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Medical, Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians - Career Opportunities by Mike Clark

Medical appliance technicians fabricate, fit, maintain, and repair orthopedic braces, artificial limbs, joints, arch supports, and other surgical and medical appliances.

Dental laboratory technicians construct and maintain crowns, bridges, dentures, and other dental prosthetics as prescribed by a dentist.

Ophthalmic laboratory technicians make prescription eyeglass or contact lenses. There are about 90,000 U.S. jobs for medical, dental, and ophthalmic laboratory technicians. Sixty percent of salaried jobs are in medical equipment and supply manufacturing laboratories, which usually are small and privately owned.

Most such technicians learn their craft on the job; however, many employers prefer to hire those with formal training in a related field. There are four programs accredited by the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE). They offer either an associate degree or a one-year certificate. Courses include human anatomy and physiology, orthotic and prosthetic equipment and materials, and applied biomechanical principles.

Training in dental laboratory technology is available through community and junior colleges, vocational-technical institutes, and the U.S. Armed Forces. Formal training programs vary greatly both in length and in the level of skill they impart.

Voluntary certification is available through the American Board for Certification in Orthotics and Prosthetics (ABC). Applicants are eligible for an exam after completing a program accredited by NCOPE or obtaining two years of experience as a technician under the direct supervision of an ABC-certified practitioner.

Graduates of 2-year training programs for Dental Laboratory Technicians need additional hands-on experience to become fully qualified.

The National Board for Certification, established by the National Association of Dental Laboratories, offers certification in dental laboratory technology. Certification is voluntary.

Medical, dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians must be able to:

read prescriptions or detailed information
fill prescriptions as a dental laboratory technician
pay attention to detail
be very dexterous
have good vision
have artistic aptitude

Although there is expected to be slower-than-average growth in overall employment in the near future, job opportunities should still be favorable. Most job openings will arise from replacing technicians who transfer to other occupations or who leave the labor force.

How much do Medical, Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians Earn?

Earnings vary according to which type of technician you are. For medical appliance technicians the average in May 2004 was $13.38 per hour. Half earned between $10.46 and $18.22 an hour. Overall, earnings ranged from less than $8.21 to more than $23.66 an hour.

Median hourly earnings of dental laboratory technicians were $14.93 in the same period with an overall range of $8.86 to $25.48 an hour.

Ophthalmic laboratory technicians averaged $11.40 an hour. Earnings ranges from less than $7.89 to more than $17.61 an hour.

A Day in a Medical, Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician's Life:

On a typical day a medical, dental or ophthalmic laboratory technician will (depending on their area):

construct, fit, maintain, and repair braces, artificial limbs, joints, arch supports, and other surgical and medical appliances
read prescriptions or detailed information
make a wax or plastic impression of a patient's foot
use precision measuring instruments
carve, cut or grind the material using hand or power tools
do other work such as polishing artificial limbs and mixing pigments
fit appliances on the patient and adjust them
repair, service and maintain machinery and devices
fill prescriptions from dentists for crowns, bridges, dentures, and other dental prosthetics
make prescription eyeglass or contact lenses
read prescriptions, select standard glass or plastic lens blanks and grind them to specification
cut the lenses for final adjustment.

I hope this article gives you a good idea of what is involved in the career of a Medical, Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician. Health care is the largest industry in the world. In the U.S. about 14 million people work in the health care field. More new wage and salary jobs are in health care than in any other industry. (Some figures from Bureau of Labor Statistics.)


Mike Clark is the director of Health Care Hiring an online portal to the health care and medical community. Check out this website to find out more about career and training opportunities, and nationwide employer contact information, in the health care and medical sector.

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