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Optical Dispenser

What does an Optical Dispenser do?

An optical dispenser, or dispensing optician, works as part of an eye care team alongside optometrists or ophthalmologists (who issue the optical prescription) and optical mechanics (who make the visual aid or optical appliance). Optical dispensers analyse optical prescriptions, with consideration for the lifestyle and working environment of the patient. They then fit and service optical appliances such as spectacle frames and lenses to correct the patient’s visual defects. A dispensing optician can set up his or her own practice, or work in an optical laboratory, an existing optometry practice or in hospitals and clinics.

Optical dispensers may perform the following tasks:

  • discuss the patient’s eyewear needs
  • choose the appropriate frame to satisfy the patient’s comfort, appearance and prescription requirements
  • discuss and recommend types of lenses and lens enhancements
  • make sure that lenses conform to the prescription of the ophthalmologist or optometrist
  • shape lenses and fit them to frames, ensuring that they meet quality standards
  • ensure that the new eyewear fits correctly and comfortably
  • carry out minor repairs to damaged frames.

What qualifications do I need?

A National Senior Certificate that meets the requirements for a diploma or degree course is a prerequisite. One can then complete a three-year Diploma in Optical Dispensing at Cape Peninsula University of Technology – this is an internationally recognised qualification. Alternatively, a degree in optometry is also available at various institutions. Graduates must register as a dispensing optician with the Health Professions Council of South Africa.

What subjects do I need?

Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended: 
• Mathematics
• Physical Sciences
• Biology
• Life Sciences


Where can I study?

Cape Peninsula University of Technology
National Diploma: Optical Dispensing

University of KwaZulu-Natal
Bachelor of Optometry

University of Johannesburg
Bachelor of Optometry

University of Limpopo
Bachelor of Optometry

University of the Free State
Bachelor of Optometry

Where can I get more info?

Health Professions Council of South Africa – www.hpcsa.co.za
South African Optometric Association – www.saoa.co.za


Interview with an Optical Dispenser

Thabo Nabe | OPTICAL DISPENSER | Bauer Optometrist

Thabo Nabe | OPTICAL DISPENSER | Bauer Optometrist

Why optometry?
I think the profession chose me, because it was not my intention to study optical dispensing. I wanted to do mechanical engineering but was too late for registration. I thought that I should do dispensing just to keep myself busy until something opened up in the engineering department. As I got involved with it, I realised I liked it and never looked back.

What training did you undergo?
I completed two years at the Cape Technikon (CPUT) and one year of in-service training at an optometric practice.

What personality traits are required?
You have to possess great interpersonal skills because you deal with people on a daily basis.

How does experience compare to training?
Experience is very important, because all the theory that we learn can never prepare us enough for the day-to-day things that go down in an optometric practice!

Describe a typical day at the practice
Every day is different, but it generally starts off with contacting the different suppliers and checking on when we can expect our orders. Then it’s on to checking the spectacle prescriptions that come in and aligning the glasses. In between that it’s obviously helping customers as they come into the practice.

What do you like the most about your job?
The people… I love dealing with different people on a daily basis. Yes, you get some difficult clients, but in general the customers are great to chat to.

Which aspects are you least enthusiastic about?
The constant struggle with suppliers to get things in on time. They just don’t seem to get that we care about our clients and want to get their glasses to them as speedily as possible.

What’s been the highlight of your career thus far?
The opportunity to work on the Phelophepa Health Care Train as their dispensing optician for two years. We were providing primary health care to rural South Africa; it was very fulfilling.

What are your goals for the future?
I would definitely like to open my own practice and provide services to the people who require them the most.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the field of optometry?
I would tell them that they must keep at it. The world of optical dispensing is a very exciting one with many opportunities available to those who pursue it, largely because of the fact that it is not a very well-known career choice in this country.

Describe your job in three words
Exciting • Fulfilling • Challenging