You are not an optical-jerk are you?
Online forums are a huge resource in today’s society. Though many of them are terrible, as they are often asking advice from non-professionals and getting responses that have something to do with a natural-remedy that includes something like “putting urine on that infection,” eeww! It is clear that not all forums are created equal.
Yet, when you get a specialized forum going that brings together optical professionals, there is an unmistakable vibe. Opticians today will look to online forums for some direction, only to be often ridiculed or chastised for wanting to understand. Why do we do this? Are we so high-and-mighty that we need to make our optical colleagues feel ashamed for not knowing? But on the other hand, maybe it is because there are so many uneducated opticians out there that are playing the role of “optician” but they are so terrible at it, that they are ruining the reputations of the great opticians. I mean, let’s be honest, a bad optician can have a negative impact not only on a patient’s experience but on the profession as a whole.
This awareness of ridicule by fellow opticians was an issue long before online forums. Anytime opticians have come together, the same energy was evident in many circles.
When I started as an optician, I was 19 years old and attending college. This was back in the day before social media groups and the abundance of online information that we have now. I was lucky enough to have a brilliant optician, Erica Benear, that gave me my foundational knowledge in optical. But there was still this air of inferiority when I would visit with other opticians at shows or national events. It didn’t matter if we had met before or if I was introducing myself for the first time, the unwelcoming nature of my colleagues was so unsettling to me.
So after a few years of going to events and national conventions I would find myself asking a legitimate question only to hear a snide reply begin with, “Oh, you’re not licensed…” You see, I am from a state that doesn’t require a licensure, so it was unnecessary that I be. But if it were so important, I thought, let’s do it then. I registered for the certification exam.
The national exam date was scheduled when I would be out of town visiting a licensed state. I arrived early at the testing center in Seattle. I start visiting with my fellow test-takers. One of them asked if I understood a practice question. As I began to explain the answer a few other people start listening in. Someone asked, “How long have you been an optician?” When I had answered back that I have been an optician for 4 years, they began flooding me with requests to explain test questions they didn’t understand. All of the other test takers had been opticians for less than 6 months and were now required to take the test. But as the testing time drew closer, I kept hearing comments like, “I never heard it explained like that before,” and “I’m glad I understand that now, before the test.” I didn’t think much about it other than it was great way for me to make some quick friends and take my test.
Fast forward to when the next national convention came around. Here I was, certified, striking-up conversations with other opticians at the national meeting who had been so harsh to me before. And you know what I realized; they didn’t know their heads from their asses!
It was all so clear to me now. They were using their criticism as a weapon to try to balance the field because they were protecting their own façade. I returned to my office proud of my previous training, satisfied that I now had my certification, and entirely motivated that the optical team that I was building was going to be damn brilliant. I had started teaching my team in the most simplified and approachable way I could, just like I did with my test-classmates.
I shifted my optical career and began educating not just my office of opticians, but other offices in my area. Fast forward to now, I am helping opticians in multiple continents gain access to trainings that will help their independent opticals thrive.
Here is the reality of our optical-world:
There are amazing opticians out there that are brilliant craftsmen but might not have the time or the patience to teach, which is okay, not everyone is a teacher. There are also opticians that have been working the trade for a long time, self-taught and wish they were more confident in their foundational knowledge, but they would never admit it. And there are also opticians out there that are making ridiculous mistakes. These opticians might be looking for help but don’t know where to find it.
The common thread here. Education. From foundational optical education, to knowing how to assess your optical, and growth opportunities in running your business, the know-how to do it, is what is missing.
I believe that more opticians want to be great, but don’t have the mentors, the foundational knowledge, nor the direction to get what they need. Independent opticals are stronger when we support each other. So, my ask of my fellow opticians, is when you get a question that “every optician should know,” whether it is online or in person, please, answer with kindness and understanding or send them my way, I’ll guide them.