How to Get Started in Ophthalmic Imaging
Sarah Moyer, CRA, OCT-C
Have you stumbled upon the field of Ophthalmic Imaging? Not sure where to turn to next? You are not alone! As Ophthalmic Imaging is a small field, it isn't something that students hear about when they are discussing their career path with their high school guidance counselor.
Many people have gotten into the field after having a career as a professional photographer shooting events, weddings, and portraits. Other people find out about it because they have a sister-in-law who has a friend who has an Uncle Bob who has this really cool job taking pictures of eyes. Some people stumble upon a college called Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and pursue a degree in Biomedical Photographic Communications. Many people discover it as they are working as an Ophthalmic Technician and realize they are very interested in taking pictures of the eye as well. Many Ophthalmic Technicians also work as Ophthalmic Imagers. Some even cross over to taking pictures full time. Many practices look to hire people with skills as both a Technician and an Imager.
So now that you know about the secret of Ophthalmic Imaging… where do you turn next? These are some recommended steps:
1) Learn a little bit more about Ophthalmic Imaging
The OPS website has a great section on describing Ophthalmic Photography. It's a great resource to get a basic idea of what type of images we take. Don't forget to use the "More in this Section Tab” to see more!
2) Learn a little bit more about Ophthalmic Technicians
When looking at Ophthalmic Imaging as a career, I also suggest you look into the career of Ophthalmic Technicians. As there are many more Technicians in the country than Imagers, it may be easier to find a job this way. In many offices Technicians are also using fundus cameras and OCTs so this may be just what you were looking for! There is a website for Ophthalmic Technicians here: www.jcahpo.org
3) Find a mentor
A list of very well respected Ophthalmic Imagers can be found here. Contact one of them to ask any questions you may have about the work environment, local salaries (usually starting in the $30-$40,000 range), education, etc. Figure out if this could be a fit for you.
4) Shadow someone
Contact someone to see if they can set up a time for you to shadow them in clinic for 2-4 hours. If you don't find someone on that list that is near you, still contact them as we are a very small well connected field and they might be able to find someone local to you who could help out.
5) Find an internship
If you are still interested after going through all of these steps, it's time for you to learn more. Most of us got to where we are through a combination of reading, attending lectures and workshops, and hands on experience through internships. Many of us have a person or two that took us under their wing to show us the ropes that we still consider to be our mentor today. This is the hardest part of breaking into the field as the majority of internships are unpaid. Personally, I recommend a 12-16 week internship so that you are comfortable performing OCT, fundus photographs and fluorescein angiograms.
6) Find your first job!
Once you are comfortable performing OCT, fundus photographs and fluorescein angiograms, it's time to look for a job! I strongly suggest finding a place that has a strong Ophthalmic Imager already working there so that you can continue to grow under the guidance of someone willing to invest in you.
7) Obtain Certifications
The Ophthalmic Photographers' Society offers two certifications: the Certified Retinal Angiographer (CRA) and the Optical Coherence Tomographer Certified (OCT-C). Not only do certifications make your name fancier, but they also declare that have a basic level of skill. Certifications are sometimes an expectation of your workplace, sometimes a negotiating point for a raise and always something to be proud of! Keep in mind certifications aren't something you can get overnight. The CRA requires two years of on the job experience and the OCT-C requires one year. For more information, visit the Certification section of our website.
For a list of respected Ophthalmic Imagers who have offered to help you along your way, click here. Some have offered to be mentors, offer shadow time, and even unpaid internships.
Ophthalmic Imaging Organizations and Resources
This list is by no means complete, but will give you a good place to start while you are trying to break into this field. Hopefully this information will help guide you with your aspirations to pursue this rewarding career.
Bachelor of Science Degree
Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)
RIT offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Photographic Communications. Toward the end of this 4 year program, students can decide to concentrate in ophthalmic photography. An internship is a requirement for graduation and many students complete internships in ophthalmology. About half of the students graduating each year join the ophthalmic imaging community. To my knowledge this is the only 4 year program that has courses on ophthalmic imaging in the country.
Resources for Educational Programs
Ophthalmic Photographers' Society (OPS):
The OPS is a non-profit organization that is run by Ophthalmic Imagers. Each year the OPS holds two national educational programs that educate attendees on fundus photography, fluoresecin angiography, Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT), anatomy, physiology, and pathology. Additional topics that are relevant to our field are also covered. The OPS also provides two different certifications: the Certified Retinal Angiographer (CRA) and the OCT-Certified (OCT-C). Local chapters of the OPS also offer educational opportunities at smaller meetings.
Denice Barsness, CRA has been providing in office ophthalmic education in all forms of ophthalmic imaging, including ultrasound for 25+ years. Denice is DBA eyeTeachU.net since 2009.
Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO)
JCAHPO is a non-profit organization for ophthalmic allied health personnel. They offer certification and continuing education for ophthalmic technicians. In many offices, technicians also perform ophthalmic imaging.
Online Education Sites
ACTIONed is a resource for online ophthalmic education. Several ophthalmic organizations are collaborating to provide this online educational service for ophthalmic professionals. The organizations involved are: JCAHPO, ATPO, ASORN, CSOMP, OPS, and ASOA
Eyetec provides online education designed to help prepare students for certification. There is also a job search function available on this site.
These photography texts are recommended resources for getting started in fundus photography.
Ophthalmic Photography: Retinal Photography, Angiography, and Electronic Imaging
Patrick J. Saine and Marshall E. Tyler (2002)
Butterworth-Heinemann Medical; ISBN: 0750673729
Practical Retinal Photography and Digital Imaging Techniques
Marshall E. Tyler, Patrick J. Saine, Timothy J Bennett (2003)
Butterworth-Heineman Medical; ISBN: 0750673710
After you've read about OCT Imaging on the OPS website you should dive into a book. This one below was written by the OCT inventors and is highly recommended.
Everyday OCT: Handbook for Clinicians and Technicians
Joel S. Schuman, Carmen A. Puliafito, and James G. Fujimoto (2006)
Slack Incorporated: ISBN: 1556427816
For additional online and book resources check out the reference pages for the OPS Certifications. If students use these resources to study for their certifications, they are likely to be good ones to learn from as well!
CRA Reference page
OCT-C Reference page
There are many technician programs across the country. I am just listing a few as a sample of what is available. Many of these courses will discuss Ophthalmic Imaging a little bit, but their main focus is to prepare you to be a Technician.
Henry Ford Community College
This is a 2 year associate's degree to become an Ophthalmic Technician. While many technicians also perform imaging tests, they spend a lot of time with responsibilities other than imagining. The two credit hour Ophthalmic Photography course will be an introduction to imaging procedures for external and internal ocular structures, including slit lamp and fundus photography, fluorescein angiography, optical coherence tomography, and other relevant imaging techniques.
Old Dominion University/ Eastern Virginia Medical School
The School of Health Professions offers a 22-month program in Ophthalmic Technology. The credits are also able to be used for a Bachelor of Science degree. At the end of the program, students are prepared to sit for JCAHPO’s Certified Ophthalmic Medical Technologist (COMT).
River Grove, IL
This is an associate’s degree in Applied Science. Five semesters of courses that are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Ophthalmic Programs are offered.