Article Date: 4/1/2008

Are the Best-Laid Plans of New O.D.s Made Too Late?
o.d. to o.d.

Are the Best-Laid Plans of New O.D.s Made Too Late?

An investment of $200,000 and four years of an optometric education should provide a clear direction for recent grads.

BY WALTER D. WEST, O.D., F.A.A.O.
Chief Optometric Editor

Within the next two months, the class of 2008 will begin leaving those hallowed halls of the schools and colleges of optometry. Then it's off to the state-board examinations and their future in practice.

Where will they go? Is their future bright? Will their ability to earn as an optometrist allow them to amortize their student debt, live comfortably and invest for retirement?

I'm sure every one of them would have answered "yes" when they began their professional education. They believed their investment in time, talent and money was worth it. And, what about asking them the same question after they've practiced for three to five years. How about you, after practicing 10, 20, 30 or more years?

Back to basics

Even before committing any assets or making the first investment, one of the first steps in starting a business, if not the first step, is to create a business plan. I'm sure that the practice-management courses taught during an optometric education take students through the process of developing a business plan in an effort to prepare them for their future practices. What I wonder is this: If an optometric education costs $200,000 (in ballpark numbers), is it too late to develop the business plan in the fourth year of school or after graduation? I mean, talk about a commitment of assets — four years of your life and $200,000 that could be invested elsewhere.

An ideal business plan

So I guess what I'm wondering is, shouldn't the student develop his business plan prior to entering optometry school? Maybe even before he applies or before he invests the time in taking the Optometry College Admission Test (OCAT)? If the optometrist develops the business plan after making the investment, might he experience a big surprise at the end of the educational process? I hope graduates aren't trying to figure out their financial standings after receiving their diplomas.

Shouldn't the student develop his business plan prior to entering school?

Many individuals interested in practicing optometry approach us, asking how we like it, what it's like and whether we'd recommend it for them. Well, would we? For the most part we do, and I did. I enjoyed practicing optometry, and I continue to enjoy working as a consultant with industry and individual practitioners. Lately the questions I'm getting from these individuals are changing. I'm getting more financial questions, such as, "how much does an optometrist earn?" That answer is difficult because so many variables affect earnings, such as work ethic, practice location, practice type (i.e. a vision therapy practice vs. a contact-lens practice), practice ownership and the major variable for many new O.D.s: debt from student loans.

For many new O.D.s, $80,000 per year and benefits sounds like a great starting salary. However, the $80,000 is gross, before tax income, and student loans are deducted. If left unrecognized, these variables can create an unexpected shortfall or cash-flow problems for the new graduate.

The ultimate question

Ultimately, I guess what I'm wondering is this: Is optometry still a good investment in time, talent and money for the "would be" practitioner? Is there a post-graduate financial model available for those interested in optometry to review and make an informed decision? Shouldn't there be? OM



Optometric Management, Issue: April 2008