Article Date: 9/1/2010

Jobs Hard to Find? Hit the Road

Jobs Hard to Find? Hit the Road

You don't have to go to the ends of the earth to find the right opportunity — just outside the city limits.

By Mark Kennedy

Are you having trouble finding a job in your ZIP code? You may just be looking in the wrong ZIP code.

Jobs are out there. In fact, with millions of baby boomers approaching retirement, we may actually fall short of the demand for new doctors in the years ahead. But large cities — particularly those with optometry schools — are saturated markets. The best opportunities for career growth and income lie outside the city limits.

The idea is to consider the big picture of what you want inside and outside of work. While opportunities can be limited in the city, the job, home and lifestyle that you and your family want may be just a few hours away.

Are You Married to the City?

When we ask candidates what's important to them, "I want to live in Boston" doesn't typically top their lists. Professionally, they want to provide an outstanding quality of care. They want to be able to do what's right for patients without excessive competition forcing discounts that affect quality. Personally, they want to raise a family in a nice place, and their personal plans usually include buying a house.

It's very difficult to do those things in Boston, where competition is steep — almost as steep as the housing prices.

For some, the city is their hometown, and it doesn't make sense to leave. If their goal is to see family three times a week and they have Red Sox season tickets, they belong in Boston. Others go to the city for school and love all of the activities. They want to be near friends. These doctors are usually better off professionally and personally living outside the city.

For example, ODs who love New York City often tell me that they'd be happy going there once a week. A practice in Poughkeepsie, NY, or Allentown, Pa. makes better business sense than NYC. They can have a better quality of life, make more money, enjoy a lower cost of living and be a pillar of a community that's measured in tens of thousands, rather than millions.

What's the Outlook in the City?

Because optometry schools are in urban areas, ODs can get a one-sided view of where the opportunities are and what it's like to go out and practice. Most come to us with a picture in their mind: The best place to practice is in the city because it has the most people.

But the most saturated markets are cities with optometry schools and high-growth markets such as Atlanta and Charlotte that attract a lot of young professionals. The population is large, but there are fewer patients per optometrist. My colleagues and I talk to ODs about the professional realities, and some still decide to give it a try. Over the years, these clients add all-important anecdotes to our statistical evidence.

About 20% of our placements are right out of school or residency, while 80% have started their careers already. After they've worked awhile, they get a better idea of how they want to shape their career. Often, they're also getting married or starting families, so they've begun putting more thought into their quality of life.

When one candidate called about jobs in New York City, I explained that there are better opportunities elsewhere, within driving distance. He wanted to stay in the city and I wished him luck. We kept in touch, and after two bad associate positions, he thanked me for being candid and told me he was now open to opportunities in the area.

I want to make ODs aware of opportunities, but sometimes they need to have that experience and see the realities for themselves. Some get the picture. Others call every year and say they can't find what they're looking for in a saturated area — never seeing that the grass is greener in the other 90% of the country.

What Do You Want Out of Life?

You're probably very clear on what you want professionally. You want to be ahead of the curve clinically. Beyond that, you may envision a specific career goal such as buying into a practice. But you spend most of your life outside of work. What do you want the future of you and your family to look like?

Make a list of the "soft" things you want, such as a home, certain schools and daily activities that interest you. Now, with an open mind, look for career opportunities that fit your list. You'll typically find that more high-level openings lie outside the city — openings that can help you meet long-term goals such as being a partner by age 35. And while there are lots of people (and ODs) in a city like Phoenix, you can have a larger patient base in Flagstaff, Ariz., and your kids won't have to spend all summer in the air conditioning. You may be able to climb the career ladder higher, sooner, and get the things that spell "quality of life" to you.

Where Should You Go?

Many times, when an OD's first inclination is to stay in the city, he has a negative impression of what awaits him outside its borders. When he hears that a place is "underserved," he envisions old episodes of The Andy Griffith Show or Northern Exposure. Sure, you could work in a remote location if you like, but there aren't many places in the country that are more than 90 minutes from an urban area (moose and fishing holes optional).

New doctors also may perceive that the hiring doctor or recruiter wants to convince them to move to the suburbs or a small town. In fact, no practice would want a candidate who is anything but enthusiastic about relocating. The best way to pick a location is to match all of your life goals to the right opportunity.

With your goals in mind, you might start looking within a day-trip radius of the city. If your family lives in Roanoke, Va., or Fort Wayne, Ind., then consider those smaller cities, which have better business potential than larger cities and offer the quality of life you grew up with. We recently placed an early career OD who was looking for an associate opportunity near Binghamton, N.Y., her hometown. We connected her with an outstanding practice just five miles away. She wouldn't have had that level of opportunity in the city.

Anyplace where you have a connection — an aunt, a college friend, a favorite recreation spot — is a good possibility for building a career and family life. If you define what you want and stay open to how that can be achieved, possibly in a different location than you pictured, then you may find a better opportunity than you ever thought possible. nOD

Can Recruiters Help?

You might find the perfect position and not need a recruiter, or you might benefit from talking to one if you're having a hard time finding a job or don't like your current job. Here are examples of what recruiters do that's different from your own job search:
Advice: Recruiters know and share the income expectations for your current location and elsewhere. It's free information that can help guide your search.
Invisible opportunities: Some job opportunities are unadvertised and handled confidentially through recruiters. For example, a doctor might not want to advertise his retirement because it could scare away patients and staff. Candidates are sometimes amazed to find opportunities right in their own back yards.
Prospects for long-term goals: It may take a few years for your dream job to open up, so you take another job in the meantime. When you don't have the time to dedicate to a search or you don't want anyone to know you're looking, recruiters serve as your eyes and ears in the market. When recruiters have a position that fits your long-term goals, they'll contact you. Hopefully, one will be your dream job.
Solid career moves: Recruiters work for the person doing the hiring. Practices want someone who will stay, and it's the recruiter's job to find that person. Since people don't stay in jobs they don't like, this benefits you, too. My colleagues and I find that for an associate relationship to thrive, both parties must be aligned in business and clinical philosophies as well as long-term goals. That's not simply putting a body in a practice — it's making the right match for both sides.

Going Home to Practice

A lot of people in my class talked about staying in Philadelphia or returning to their home cities. A few classmates found good jobs, but many couldn't find anything in Philly — not even part time.
I knew I wanted to go home. I looked for a position close to my family in Whitney Point, NY, near Binghamton.
It fell into place perfectly. I interviewed at Roberts Eyecare in Vestal, NY, just 30 minutes from home. The doctors were very interested in the fact that I was from the area, so they could count on me staying. They knew I wouldn't suddenly realize that there isn't much nightlife around here and get bored and leave! I can drive 3 hours to visit New York City if I want to, but I'm happy with the other perks — especially the hiking.
I tell my friends to be open-minded about where they want to be. There are a lot of options out there if you think in terms of the job and the life you want, rather than just the geographic boundaries.

Kristy Dean, OD, 2010 graduate of Pennsylvania College of Optometry

Mr. Kennedy is Managing Director of ETS Vision (, a recruiting firm that specializes in the search and placement of optometrists and ophthalmologists for independent practices across the country. Email him at or call (540) 491-9103.

Optometric Management, Issue: September 2010