Article Date: 5/1/2007

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Establishing Your Roots

These practical tips will help you choose where to live and practice after you graduate.

By Jamie J. Casper, O.D., Ph.D., Wilmington, N.C.

One of the mostimportant decisions you’ll ever make after you graduate from optometry school will be where to live and practice. If you love the town or city in which you work, you’ll be better able to handle life’s stressors while managing a busy practice. So while you’re in school, be on the lookout for an area in which you’d like to live — whether it’s in sunny Fort Myers, Fla., or in breezy Seattle, Wash.
My residency director once said, “If you’re a good doctor, you can practice where you want to live, even if the area is saturated. Patients will find the good doctors.” That said, here are some practical and new O.D.-tested tips to help you choose the best place to put down roots for a fulfilling personal life and career.

Explore
Take advantage of any travel opportunities you have while you’re still in school. Are you attending the American Optometric Association meeting in Boston or the American Academy of Optometry meeting in Tampa? Tack on an extra day or two to visit the surrounding neighborhoods, and take a trip downtown to get a feel for the area’s shops, culture and attractions. Ask residents “What’s it like to live here?” Their answers may help you decide whether or not the area is right for you. I attended several conferences while in optometry school and spent time visiting the suburbs and cities. While I was in San Diego, Calif., I went to a Padres game. In Pennsylvania, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I shook my fists in the air like Rocky Balboa.
Before continuing education lectures got under way, I introduced myself to the doctors who sat near me and asked them where they practiced, and why they chose their locations. I learned a great deal from their answers.
Your externship will give you another opportunity to “try on” a new area. During one of my externships, I worked in the Veterans Affairs system in North Carolina. I knew I was destined for North Carolina when I had dinner outside on a patio in the middle of March, and I was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. The warm weather is what did it for me.

Crunch the Numbers
Once you have a good idea of where you’d like to practice, choose a specific region and review the census figures at
census.gov. On this Web site, you’ll find demographic information categorized by people and households, business and industry and geography. You can find population growth statistics by state, city and county. This research will help you spot growth trends and areas ripe for an optometry practice. For example, demographic information broken out by household, age and income will tell you whether or not a practice specializing in pediatrics or geriatrics may thrive.

Examine Yourself
Once you’ve done some research, it’s time to look inward. List all the places you’re considering and prioritize the reasons why you like them. Ask yourself, is proximity to extended family a top priority? Are you looking for small-town intimacy or the energy of a big city? How about job availability, salary, practice scope? Even hobbies, sports and outdoor activities could factor into your decision-making. Be honest with yourself about why you’d like to live in a particular area and whether or not you’d truly be happy.
My top three priorities included a short driving distance to and from work, a warm climate and the chance to offer full-scope, high-quality eye care. As much as I like to spend time improving my karaoke singing in my car, I’d rather spend my free time enjoying the outdoors. I’m from Ohio, and I love it there, but there’s something to be said about going to the beach on a warm, sunny New Year’s Day. Plus, I wanted to have authority to treat all eye conditions to cater to a wider variety of patients.

Hit the Pavement
After you’ve been honest with yourself, it’s time to get up close and personal in your chosen location. Start by making cold calls to eye doctors in the area and asking this simple question, “I’m a recent graduate who’s looking to move to the area. What do you like about living and practicing there?” If you like their answers, visit the city, drive by the optometry practices and ask yourself, “Do I really want to work here?” Write down addresses of the practices that interest you, and send a cover letter and resume. Then follow up with a phone call. Introduce yourself and ask to meet the doctor for lunch or dinner to learn more about the area and the practice. During the meeting, ask questions about the practice’s history and long-term goals, such as the possibility of hiring an associate or partner in the near future. Discuss your interest in joining the practice and why you’d be an asset to their eyecare team. You may have a specialty the practice lacks like experience with hard-to-fit contact lens patients.
One interesting fact I’ve learned through experience is that opportunities to join a practice often are created, so don’t sit around and wait for the phone to ring. When you’ve found a practice that seems to fulfill most of your wish list, go after it. You have to convince practice owners that they need to hire you. When I contacted practices in which I was interested, I arranged a meeting with the doctors to explain how I could benefit their practice. I showed them a basic business plan I’d developed, demonstrating how I could generate income while supporting my salary. Not all practices were ready to hire an associate but those that were thinking about it wanted to speak with me.

Fruits of Your Labor
Moving to a new location can be an exciting and exhilarating experience. Once you’ve done your homework, visited a variety of locations, determined where you want to practice and landed your first job, you can begin the career you’ve worked long and hard for and enjoy your personal and professional life. nOD

Dr. Casper is the director of surgical services at Surgical Eye Care, PA, in Wilmington, N.C. He’s a member of the American Optometric Association and the North Carolina State Optometric Society. Visit his Web site at bhlec.com.



Optometric Management, Issue: May 2007