Tag Archives: certification

How Did You Get Into This Field?

One of the best ways to ensure high quality ophthalmic diagnostic images is to first establish a rapport with the patient. Once you’ve gained their trust you can easily guide them through the sometimes uncomfortable or stressful process of obtaining information that may determine their diagnosis and influence treatment decisions. Chatting them up a little usually helps to ease their nervousness.  This friendly interaction often leads to some interesting conversations.

Patients who undergo ophthalmic imaging for the first time are especially amazed by the whole experience. They are fascinated by the technology used and the incredible images we are able to obtain.

But they also want to know a little about the qualifications needed to perform these tests. They may ask questions like, “What is your job called?” Or, “How long have you been doing this?”  “Do you need to be a doctor to do this?” But the most common question I get is, “How did you get into this field?” I usually chuckle and then give them my stock answer, “I’m still trying to figure out how that happened!” I go on to explain it’s not something I set out to do as a profession.

Their next comment is usually, “You must have gone to school a long time, or have a special degree, in order to do this.” They are shocked when I tell them that most people in the field were trained on the job and that there aren’t any specific educational or licensure requirements.  It seems to put them at ease when I tell them that I hold multiple certifications in ophthalmic imaging. This speaks to the value of achieving and maintaining voluntary certification.

So how does one get started in this field?

There’s no one “right way” to become an ophthalmic imager. In the absence of formal training or degrees in our profession, most of us learn the majority of the required skills on the job. My background was in commercial photography and I gradually learned enough ophthalmology to apply my photographic skills to imaging the eye. There are many others in the field with a background in photography. Others started as medical assistants or technicians and then learned the photographic side of things on the job. The point is that very few of us set out to become an ophthalmic photographer and one day find ourselves working in the field and learning many of the requisite skills on the job.

One of the problems with OJT is that it is often limited to what is being done in that particular practice setting. To get started in the field or obtain more comprehensive training and  expand your skills you may want to take a look at some currently available resources such as text books, online tutorials here on eye-pix.com as well as educational resources through these sources:





So how did you get started in this field? I’m curious to see others’ journey. Feel free to post your story in the comments section below.

An Important New Textbook in Ophthalmic Imaging

Ophthalmic imaging plays a vital role in the documentation and diagnosis, of a wide variety of ocular diseases. It is a fascinating profession, yet obtaining the requisite knowledge and skills to perform diagnostic imaging at a high level can be a challenge. Some of the fundamental techniques and technology used to image the eye have remained the same for many years, but there have been several major advances in the profession over the last two decades. Spectral Domain OCT, fundus autofluorescence, multi-modal imaging, scanning laser ophthalmoscopes, OCT angiography and other techniques have altered the imaging landscape and require that even experienced imagers learn new skills.

There is very little formal education available in ophthalmic imaging, with the notable exception of the ophthalmic imaging curriculum offered at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Graduates of the program at RIT represent some of the most prepared and successful professionals in our field. The vast majority of practitioners in our profession however, do not have this educational foundation. Most of us find it necessary to learn some of the required knowledge and skills through other methods, such as seminars, workshops, handbooks, instrument manuals, and online resources. These are all valuable educational tools, but typically don’t provide a complete educational foundation.

We now have a new resource to help us learn and stay up to date. Ophthalmic Imaging: Posterior Segment Imaging, Anterior Eye Photography and Slit Lamp Biomicrography by Professor Christye Sisson, is an important new educational resource for both novice and experienced imagers. It is the first comprehensive textbook in ophthalmic imaging published in over fifteen years. Our profession really needs a resource such as this, and Professor Sisson is uniquely positioned to create such an educational text. After several years as a clinical ophthalmic photographer, she transitioned into a career as an educator in photography and ophthalmic imaging. She currently serves Program Chair of Photographic Sciences at RIT and this text is based on the curriculum she developed for her students there.

Textbooks can be somewhat analogous to teachers. To be effective they need to be organized, accurate, stimulating, and easy to understand. The organization and layout of this book recognizes the varied career paths for entry into the profession. This text covers fundamentals such as ocular anatomy and photo technology for those just getting started in the field, as well as new technologies that are now dominating our profession. It is exciting to know we have a new “teacher” available to learn the basics of ophthalmic imaging, build new skills, or prepare for professional certification.

I can’t wait to get a look at the final product.

Update 7/1/2018: I received my copy of this text a couple months back and have had time to delve into it more deeply. It is everything that I expected it to be and more. It’s been a useful reference when I wanted to quickly look up topics such as ultra wide-field imaging and scanning laser ophthalmoscopy. I’m sure I’ll continue to reach for it whenever I need a reference in ophthalmic imaging.


The Value of Maintaining Certification

Along with holidays and festive celebrations, the end of the calendar year often marks the deadline to complete any recertification requirements in order to maintain your professional credentials.  I recently completed my OCT-C (Optical Coherence Tomographer-Certified) recertification in December, and just received my updated certificate in the mail. That will hold me for another three years. At the end of 2017, my other professional credential, the Certified Retinal Angiographer, will be up for recertification. It will mark my 30th year of proudly holding the CRA.

I’m not alone when it comes to maintaining these voluntary certifications. Johnny Justice Jr. continues to set an example by maintaining the CRA credential that he originally obtained in 1979 (the first time it was offered). That’s amazing to me.  Several others from that inaugural group of CRA recipients, including Peter Hay, Phil Chin, Tom Egnatz, and Chuck Etienne, also maintain their CRA after all these years.  None of them have anything to prove at this point in their careers, especially Johnny. He is a pioneer in the profession and was the driving force and founding member of the Ophthalmic Photographers’ Society. He is a well-known author and lecturer, and is universally considered the “Father” of our profession. He certainly doesn’t need the CRA to gain employment, or practice in his chosen profession. He proudly maintains his CRA out of respect for the credential, and what it means to the profession that he helped to create. It clearly has value to him after all these years and all his accomplishments.

In a highly technical field such as ophthalmic imaging it may seem surprising there are no licensure or certification requirements. Certification is strictly voluntary to perform in these roles. It is estimated that less than half the people working as ophthalmic photographers, assistants, or technicians are certified. It’s not easy to obtain certification, and it shouldn’t be. After all it’s meant to identify individuals who have demonstrated a designated level of competence in their field. It takes knowledge, skill, and experience to successfully complete the examination process for certification. Anyone who has completed this process knows the significant effort that is required.

So why get certified if it isn’t required, universally recognized, and takes significant effort? It’s about value. The benefits of certification are often tangible: increased job satisfaction, enhanced job mobility, increased earning power, and a competitive advantage for advancement or the best employment opportunities. But the benefits don’t stop with the certified individual. They also extend to the employer, ophthalmologists, insurers, and most importantly, our patients and their families. All of these groups benefit from knowing they are dealing with a recognized professional.

Certification also helps establish a professional identity and recognition by your peers. It certainly did that for me. In fact, I worked in the field for nearly ten years before initially pursuing certification. I decided it was time to move on in my career and needed certification to gain access to the best jobs. It worked, as my next employer required the CRA as a condition of employment. But I was pleasantly surprised by the additional benefits that certification provided. Although I was very skilled in the technical aspects of photography and had worked at one of the most prestigious institutions in the world, no one outside my place of employment knew my name. That all changed when I obtained my CRA. I suddenly had the respect of my peers and began receiving invitations to play a role in professional activities in the OPS and beyond.  Certification seemed to be “the price of admission” to important networking opportunities that lead to leadership roles in the OPS and JCAHPO. From there came many opportunities to share my knowledge through lectures and publication. And it all started with certification.

But the process doesn’t end when you first receive your credentials. Certification is much more than a one-time achievement. It is a dynamic, career-long commitment to continued education, assessment, and professional development. There is incredible value in attaining, and also maintaining, your certification.