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Certification and Licensing

     According to the National Academy of Opticianry (NAO), there are roughly 67,000 opticians in the U.S.; 22 states require licensure. The American Board of Opticianry (ABO) currently certifies more than 26,000 opticians in the U.S., while the National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE) has 7,500 certified contact lens technicians on its rolls. Of the 5,600 opticians who registered for the ABO in 1997 66 percent passed the exam in May and 64 percent passed it in November. Of the 1,549 opticians who enrolled for the NCLE exam in 1997, 58% passed in both May and November.
Many people - those in the optical industry, as well as consumer - are confused by the dichotomy presented by licensure and certification Opticians can be licensed and certified. They also can be one or the other. They can take the certification exam to become licensed. What's the difference?

Licensing is an activity carried out by a state government to regulate activities within its borders, according to the Opticians Association of America. The U.S. Constitution gives this right to the individual states (which is why there is no way to require national licensing for Opticianry, or any other profession, for that matter). In the public interest, licensing mandates that practitioners meet certain standards established through passing a written test and usually a practical test. In addition to covering the technical aspects of optical dispensing, many test an applicant's knowledge of the state's laws. Most Opticianry licensing laws also require continuing education as a condition of license renewal.

Certification , on the other hand, is a voluntary activity. The decision to become certified is made by the individual (although many employers now require their dispensing employees to be certified). The ABO and NCLE provide the only nationally recognized credential for Opticianry. Licensing is conducted by a state in the public interest; certification is conducted by a profession principally in the interest of its individual certificants.
     The confusion arises because most of the states that license opticians use the ABO and NCLE examination as the written part of their licensing examination process. The ABO and NCLE grant certified status to those opticians for a specified length of time and those individuals may choose to continue their certified status along with their license.
     Even though most of the licensing states do use the ABO or NCLE examination for their written test, there are variations in what opticians can do in the individual states. The states differ in hours and kinds of education required for license renewal, the scope of practice for licensees, the kinds of training required before licensing, the fees charged and in the content or practical examinations.

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