The shortage of experienced ophthalmic staff has been a nationwide issue, believed to be the result of low unemployment rates and an overall lack of awareness around the job. To address this need, the Southern California Eye Institute has created a certified Ophthalmic Technician Education Program (OTEP). The U.S. Department of Labor projects a 17 percent increase in the number of ophthalmic medical personnel positions by 2026, with California having the second-highest employment in the nation. This is a result of the expansion of the health industry due to a growing and aging population, large numbers of health care workers nearing retirement, the need to be cost-effective, and a lack of investment in training programs to keep pace with these trends.
The OTEP program—the only program of its kind in California, and one of the 14 nationwide—will provide students in the Los Angeles community access to high-quality education and job training opportunities to meet the growing need for ophthalmic technicians in a variety of healthcare settings.
According to the most recent research, Southern California has a high incidence of eye disease which is underdiagnosed and undertreated. The number of individuals with visual impairment (VI) and blindness is increasing in California and the United States as a result of shifting demographics, aging populations, and a high incidence of diabetes.
By 2050, the highest prevalence of VI among minorities will shift from African American individuals (15.2% in 2015 to 16.3% in 2050) to Hispanic individuals (9.9% in 2015 to 20.3% in 2050). Multiracial Americans and Hispanic whites in California will remain the largest demographic group with visual impairment between the years 2015-2060.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 16% employment growth for ophthalmic technicians between 2018 and 2028, providing approximately 9,000 employment opportunities. “Recent research conducted by our eye experts at SCEI has found that visual impairment and blindness are on the rise in California as a result of shifting demographics, an aging population, and a high incidence of diabetes,” said Rohit Varma. “The specialized OTEP program will address the acute shortage of skilled ophthalmic technicians needed to care for these individuals and prepare skilled allied healthcare professionals to serve the vision needs of all age groups in Los Angeles and Southern California.
The 21-month program is comprised of academic coursework, technical skills, and hands-on clinical experience from experts in SCEI’s state-of-the-art eye institute. Graduates from the program will work closely with patients and their families to educate them on their eye health, guide them on treatments, and inform ophthalmologists by conducting procedures to help with the diagnosis and treatment of vision problems.