When Haylee Franks graduated from high school in 2018, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life. Her mom worked for an ophthalmologist—a doctor who specializes in vision care—and invited her to shadow workers in the office. Suddenly, Franks had found her calling.
“I found myself falling in love with the profession right away,” says Franks, who took a job helping a doctor in a small ophthalmology clinic.
Still, there was only so much Franks could do in the field with the education she had at the time. To progress in her career and boost her paycheck, she decided to go back to school—enrolling in Tarrant County College’s Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA) program. Today, Franks helps care for patients under the direction of a retina specialist at Ophthalmology Associates, a multi-specialty vision clinic in Fort Worth.
“TCC prepared me for my career because I had an amazing instructor who was able to explain topics fully in different ways, so each student was able to learn and grasp the material,” Franks shares. “My instructor also brought in guest speakers who were in diverse fields inside the ophthalmology world, helping us find the right paths for ourselves.”
Job openings for ophthalmic assistants and technicians abound in North Texas and across the nation. To ensure the need is met, the College is growing its ophthalmology offerings.
TCC has long had robust health care professions programs, training professionals including registered nurses, surgical technologists, anesthesia technologists, EKG technicians, physical therapy assistants and respiratory care workers, among many others. The expansion of ophthalmology learning opportunities is another example of how TCC partners with business and industry to support the local health care environment. Here are this Fall’s new programs that will train students for in-demand careers and help ensure that Tarrant County residents have access to vital services for their well-being.
Visualizing Success: Ophthalmic Technician Program
TCC began its ophthalmology offerings in 2011 in its Continuing Education division. The non-credit program, which Franks completed, prepares students to take the COA certification exam and join the field in an entry-level capacity.
With demand for ophthalmic medical personnel set to grow some 25 percent in the next decade, TCC developed its Ophthalmic Technician program—which will train students for the certified ophthalmic technician (COT) role, a more advanced position. Ophthalmic technicians have an array of responsibilities such as collecting medical histories, performing diagnostic tests to measure the patient’s optical system, calculating basic correction for refractive errors of the eye, and recording anatomic and physiologic data in the clinic.
The program, based at TCC Trinity River, offers two stackable certificates (Level I and Level II) and culminates in the Associate of Applied Science. Classes include Vision Care Office Procedures, The Visual System, Basic Contact Lenses, Ophthalmic Techniques and Ophthalmic Surgical Techniques. Students learn from experienced instructors and participate in clinical rotations under the supervision of current professionals in real care settings. At the conclusion of their degree, graduates will sit for the ophthalmic technician national certification exam, administered by the International Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology. Professionals may work in ophthalmology clinics, research settings, education programs and other locations.
A two-year program spanning five semesters, TCC’s Ophthalmic Technician program represents a rapid path to a solid career. “Local employment listings for ophthalmic medical personnel exceed the national average,” says Suzanne Hansen, a certified ophthalmic medical technologist (COMT) and the program’s co-director, who has worked in ophthalmic education for 18 years. “An advanced degree—a bachelor’s or beyond—is not required. However, graduates can continue career growth following the program with additional work experience to sit for higher national certification examinations as well.”
For Tarrant County residents who are ready to enter the workforce or change careers, a pathway that doesn’t come with the financial obligations of a university education is invaluable. “TCC classes are very affordable, which make them an amazing option for someone who might not be able to afford traditional four-year college tuition,” Franks points out.
When graduates enter the workforce, they’ll have strong salary potential. According to a 2019 survey from the Association of Technical Personnel in Ophthalmology, COT positions pay between approximately $53,000 and $69,000. Annual pay for the COA role can range from $31,000 to $37,000. And Franks says every day brings something new. “There are no two patients alike,” she reflects. “Each patient has a new set of problems, and there’s a new set of solutions you help the doctor obtain.”
Hands-On Care: Certified Nursing Assistant Program
Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) are valuable members of patient care teams. These professionals provide basic care functions, such as turning or moving patients, bathing and grooming them, checking vital signs and transporting patients. Local demand for nursing assistants is steadily increasing, and Texas is among the top five states for employment of CNAs.
TCC’s newly relaunched CNA program, a non-credit Continuing Education option, will provide students a combination of classroom instruction and clinical practice under the guidance of a registered nurse. The six-week program consists of two courses. The first prepares students for nursing assistant care duties and covers topics such as resident/patient rights, communication, safety and interacting with members of the health care team; the second course is the work-based learning experience that allows students to apply the skills and concepts in actual care locations. Graduates earn a certificate and CEUs (Continuing Education units, signifying their completion), and they are eligible and prepared to sit for the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program exam. They can go on to work at long-term care facilities, rehabilitation centers, hospitals and home-health agencies, and CNAs have a median annual wage of $30,850 across the nation. Top earners can have a wage of more than $40,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
While CNA is an entry-level health care position that provides quick access to the job market, it also is a great steppingstone to other careers. “A CNA may decide to add to their certifications by becoming a medical assistant or a patient care technician, or to move forward as a nurse and sign up for the vocational nursing or registered nurse degree programs here at TCC,” explains Varnessa Dorsey, a registered nurse and TCC nursing instructor who is overseeing the CNA program. “The options are wide open.”
Are you interested in a health care career? Talk to the experts at TCC about your affordable path to success. Contact the Health Care Professions Advising Resource Hub at 817-515-1484 or TR.HealthCareAdvising@tccd.edu.