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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor April 12, 2006 - Tip #221 
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Study Groups


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One of the post powerful ways to build your practice is by belonging to a private study group with other ODs who are committed to sharing ideas. I have been a member of such a group for almost 20 years and it has not only resulted in many great friendships, but there is no question that my practice has grown in size and profitability as a direct result.

What are they?

Study groups are becoming much more prevalent, but in case you aren't familiar with the concept, a typical example would be an informal group of about 10 to 12 like-minded ODs, who practice in different parts of the country who meet twice per year at a hotel in an area with nice weather for a long weekend of business meetings and recreation (like nice dinners and golf). Spouses may attend, but often don't unless the destination is someplace special. Spouses generally enjoy the resort amenities or go sightseeing together during the business meetings but everyone gets together for dinners.

While most study groups don't have officers, one member usually organizes the meeting and acts as chairperson. An agenda for the business meeting is usually arrived at by input from all members proposing whatever topics they want to discuss. A member might be seeking help from the group or might have a new idea to offer. The topics can be clinical, but practice management often takes center stage. The mission of the group is to share everything about one's practice and help each other as much as possible.

It is typical for each member to bring folders with practice materials for distribution to each member. The folder may include a current copy of the practice financial statements and other important practice data. Comparing income and expense categories and the details behind those numbers can reveal major ways to improve profitability. The folder also contains any new printed materials in use in the practice, from office policies to marketing materials. The meeting often starts with each member giving a short oral presentation about what's new in his or her practice. If each member talks for 20 minutes, that process alone takes about four hours.

Travel

Traveling to meetings can be good or bad, depending on your point of view. The fact that members of a study group often practice in different parts of the country makes it easier to share trade secrets and sensitive information. A doctor might be less likely to do that with local colleagues. This is one feature that makes a study group different than a local optometric society. Of course, the national representation requires all members to make a commitment to be away from the office and to pay for travel expenses. Ophthalmic industry representatives may be willing to share some of the meeting expenses in exchange for some time on the agenda to meet with the members to either present information or gather opinions.

Some groups hold some of their meetings in the home town of one of the members on a rotational basis. This allows that doctor to serve as host and chair and part of the meeting may be devoted to touring that member's office. There is no doubt that observing another doctor's practice can be the springboard for many great ideas that can be applied to your own.

Holding a study group meeting in conjunction with a major eye care conference is another good idea that can make the travel expense more productive.

Diversity

Most of the groups I'm familiar with tend to be made up of all male ODs of similar ages with large successful practices. That may be great for the camaraderie and friendship aspect - but there may be more synergy and business building power if the group is more diverse. I know of some study groups that have a mixture of male and female ODs. I'm not aware of any female OD-only study groups, but there probably are some out there and it would certainly make sense. As for the type of practice, could a private independent OD learn from an OD who owns a large chain of retail optical stores? I'd say yes - and visa versa. If all the practices are the same type, the learning potential may be limited. A mixture of younger and older docs is probably also smart.

How to find a study group

Membership in a study group is usually by invitation only. It is a very informal process and you really just have to know someone well enough that he or she will convince the other members that you will be a good fit for the goals of the group. Some groups invite prospective members to one meeting on a trial basis to get acquainted. You might be able to lobby for an invitation if you know someone in a study group and if that group is looking to expand or replace members who have dropped out, but those opportunities are rare.

In many cases, the best way to become a member of a study group would be to form your own. If you can come up with a core group of four ODs, you could set up a pilot meeting to discuss the goals of the group and discuss some possible additional member candidates. If each of the core members were to recruit two more new members, you have a study group!


Best wishes for continued success,

Read Past Tips Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week


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Send questions and comments to neil@gailmard.com.

Dr. Gailmard offers consulting services to eye care professionals through Prima Eye Group; information is available at www.primaeyegroup.com.

Please Note: The views expressed in Management Tip of the Week do not necessarily reflect those of the sponsor.

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