Most people never deal with an ocularist and have no idea of what this occupation includes except that it might have something to do with eyes. It’s an interesting career that requires a host of technical skills, patience, and the ability to deal with individuals living in circumstances that are sometimes extremely trying.
The Prosthetic Eye Guide describes an ocularist as a professional responsible for designing, producing, and fitting prosthetic eyes. This practitioner must make sure that any artificial eye he or she creates is lifelike but also fits as it should. An ocularist has to be sure a patient knows how to insert, remove, and otherwise care for a prosthetic eye and must re-examine patients at least once a year and polish the eye as needed.
The practice of ocularistry actually dates to ancient times, according to the American Society of Ocularists (ASO). Roman and Egyptian priests created painted clay devices attached to cloth in the fifth century B.C. The individual needing the prosthesis wore it outside the eye socket.
While most prosthetic eyes are currently made of acrylic material, the first in-socket prostheses were fashioned from gold with colored enamel. In the sixteenth century, Venetians made glass eyes that were both fragile and uncomfortable to wear. Germany became the center of glass eye making in the middle of the nineteenth century. Due to the shortage of imported German glass prostheses during World War II, the U.S. government popularized ways of making these devices using acrylics.
An ocularist must possess quite a few technical skills as well as artistic ability. Most also have a background in medical arts, illustration, optometry, and biology.
Training and Certification
There are no schools of ocularistry in the United States. All training is hands-on and accomplished as an apprenticeship. It’s up to each prospective ocularist to find a practitioner willing and able to take on an apprentice. In addition to contacting local ocularists, the ASO recommends attending one or both of its semi-annual meetings to try to find an apprenticeship.
Few states have licensing requirements for an ocularist. However, many of these practitioners choose to become certified. Those who pursue certification through the ASO Apprentice program must complete at least 10,000 hours of hands-on training, which normally takes 5 years. They must also complete 750 credits of coursework. Upon completion of these requirements, a student receives the title of Diplomate of the American Society of Ocularists.
For ocularists who want to pass the certification exam of the National Examining Board of Ocularists (NEBO), the path is completing courses at annual and mid-year ASO meetings. ASO Directors are representatives of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Board for Certification of Orthotics and Prosthetics, the American Society of Ocularists, the Canadian Society of Ocularists, and the public. Individuals who complete a comprehensive two-part practical and written exam receive the designation Board Certified Ocularist (BCO).
These certification courses include both technical subjects and administrative topics. The seven practice areas covered are fitting theory, processing and fabrication techniques, materials, orbital anatomy and physiology, materials, iris and sclera tinting, office management and communications, and patient care and office hygiene.
Both would-be and practicing ocularists can also take advantage of workshops given at ASO meetings. These training opportunities offer hands-on experience with a number of types of materials and techniques.
Ocularistry is the ideal career for an individual who enjoys helping people with physical challenges, has artistic ability, and is able to complete the technical training required for the profession.