A Vision for Jobs of the Future

Howard Community College and the Wilmer Eye Institute Collaborate to Train New Generation of Ophthalmic Technician Assistants

About three years ago, Howard Community College (HCC) and the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medicine partnered to launch the Ophthalmic Technician Training Program.

“For the last 10 years or more, I had the idea that Wilmer needed another source for trained technicians,” says Dean Glaros, chief of Wilmer’s Columbia location. “Our office is adjacent to Howard Community College. Because HCC has always had an excellent reputation for allied health programs, it seemed reasonable to approach them about a joint HCC/Wilmer effort.”

A joint effort it was, says HCC’s Continuing Education Nursing and Allied Health Program director Jennifer Bukowitz. “We worked with Mike [Hartnett], clinical supervisor of Wilmer’s float pool, who gave us great insight into the course development and referred two Wilmer Eye Institute technicians as instructors. Everyone at Wilmer, including Dr. Glaros and his team, was very supportive and helpful in launching the program.”

The program comprises an eight-week course that combines classroom and virtual learning. For the first seven weeks, students learn the basics of ophthalmic assisting such as instilling eye drops, measuring visual acuity, analyzing pupillary response, assessing ocular motility (movements of the eye) and acquiring medical history.

Students learn how to operate diagnostic testing equipment such as the Humphrey Field Analyzer and the optical coherence tomography (OCT) machine, which are used to assess constrictions or defects in a person’s visual field and capture images of the optic nerve, macula and anterior segment, respectively.

The program culminates in a 40-hour clinical rotation at one of Wilmer’s nine locations, where trainees shadow an experienced technician and their skills are put into action.

Students from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, from recent high school graduates to working adults seeking a career change, have enrolled in the program.

For Wilmer technicians, the program has provided an opportunity to pay it forward. Adam Busey, certified ophthalmic assistant at Wilmer’s Johns Hopkins Bayview location and one of the program’s first instructors, enjoyed teaching. Not only did it allow him to use his skills as a former trainer in Wilmer’s float pool, it also allowed him to modify his teaching methods to accommodate a variety of audiences. In fact, he recalls a time when nearly half the class was composed of students who speak English as their second language.

“I absolutely enjoy teaching,” says an excited Busey. “Everyone is different, and I find it challenging and motivating to explain concepts in a way that individual students best understand. I don’t know how I would have done it without that training background.”

Current instructor Dejah Day, certified ophthalmic assistant at Wilmer in Columbia, feels the same sense of pride in being able to lead and mentor students. She finds the students to be very studious and eager to learn. “It is very rewarding to see the students grasp the information provided and be able to put it into action when practicing mock scenarios,” says Day.

Enrollment in the program has increased over the past year, says Bukowitz, so much so that the college now has two sessions each year. She attributes that to outreach among students pursuing a health care career.

Mark Warman, certified ophthalmic assistant and one of the program’s first graduates, initially had no interest in ophthalmology. “I was going to Howard Community College for nursing, but a guidance counselor informed me of a brand-new program being offered that year…the ophthalmic technician [assistant] training program. With no knowledge whatsoever about medicine or healthcare, I decided to sign up,” he says. After completing the program and earning a certificate, he was hired full time as an ophthalmic assistant in Wilmer’s float pool. “By finishing the program, I was able to be ahead of my fellow ‘new hires’ when I joined the Wilmer float pool team,” says Warman.

According to Wilmer hiring managers, the program provides a source of readily available talent and offers career opportunities for graduates. Ellen Williams, clinical supervisor at Wilmer’s Columbia satellite, says the training students receive is invaluable. She agrees with Warman’s view that it gives candidates a boost when onboarding, which is one reason she hired recent program graduate Carlos Amaya.

“We were able to hire Carlos at an entry-level position right out of the program. He came in knowing the anatomy of the eye, basic work-ups and lensometry. He was able to do visual fields and OCTs the day he started,” Williams says.

Amaya knew he wanted to pursue a career in medicine after graduating high school, but was unsure of where to begin. While searching online, he came across the Ophthalmic Technician Assistant Training Program. He says it was the perfect opportunity to learn about a vital organ in the body — the eye.

“The course helped me become a great technician. It gave me a better understanding of the anatomy of the eye, of why we do certain tests, and of medical terminologies and vocabulary which I use as an ophthalmic technician,” says Amaya.

The United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts a 15% growth in job opportunities for ophthalmic technicians in the next decade, corresponding to about 5,600 job openings per year — a good sign for graduating and incoming students.

Bukowitz says many students are finding full-time employment — with benefits — almost immediately upon completion of the program. She credits the success of the program to the strong partnership between the college and Wilmer.

“Our relationship with Wilmer is highly respected and important. Dr. Dean Glaros had the foresight, the vision, to initiate a training partnership with HCC in order to fill the demand for trained technicians in the field of ophthalmology,” says Bukowitz. “Dr. Glaros continues to support health care education, enabling so many people to change their socioeconomic circumstances. Every person I have had the opportunity to work with at Wilmer has impressed me with their willingness to accommodate our students. The instructors are wonderful with the students. Our relationship is extremely important and greatly valued.”