Our eyes are our windows to the world. Eyes are our sense of sight. They bring in light and allow us to see whatever surrounds us. They are fragile and irreplaceable, but accidents happen and sometimes eyes are lost. After the surgery what happens? Who fits the patient with an artificial eye?
Ocularists construct, fit, customize, and maintain ocular prostheses, or artificial eyes. When disease, surgery, or trauma results in the loss of an eye, an ocularist helps to fit an acrylic eye into the eye socket.
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Ocular prostheses are so lifelike that you may not even notice if someone has one. The art and science of ocularisty has come a long way since ancient Roman warriors used eye patches and decorated clay balls to fill their eyeless voids. For a long time, artificial eyes were made of glass, but now they are primarily made of acrylic plastic - a much more realistic and comfortable option.
Eye loss can come from a variety of reasons, but it's always a tragedy. Enucleation and evisceration are eye surgeries that remove the eyeball when cancer, tumors, glaucoma, or diabetes dictate. Eye loss can also be caused from traumatic accidents - kid's playing with ski poles or falling on a stick. The biggest downfall of eye loss is the loss of depth perception and lack of peripheral vision. It's hard for patients to adjust.
Ocularists use a mixture of art and medicine to create ocular prostheses. First they take an impression of the eye socket and make a cast of the impression. Then they make a mold of the cast and shape it to look like the eye. At this point they use the good eye as reference to paint, tint, and match colors, veins, and pupils of the eye. When the artistic work is flawless, the ocularist creates a duplicate eye with acrylic and polishes it to perfection.
Surprisingly, artificial eyes are not the shape of a small, round ping pong ball. They are more like a smooth bottle cap that fits over the surviving muscle in the eye - allowing for slight movement of the prostheses. This makes it more realistic.
Finally, ocularists fit the prostheses to the patient. Psychologically this is very difficult for the patient. Once it's fitted, the patient's body will adjust. Patients will learn to remove and replace the eye for cleaning and to maintain a healthy eye socket. Normally ocular prostheses patients visit their ocularist once every 6 months.
The only way to learn this skill is with the American Society of Ocularists (ASO). The ASO states that ocularist trainees must apprentice with an approved ocularist. They must complete five years or 10,000 hours of training and earn 750 credits in ASO coursework.
After the ASO training, ocularists then must pass the National Examining Board of Ocularists (NEBO) certification exams. These credentials show that the ocularist has a solid grasp on the art and science of ocularistry.
Every person in need of artificial eyes will seek out an ocularist. They often work in private practices or optometry offices with specialized labs. ASO trained and NEBO certified ocularists will make between $60,000 to $100,000 per year.
Losing an eye is devastating. Luckily, ocularists are trained professionals that can create the illusion that nothing is wrong. With technology and medicine constantly evolving, it will be interesting to see where this field goes. Maybe you can be a part of its future.
Quick Facts Becoming an Ocularist
Job Title: Ocularist
Description: Construct, fit, customize, and maintain, artificial eyes
Certifications/Education: Certification by National Examining Board of Ocularists, Apprenticeship with American Society of Ocularist approved ocularist
Necessary Skills: Artistic, Compassionate, Creative
Potential Employers: Artificial eye laboratories, Optometry offices
Pay: $60,000 per year