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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor January 31, 2007 - Tip #263 
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Private Practice of Optometry Has Bright Future

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I want to share a very rewarding experience I had last weekend with the hope that it might make a difference to some optometrists who are contemplating their careers and reevaluating their modes of practice. I presented some lectures and participated in a two-day conference on practice development hosted by the Hayes Center for Practice Excellence at Southern College of Optometry in Memphis. The target audience consisted of optometrists who had been out of school from one to five years and who wanted to start up or buy into a practice.

The Hayes Center is a wonderful educational resource for our profession which was made possible by a very generous donation by Dr. Jerry Hayes and his wife Cris, along with subsequent matching funds by SCO.

Of course, career decisions are not limited to recent graduates. Many practitioners start out in one mode of practice right out of school, hold several different jobs over a period of years and then decide to seek practice ownership. And that's fine. Experience is a great teacher.

The 35 young ODs who attended this conference were enthusiastic, intelligent and eager to own their own practices. Some had already opened a new practice and needed advice and some were currently employees who were planning to open cold very soon. Some were entering partnerships and some were buying a practice from a retiring doctor.


Like most recent grads, these optometrists had sizeable student loan debts. $100,000 is now on the low side. Many had tried various associations and job offers only to have them not work out as planned. The group realized they knew a great deal about the clinical side of practice, but they were taking on a vast responsibility with the business side of practice that they were not so familiar with. That's why they were attending the program. They all had decided they wanted to own their practices.

These doctors, about half male and half female including some married couples, were proving that the gloom and doom portrayal of the future of private practice was simply not true. They were proving that the prevailing sentiment that new grads can't open cold is simply a big myth. They found that they could acquire equipment, find office space, stock an optical dispensary, hire a small staff of employees and start examining patients. They discovered that there was funding available and their debts were not so unmanageable after all. Sure, most had to maintain a second source of income if they opened cold, but their fledgling practices did not require them on a full time basis yet anyway. Sure, these docs have much to learn about practice management, but I could tell they found that aspect rewarding and exciting.

Practice ownership is a great choice

I have no doubt that these ODs were making the best choice for their futures. If personal income is a major goal, and it usually is for most careers, private practice is clearly the way to go. Consider the following:

  • You are your own boss and you lead the organization you work for.
  • You build equity in an asset that can be sold upon retirement. This asset is often worth more than one's personal residence and it is usually debt free at retirement.
  • You will be able to own the optical dispensary associated with the practice. This is a huge income producer and a huge loss to optometrists who can't own an optical in their mode of practice.
  • You decide on the practice philosophy... family practice, contact lens specialist, advanced medical eye care, or trendy optical boutique.
  • You decide on the size of your office, the layout of the rooms and the number of locations.
  • You have the opportunity to own the building your practice is in as an additional secure investment.
  • You will set the office hours and decide how much time you spend seeing patients.
  • You set office policies and make all decisions about practice operations and fees. You decide which managed care plans to participate with.
  • You hire and fire your staff and determine how many staff. While this aspect of management is never easy, at least you have control over it.
  • You will have a job where you can never be "let go" by management.

Sounds like a nice life and an enriching career, doesn't it?

Would you like to own your own practice?

How did these recent graduate ODs get so lucky as to own their practices? Luck had nothing to do with it. They just decided that is what they wanted and they went after it. They discovered no one was stopping them.

Best wishes for continued success,

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

A Proud Supporter of

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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