Optometric Management Tip # 176   -   Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Avoiding Optometric Burnout

A colleague emailed me recently to ask if I had any tips to offer ODs who have been practicing for years and are experiencing professional burnout. While the specific remedy may vary based on a personís interest, I think the problem happens to many of us and itís an excellent topic to address.

At various points in my 29 year career, I found that taking on new projects re-energized me and allowed me to focus on something other than clinical eye care, while still developing my practice. Here are a few ideas for you to consider to make something exciting happen in your professional life.

Build or purchase an office building. Iím amazed at the number of successful doctors who still rent their offices. A recent survey of large practices placed that number at 50%! Iím sure these doctors donít rent their homes, and the same equity-building advantages hold true for office space. The mortgage payment is often less than the monthly rent. Designing a new office and then enjoying the new environment can give you a lift that lasts for years, and the presence of a new building does wonders for growing your practice!

Hire a consultant. A management consultant will not do all the work for you, but rather will teach you how to be a better businessperson. A good consultant will help you formulate a plan for the future of your practice, while showing you how to increase profitability and reduce the stress of staff management. Nothing helps burnout more than increased cash flow and personal income.

Go back to school. I was interested in practice management so I entered an MBA program at a local graduate school with evening and Saturday classes. Even without going after a formal degree, there are certificate programs and weekend management courses offered by local colleges and optometric groups. The education and the camaraderie of your classmates will give you a new outlook on the rest of your career.

Bring in an associate. Most ODs think they have to keep seeing patients, since they have the optometric license, and they hire an office manager to be the administrator. What may work even better is to hire a newly graduated optometrist, while you focus on practice administration and management. A practice is like any other business; it needs leadership and executive skills to continue to grow. By reducing your patient care schedule, a new doctor will be kept busy. An associate does not have to be a partner; there are many excellent clinicians who donít want to run a practice and would be very happy with a good salary plus benefits.

Start a new approach to delegation. You could reduce the number of days per week that you see patients if you could see more per day. If you trained your staff and hired more people, how many could you see per day? What if your assistants scribed for you? What if you had some technicians who could refract (under your supervision)? What if they could check angles and dilate patients for your examination? Always follow your state optometric practice laws.

Acquire new instrumentation. Technology can give your work a new level of interest. Consider buying or leasing that new equipment youíve been dreaming of: it could be electronic medical records software with new computersÖ or an in-office optical labÖ or a nerve fiber analyzerÖ or a digital retinal camera. All are good investments in your practice.

Develop and propose some CE courses in your area of interest. Could you be a public speaker? Consider sharing your expertise with your colleagues by organizing a lecture course and presenting it at conferences. There are many venues available, from local and state societies to the AOA and SECO, and they are looking for new courses and speakers, if youíre good. You get to travel to new places and get paid to share your skills with others.

Form an optometric study group. There are several of these national private groups in existence; you could either join one or start your own. The concept works something like this: about 12 ODs with practices all over the country form a group that meets twice per year to share ideas. Because the group is exclusive, private, and non-competitive, the members are comfortable sharing everything, including income statements, practice expenses, fees, operational secrets, office forms and marketing strategies. The goal of the organization is to help the fellow member in any way possible.

The membership is often made up of docs of similar age group, practice type and personal interest (read golf), but it doesnít have to be that way. In fact, more might be learned if the group is more diverse! Meetings are generally held over a weekend in a hotel in a nice city that is easily accessible, but some meetings may be held in a memberís hometown to allow a practice tour. Spouses may come along and have their own activities during the day, and join in the group dinners. You can see that lifelong friendships will develop. Expenses are deductible and some corporate sponsorship may be possible. I joined a study group in 1990 and it has been great for my practice and me. Iím still recharged at every meeting!

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management