’re doing now?

I know what they are going through each and every day. I dispensed for 25 years and still do here and there. It is not an easy job however the rewards are endless if you really understand what the outcome is. You are changing people’s lives. Don’t ever lose sight of that fact.

There are so many tidbits and pearls, and I will share with anyone that asks. Everyday I choose this profession. It has gotten me through some really trying times, but staying true to your foundation is why I am still in love 42 years later.

Responses in this interview provided by Karen A.Michaelson, ABOC

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