Article Date: 9/1/2010

Things They Don't Teach in School — But Should
From the AOSA

Things They Don't Teach in School — But Should

The options are numerous, the process is clear-cut and the rewards are significant.

By Saysha Blazier, President, AOSA

Upon graduating from optometry school and getting that long-awaited degree, you'll know everything you need to know to diagnose ocular disease, prescribe eyeglasses or treat and educate your patients about caring for their eyes. However, as you take that first step into practice, many established doctors will tell you there are things they wish they'd been taught and encounters they weren't prepared to handle.

Here's a look at some items you need to know to be a successful working optometrist. They may have little to do with the skills you associate with being a doctor but they're vital to your success.

Your Place on the Team

Balancing your role as a team player and leader is central to many optometry opportunities. If you're entering a private practice setting, you'll be faced with managing employees and working with individuals in a team setting. During this adventure, you must define your decision-making role AND motivate those around you to work together toward a common goal — a successful practice.

You'll be faced with hiring and firing situations. To hire successfully, you should have an idea of the personality traits that are important for the position and those that will mesh with your current staff. You'll need clearly defined expectations for the staff and the practice. When you find that an existing employee doesn't fit or isn't meeting set standards, know how to handle the situation. You'll have to become comfortable with confrontation, maintaining a level of professionalism and respect at all times.

Being a Professional

We've been trained to catch and diagnose odd diseases, but then what? Avoid the tempation to say, "Wow, cool! I've never seen this before!" and be supportive as you talk your patient through unusual circumstances.

As a practitioner, communication with our patients is crucial to being a first-rate doctor. Good "bedside manner" must prevail but it's not something that's taught in school. I find it works well if you put yourself in your patients' shoes. Think about how you would want your doctor to act, or what you would want your doctor to say in certain situations.

As a communicator, your most important task is patient education. You can be the most skilled doctor in the world, but your practice won't flourish and your patients won't appreciate your talents and skills if they don't know what's going on. They won't comply with treatment recommendations if they don't understand why it's so important.

One doctor said her practice had several patients come in for second opinions — simply because they didn't understand what their first optometrist said! Thorough patient education and counseling is of the utmost importance, especially when it comes to specialty areas such as low vision, specialty contact lenses or vision therapy.

Remember that patients come to us not only because we're good at what we do, but because we run an efficient business with friendly, high-quality staff members who create a comfortable atmosphere. They come to us because we care about their health and well-being and because we're able to handle a variety of situations with a high level of professionalism. nOD

Ms. Blazier is President of the AOSA and part of the Southern California College of Optometry, Fullerton, Calif., class of 2011. She completed her undergraduate degree in cell and molecular biology with a minor in psychology at Bradley University, Peoria, Ill. Email her at

Optometric Management, Issue: September 2010