MADISON, Wis. — Nationwide, the demand for eye care is growing faster than the number of eye doctors available, according to recent research. 

What You Need To Know

  • SSM Health and Madison College have teamed up to offer a new ophthalmic assistant apprenticeship program for up to seven students every year

  • Students take classes to learn the skills they need, while also working clinic shifts at SSM Health

  • SSM health provides a salary and benefits, while paying for tuition and program expenses

  • At the end of the program, apprentices must commit to working for two years as an ophthalmic assistant at SSM Health

To get more people trained in the field, SSM Health and Madison College are teaming up to offer a new ophthalmic assistant apprenticeship program for up to seven students every year.

Jami Gilbert, who spent her career working in education, is one of the first students to go through the program. She said she had been wanting to change careers, and this opportunity gave her the chance to finally do it.

“I’ve always been interested in the medical field,” she said. “When it came open, I had heard from another tech that they were doing the interviews for this position, and I was like ‘Yes, I want to do it.’”

Gilbert began studying at Madison College in 2023. As part of the apprenticeship, she was able to take classes in which she practiced with the various eye machines. At the same time, she trained at a SSM Health eye care clinic, and earned a salary and benefits.

“You’re in class learning, but then you get to apply the skills that you’ve learned in clinic, and you’re with a technician that has been doing it for quite a while, so they can help you along the way,” she said.

As an ophthalmic assistant apprentice, SSM Health also paid for her tuition and program-related expenses. The only requirement upon graduation is that she commits to working for two years as an ophthalmic assistant for SSM Health.

Earning a salary and benefits, and having her classes paid for, is what allowed her to do this.

“I don’t have to worry about trying to find a job at night to do, and then still work in my studies which is a huge thing too,” Gilbert said.

Angela Gray is one of Gilbert’s instructors at Madison College. She is also a certified ophthalmic medical technician (CMOT). Gray said this new apprenticeship removes some of the barriers that many people looking to get into the field have faced.

“It’s really important to provide experienced, educated technicians,” Gray said. “There’s a shortage in the field, so by having the apprenticeship, they’re able to work in the field, come and learn the curriculum, and practice what they’ve learned in the clinics.”

Gilbert said she hopes to go far in ophthalmology.

“There are different levels for this job, so being able to achieve those goals,” Gilbert said. “There’s COA, then CMT and the CMOT, so those will be great learning experiences also.”

For more information on the apprenticeship program, click here.