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Medical, Dental, and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians - What They Do


How to Advance (Advancement)
Certification may increase chances of advancement. Voluntary certification for orthotic and prosthetic technicians 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 2 years of experience as a technician under the direct supervision of an ABC-certified practitioner. After successfully passing the appropriate exam, technicians receive the Registered Orthotic Technician, Registered Prosthetic Technician, or Registered Prosthetic-Orthotic Technician credential.

With additional formal education, medical appliance technicians who make orthotics and prostheses can advance to become orthotists or prosthetists—practitioners who work with patients who need braces, prostheses, or related devices and help to determine the specifications for those devices.

Dental laboratory technicians may obtain the Certified Dental Technician designation from the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology (NBC), an independent board established by the National Association of Dental Laboratories. Certification, which is voluntary except in three States, can be obtained in five specialty areas: crowns and bridges, ceramics, partial dentures, complete dentures, and orthodontic appliances. To qualify for the CDT credential, technicians must meet educational requirements and pass two written exams and one practical exam. The educational requirement may be obtained through graduation from a dental technology program or at least 5 years of experience as a dental laboratory technician. CDT’s must complete twelve hours of continuing education each year to maintain their certification. Dental technicians who only perform certain tasks in a laboratory can take a written and practical exam in modules of dental technology. These result in a Certificate of Competency in a specific skill area and do not require continuing education.

In large dental laboratories, dental technicians may become supervisors or managers. Experienced technicians may teach or take jobs with dental suppliers in such areas as product development, marketing, and sales. Opening one's own laboratory is another, and more common, way to advance and earn more.

Ophthalmic laboratory technicians also can become supervisors and managers. Some become dispensing opticians, although further education or training is generally required to advance.

Employment
Medical, dental, and ophthalmic laboratory technicians held about 95,200 jobs in 2008. About 58 percent of jobs were in medical equipment and supplies manufacturing, which usually are small, privately owned businesses with fewer than five employees. However, some laboratories are large; a few employ more than 1,000 workers.

In addition to manufacturing laboratories, many medical appliance technicians worked in health and personal care stores, while others worked in public and private hospitals, professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers, or consumer goods rental centers. Some were self-employed. In addition to manufacturing laboratories, many dental laboratory technicians worked in offices of dentists. Some dental laboratory technicians open their own offices.

Most ophthalmic laboratory technician jobs were in medical equipment and supplies manufacturing laboratories. Others worked in health and personal care stores, offices of optometrists, and professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers.

Job Outlook
Overall employment of medical, dental, and ophthalmic laboratory technicians is expected to grow faster than the average, but varies by detailed occupation. Job opportunities should be favorable because few people seek these positions.

Job Growth
Overall employment for these occupations is expected to grow 14 percent from 2008 to 2018, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Medical appliance technicians will grow at 11 percent, about as fast as the average for all occupations, because of the increasing prevalence of the two leading causes of limb loss—diabetes and cardiovascular disease—and because of the increasing rate of obesity. The demand for orthotic devices, such as braces and orthopedic footwear, will increase as more people will need these support devices. In addition, advances in technology may spur demand for prostheses that allow for greater movement.

Employment of dental laboratory technicians is expected to grow 14 percent, which is faster than the average for all occupations. During the last few years, increased demand has arisen from an aging public that is growing increasingly interested in cosmetic prostheses. For example, many dental laboratories are filling orders for composite fillings that are the same shade of white as natural teeth to replace older, less attractive fillings. Additionally, the growing and aging population will require more dental products fabricated by dental technicians, such as bridges and crowns, since more people are retaining their original teeth. This job growth will be limited, however, by productivity gains stemming from continual technological advancements in laboratories.

Ophthalmic laboratory technicians are expected to experience employment growth of 15 percent, faster than the average for all occupations. Demographic trends make it likely that many more Americans will need vision care in the years ahead. Not only will the population grow, but also the proportion of middle-aged and older adults is projected to increase rapidly. Middle age is a time when many people use corrective lenses for the first time, and the need for vision care continues to increase with age. However, the increasing use of automated machinery will temper job growth for ophthalmic laboratory technicians.

Job opportunities for medical, dental, and ophthalmic laboratory technicians should be favorable, due to expected faster than average growth. Few people seek these jobs, reflecting the relatively limited public awareness and low starting wages. Those with formal training in a medical, dental, or ophthalmic laboratory technology program will have the best job prospects. In addition to openings from job growth, many job openings also will arise from the need to replace technicians who transfer to other occupations or who leave the labor force.

Earnings
Median annual wages of wage and salary medical appliance technicians were $34,460 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $26,600 and $47,210. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,720, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $63,750.

Median annual wages of wage and salary dental laboratory technicians were $34,170 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $26,260 and $44,790. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,740, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $58,140. In the two industries that employed the most dental laboratory technicians—medical equipment and supplies manufacturing and offices of dentists—median annual wages were $33,700 and $35,000, respectively.

Median annual wages of wage and salary ophthalmic laboratory technicians were $27,210 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $21,580 and $34,810. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $18,080, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $42,890. Median annual wages were $25,250 in medical equipment and supplies manufacturing and $25,580 in health and personal care stores, the two industries that employ the most ophthalmic laboratory technicians.

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Academic Programs of Interest

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