Vivian Cao focuses on a career change from nursing to ophthalmic technology field

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Vivian Cao in lab

Vivian Cao used her experience working at a senior care facility as inspiration to start working toward an associate degree in Ophthalmic Medical Technology.

Vivian Cao can’t wait to become an ophthalmic technician. The journey to that goal hasn’t always been easy, though. She started at Portland Community College during the pandemic in 2021. It was a time where the loss of human life from the effects of the coronavirus had a profound impact on her.

“I became a caregiver at a senior living facility to explore whether or not nursing is the right path for me,” Cao said. “During that time, one of my patients had cataracts, which caused him to lose more than 50% of his vision. The more difficult his life became, the more I wanted to be an ophthalmic technician to understand why this was happening. This led to wanting to know about all eye diseases.”

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Celebrate CTE Month!

February is national Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month where Portland Community College and other institutions spotlight their important career and technical education programs. CTE Month celebrates today’s cutting-edge, rigorous and relevant career and technical education programs, which prepare youth and adults for a wide range of high-wage, high-skill, high-demand careers.

Learn more about CTE programs at PCC

The Southeast Portland resident left her job to shift her focus to eye care and the goal of getting an associate degree in Ophthalmic Medical Technology at PCC. She is using a scholarship through the PCC Foundation to reduce the financial pressures of her final year in the program, which consists largely of clinicals at partner healthcare organizations.

“Having done my first practicum at Kaiser (Permanente’s) eye clinic last summer, I know that many people, especially the elderly, struggle with their vision on a daily basis,” she said. “It is a pleasure for me to work with patients and assist physicians as well.”

There are growing opportunities in the ophthalmic medical field. The Oregon Employment Department forecasts a promising future for ophthalmic medical technicians in the Portland area, with job openings expected to surge by 20% through 2027.

PCC’s Ophthalmic Medical Technology Program offers an opportunity to enter this thriving field. Graduates of the program report an average starting range of $24 to $26 per hour, with experienced technicians earning up to $36 per hour. With a small cohort of 24-28 students, hands-on training in a specialized lab, and clinical practicums at 40-plus community partners, students gain valuable experience under the supervision of licensed physicians.

This program is the only one of its kind on the West Coast at the intermediate training technician level, and is accredited by the International Council of Accreditation. For more information, visit the Ophthalmic Medical Technology webpage.

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About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, is the Director of Public Relations at Portland Community College. A graduate of Portland State University, James has worked as a section editor for the Newberg Graphic... more »