Henry Ford College’s Eye Opening Program

Image of a person using a phoropter
Student testing vision using a phoropter | Image courtesy of the HFC OTP

Of all the programs at HFC, the Ophthalmic Technician Program, or “The Eye Program,” is probably the most unique. This two year Associate Degree program has brought in about 140 students since it started in 2009, and admits approximately 20 students per academic year. Once an Associate’s Degree is earned, graduates typically move to the front of the line when it comes to applying for technician jobs. The value of that degree can go a long way when entering into the field as an ophthalmic technician, explains the program’s director Kathy Campbell. With an average salary of about $37- 40,000, Ophthalmic Technicians have a wide range of skills that are key to patient assistance. Not only are they expected to inform patients about procedures and answer questions when needed, they also aid in taking measurements, conducting scans and tests, providing assistance during surgeries, as well as miscellaneous office duties.

The most unique fact about HFC’s eye program, is that it is actually the only Ophthalmic Technician Program in the state of Michigan. Campbell said, “The students will experience lectures and labs the first year. The second year of the program the students will participate in externships off campus. The externships which can be located up to one hour from the college are done at various Ophthalmology offices, hospitals and clinics to help the students practice their skills before going into the field on their own.”

Campbell explains that these offices/clinics/hospitals help mentor the students into the field, and then the students are prepared to take the two part Certification Examination upon graduation from the program.

Campbell said, “The first part consists of 200 multiple choice questions, the second part is the skills portion which is done with computer simulation. The computerized examination is scheduled by the student and taken off site.”

The newest accreditation change for the students is that starting with the class of fall 2020, the externship hours the student must complete for the program is changing from 960 hours to 750 hours. This will allow the students to start earning a living three months earlier. It is a very attractive feature of the program.

The program has received positive feedback by students. While Christine Pieknik, who graduated high school in 2016, was attending Eastern Michigan University, she decided that she no longer wanted to be a teacher. After transferring to HFC, a counselor discussed different programs with Peiknik, when the Ophthalmic Program caught her eye. After hearing that it had no waitlist, she was instantly sold, and discovered that it was the perfect fit. “Kathy Campbell greeted our class with open arms and from the start it was a very comfortable environment,” Pieknik said, “Our class got along like a family and everyone was rooting for everyone. We celebrated birthdays, helped each other with homework, and stuck together even through the hardest classes.”

Pieknik describes the classroom as very functional, and perfect for the work environment. “There are eye exam rooms connected to the classroom, so it is hands on from the start which makes learning so much easier. We learned so much from checking color vision and pupils to applanation (touching the eye to check eye pressure) and doing glasses prescription.” Pieknik added, “The eye is so tiny and yet incredible!” She further explained that they went on field trips to volunteer, see where they trim the leader dogs, and give free eye exams in Detroit, where they had the opportunity to meet doctors. “Every clinical site that we went to were very impressed by the things we had learned. You hear often that they love to hire from the program because they know the skills and practice we’ve had, and we were all prepared for our national certification test right after graduation.”

When it was time to take the certification, Professor Campbell worked hard to obtain scholarship money for the cost of the students’ test. Peiknik said, “This program has changed my life and it is so amazing. It is always changing and in very high demand, I don’t think I’ll ever lose interest. Mrs. Campbell set me up and prepared me for my future and I could never thank her enough.”

The program has been eye-opening for students, especially those who felt lost in their career path. Malorie Gray explains that after graduating from the Ophthalmic Technician Program at HFC in 2014, she moved with her husband to Georgia and was an “uncertified Ophthalmic Technician with a degree in a new state, at a new practice, and had nowhere to go but up.” Luckily, the experience from the class made her extremely qualified, and her new employer saw that potential in her. For more information about the Ophthalmic Technician Program, or to find out how to enroll, contact Kathy Campbell: kacampbell4@hfcc.edu.