Article Date: 3/1/2012

Pinpoint Your Practice Potential

Pinpoint Your Practice Potential

Learn about the resources you can tap to attain your future goals.

WHERE DO YOU SEE yourself after graduation? Are you working for a chain as you pay off your debt while dreaming of hanging out your own shingle one day? Are you putting in long hours for another optometrist, hoping to build a client base and gain business experience? Are you stepping right into your dream of becoming an owner of a private practice? A recent VSP study conducted to measure career patterns among new optometry school graduates found that while 72% of respondents in their third year want to start their careers with private practice ownership, only 15% of graduates actually become practice owners in their first year.

When One Door Closes Another Opens

“The mission of VSP Vision Care is to support independent private practice optometry,” says Jim McGrann, president of VSP Vision Care.

To help new optometrists reach their goal of starting their own practices, McGrann says VSP is working to connect these optometrists with doctors who own practices and are approaching retirement. “Partnering these two groups provides an exit strategy for doctors nearing retirement and a pathway into private practice for recent graduates. This benefits both sides,” says McGrann. “We’re hoping we can support this project with funding through our Vision Loans program with Essilor of America and Vision One Credit Loans.”

In his first 100 days as president of VSP, McGrann has spent a great deal of time meeting with VSP doctors and optometry students. “There’s a strong desire for students to get into private practice,” he says. “Their biggest question is ‘How do I make this happen?’ Unless there’s a compelling reason to start from scratch, we believe that bringing these two groups together really benefits both. There’s less of an expense when purchasing an existing practice and these practices already have an established cash flow and patient base, but there is more we can do to make practice ownership available for ODs.”

Start at School

VSP has multiple programs in place for optometry students and new graduates to help them reach their goals. Mr. McGrann encourages students to get involved in practice management groups on campus. There are currently 18 optometry schools in the United States with practice management clubs. Most student-led clubs meet between six and eight times a year. Last year, VSP and Vision Source hosted the first student leadership conference for the clubs. A leader from each club was invited to participate in activities, including leadership planning and networking with other leaders. The second annual conference will take place in Orlando, Fla., in April.

“The clubs are where much of the discussion around practice management and ownership takes place,” explains McGrann. “We sponsor guest speakers and trips to different vision expos. In addition, many of our doctors allow students to visit their practices so they can understand what it takes to create a thriving practice. They need the experience of seeing strong clinical and medical skills alongside a high-end retail experience.”

Kristin O’Brien became involved with the Michigan Optometric Student Private Practice Association (MOSPPA) and helped develop the organization because she felt the rewards and challenges associated with private practice were under-acknowledged in the early years of optometric education. “I believe it’s necessary to learn about private practice through interactive discussions and presentations from optometrists who love their jobs and are great at what they do. MOSPPA allows students to explore the unlimited possibilities associated with private practice,” says O’Brien, MOSPPA’s executive director and founder.

Finding The Financial Help You Need

VSP Vision Care and Essilor of America have distributed more than $55 million to doctors through the Vision Loans Program, which started in 2003. The loans provide optometrists financing for first-time practice purchases, partnership buy-ins and refinance options. About 170 optometrists have benefited from the Vision Loans Program.

In addition, there are scholarship awards available. Since 2000, VSP has invested more than $1 million in financial awards to support close to 200 optometry students. Students selected to receive scholarships had to demonstrate clinical excellence and a strong desire to pursue a career in private practice, says McGrann.

What’s in Your Future?
In a longitudinal study conducted to measure career patterns among new optometry school graduates, VSP Vision Care surveyed optometry students during their third year in school and doctors in their first year in practice.
The study found that:
■ 84% of third-year optometry students surveyed expect to own a private practice in the next 5 years
■ During that same group’s first year in practice, 58% of respondents expect to own a private practice in the next 5 years
■ 85% of first-year optometrists surveyed earn $99,999 or less per year
■ 76% of that group of students carry $100,000 or more in debt.

NEW GRADUATE STUDY HIGHLIGHTS PROVIDED BY VSP.

EyeSeek began 5 years ago as a website where VSP doctors could list employment and practice purchase opportunities. Since then, EyeSeek has evolved into a live matching service. Candidates may pre-register for positions through EyeSeek. Applications ask students if they’re looking for part-time work, what specialty skills and/or second language skills they have, practice location preference and what they want to do upon graduating. Hiring doctors also receive an online questionnaire to help describe the type of optometrist they’re looking to hire. Unlike a typical job board, EyeSeek provides personal service by VSP to help doctors connect with each other. (Visit Eyeseek.vsp.com for more information.)

“This will be the beginning of something that will grow to a broader program,” says McGrann. “Students are clearly interested in opening private practices and older doctors can see this information and plan a better exit strategy. We do our best to support this type of program.”

Take Advantage of What’s Offered

“The pressure of entering private practice and competition from eyecare delivery channels continues to grow. VSP is committed to finding new and innovative ways to keep private practices strong,” says McGrann. “VSP was founded more than 55 years ago by ODs. Look at us as a resource — we’re in the business of promoting private practice and independent optometry.”

For more information on the scholarships and Vision Loans Program provided by VSP, Essilor of America and Vision One Credit Loans, visit vspglobal.com. nOD



Optometric Management, Volume: 47 , Issue: March 2012, page(s): 60 61