How to Become a Laser Technician
Laser technology has made medical procedures once only the province of the elite available to the masses. Laser technicians are trained to use laser devices in a wide array of medical practices. Ophthalmic laser technicians assist doctors in optical measurements, diagnostics and LASIK eye corrective surgery. Cosmetic laser technicians use laser devices to remove hair, tattoos, varicose veins and skin irregularities. Laser is even used at dental offices to diagnose and treat periodontitis. New uses for laser are currently under development—to treat infection, pain and inflammation—and its applications will only increase over time. Laser technicians will be the specialists poised at the forefront of these exciting new discoveries, ready to implement laser's new applications as they develop.
Laser technicians work for medical spas, laser centers and doctors’ offices, especially for doctors who practice dermatology, ophthalmology or plastic surgery. They usually work 40-hour weeks, although they may also work part time with more flexible hours. Laser technicians who provide elective medical and cosmetic treatments may need to adapt their schedules to their clients, providing treatments during hours when their clients typically have free time, such as evenings and weekends. Most laser technicians require supervision by a medical professional such as a doctor or registered nurse.
Laser technicians need to attend a vocational school that offers a laser technician training program. These training programs usually take one to two years to complete and cover laser technology, and often fiber optics and photonics (the study of light particles). Applicants to laser technology schools will need to complete prerequisite coursework and should have an aptitude for mathematics, physics and electronics. Professionals with degrees in other fields, such as medical doctors or nurses, can complete a post-graduate training program in laser technology.
Associate’s degrees in laser technology are also available. This course of study provides training in laser technology, math, physics and basic engineering. A bachelor’s degree in optical engineering is another degree appropriate to this profession; it takes four years to complete and covers most areas of optics (the study of light). Those wishing to do laser research can progress to master’s degree or PhD levels after earning their bachelor’s degree.
In most states, laser technicians with vocational training are allowed to operate laser devices, but laws regulate the types of treatments they are authorized to perform. Some states require laser technicians to have nursing (or more advanced) degrees in order to perform certain procedures.
Hands-on training in laboratory settings is provided during laser technician training school.
Licensing and/or Certification
Though many states do not require laser technicians to be certified in order to operate lasers, many employers prefer to hire certified laser technicians. Laser technicians can be certified through the National Council on Laser Certification (NCLC), International Laser and Aesthetic Organization, and the Board of Laser Safety.
Certification requirements generally include completion of an accredited laser technician training program, clinical experience and passing the NCLC (or equivalent) test.
Necessary Skills and Qualities
Laser technicians need to have excellent manual dexterity, good eye-hand coordination, and a keen eye for detail when performing diagnostic exams. Some mechanical aptitude is required, as laser technicians must work with, understand and repair complex electronic and computer-based equipment. Laser technicians must exhibit good judgment, as they need to distinguish between conditions they can treat and those that require the services of a medical professional. Laser technicians who perform medical and aesthetic treatments also need good verbal and interpersonal skills when interacting with clients who may sometimes be nervous about laser treatment.
Opportunities for Advancement
Laser technicians with vocational diplomas sometimes go on to complete associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degrees in laser technology, where they can specialize in fields like photonics and electromechanical engineering. Earning a more advanced degree also improves job prospects and earning potential.
The salary range for laser technicians is as broad as laser’s many applications. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that skincare specialists made a median annual income of $28,920 in 2010. Laser technicians who provide skincare treatments are likely to make similar incomes, depending on the number of hours worked, area of the country they live in, and the number of clients they see. The salary range for laser vision correction technicians is $28,900 - $50,594, while the salary range for medical aestheticians is $27,924 - $59,319. Obtaining advanced degrees or specializing in a particular area of laser treatment can increase salary. For example, the salary range for laser dermatology advanced practice nurse practitioners is $74,800 - $93,900.
There are several factors contributing to a positive growth outlook for laser technicians. The movement toward less invasive medical procedures is increasing reliance upon laser technicians. As comfort and familiarity with laser increases, its use is becoming more widespread. Finally, as applications for laser technology increase, so will demand. All of these developments bode well for laser technicians. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, skincare specialists can expect a job growth of 25% between 2010 - 2020, which is considered faster than average. Laser technicians who provide skincare services can expect a similar job growth outlook.