With a degree from the University of Northern Colorado, Munnell used to work as a restaurant manager. Overworked and miserable, she sought an office job and found one with Dr. Mark Maybury, O.D., an optometrist and the husband of a friend.
“I’d never even had my eyes checked,” Munnell remembered, softly laughing as she spoke.
Three months into the job, she completed the certification process for opticianry. For the last 17 years, she has worked as an optician at several offices and frame companies, and she has recently returned to work at Maybury’s office, Eclipse Vision Source in Aurora, Colorado.
On a daily basis, Munnell’s main focus is helping patients. Whether it’s assisting them select frames, discussing lens options, or figuring out how to make their glasses better, she is determined to help them find the perfect pair. Much of the satisfaction Munnell finds in her job is when she can help those, in particular, who have either never had glasses or never been prescribed the correct prescription.
“They put their new glasses on and it changes their world. They can actually see for the first time, and it changes everything about them,” she said with a warmth in her voice. “Watching somebody be able to see for the first time is pretty incredible. That’s always what you live for.”
Munnell shared the story of the 92-year-old man whose age had stolen from him his ability to read. Reading his newspaper had been his favorite thing to do, but he no longer had the means enjoy it. Working with the optometrist, Munnell was finally able to design a pair of glasses that enabled the man to read again.
“As soon as he put them on and I gave him a newspaper to read, he started to cry, and, of course, I did, too,” Munnell recalled. Tears welled in her eyes, obscuring the blue of her irises. “He said ‘I can have my life back.’ Here’s this 92-year-old man who’s getting his life back.”
In addition to helping patients regain their sight, the optician also enjoys the variety of work she completes in her position. In a single day, Munnell can go from fitting lenses into a frame to matching statements with invoices to choosing frames to fit a patient’s face.
“There’s so many different things that happen throughout the day that it really makes the day go faster,” she said. “It’s not boring. It’s never mundane. It’s always something different.”For prospective opticians, Munnell suggested that being able to multi-task is vital to performing the job. Opticianry involves customer service, business, technical, sales, and fashion skills, among others.
“It’s hard to find the right mix of all those things sometimes,” she said about combining multiple skills for the one job. “You have to be a pretty well-rounded, jack-of-all-trades kind of thing.”
Munnell is also an advocate for completing the optician certification test. Although opticians are not legally required to be licensed in the state of Colorado, holding an optical license requires one to be knowledgeable about the career, and it benefits the optician in countless ways.
“You have to know what you’re doing before you can be an optician, and it’s important to maintain the knowledge and the education that go into it,” Munnell said. “[People who are certified] are highly sought after by private doctors because not a lot of people are licensed in this state since they don’t have to be.”
According to PayScale, unlicensed opticians earn from $22,042 to $49,328 per year, while licensed opticians earn between $30,507 and $58,371. It can literally pay to become certified if one plans to keep a career in opticianry. In addition to increased career opportunities and income, special training courses and resources are offered to opticians seeking certification, which help them to develop important job skills and optical knowledge.
Because Colorado opticians are not required to become certified, Munnell expressed her frustration with people who become opticians simply for a job rather than a career, and that it isn’t taken quite as seriously as it should be. She feels like the power of opticianry is dwindling in her state for that very reason.
“That’s unfortunate because it’s a wonderful career,” she stated with a half-smile. “It’s kept me busy for the last 17 years, that for sure, and I’ve loved it.”