Article Date: 4/1/2001

Lessons Learned
The Case of the Police Chief
An awakening changed the way this O.D. viewed his practice.
By Jack Runniger, O.D.

"That's the Young mansion coming up on the left," said the bus driver, as he drove the tour group through a neighborhood of movie stars' homes many years ago.

"Robert Young?" asked a lady.

"Nope. Loretta Young. And on the right is the Barrymore estate."

"Ethel Barrymore?" inquired the same lady.

"Nope. John Barrymore. And on the left, you'll see the famous Christ Church."

"Try again lady," said a voice from the back of the bus. "You can't be wrong every time!"

"You do what you do because you expect to get a little more happiness from it, or you wouldn't do it," psychologist Murray Banks once said. He illustrated the point that money doesn't automatically buy this happiness by telling about the suicide of multi-millionaire Robert Young. It wasn't the movie star Robert Young, but the name gives me an excuse to begin this epistle with a story to get your attention.

Under arrest?

Many practice management lectures and articles focus only on how to build a bigger practice to make more money. But I've learned that there are other things just as important to satisfaction in practice.

"You don't remember me," said our local chief of police at a recent function. He was right. I didn't. Fortunately, I had behaved sufficiently well to have never been the object of his official duties. But I had often heard of him and what a good job he does. And often seen his picture in the local paper, noticing from his glasses that he is highly hyperopic.

"When I was 8 years old, my family was destitute, and I was doing poorly in school," he continued. "The Lions Club arranged for you to examine my eyes and prescribe glasses for me, for free. It made all the difference, and I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for you."

Which memory do you think has given me more happiness and satisfaction? Remembering Mrs. Gotrocks, who got four new pairs of glasses every year, greatly helping the solvency of my practice? Or the appreciation expressed by the police chief? (Perhaps an unfair question. I also happily remember Mrs. Gotrocks' contributions.)


A lousy attitude

In addition to making me feel good, the episode with the police chief also made me a little ashamed, as I remembered that I hadn't always done charity work with a good attitude. I'm sure I didn't treat charity patients with the same deference and friendliness that I did patients like Mrs. Gotrocks.

Charity patients were often late for or forgot appointments, and they sometimes smelled a little "ripe." And they sure weren't helping pay the old grocery bill. I can recall being irritated that many never took care of their glasses because they were free, and we were always having to fix mangled frames. Even though I knew it was my duty to see these patients, I never looked forward to nor enjoyed their exam visits, and I probably didn't use up much charm on them.

To do over

When we remember past experiences, we all often say, "If I had it to do over again, I'd . . . ." The police chief episode was one of these for me.

If I'd only known that I might be having this sort of impact on even just one of these charity patients, I would've been much more attentive, which of course, I should have been in the first place, if I was a better person. And it would have made seeing such patients much more pleasant and satisfying.

Perhaps my experience can be a lesson to you. Remembering that you may be a key to the future success of even a few Medicaid patients can make such practice much more satisfying and enjoyable.

And, as with my experience, you've probably already made this difference to at least one such patient without even being aware of it!

Jack Runninger, our consulting editor, lives in Rome, Ga. He's a past editor of Optometric Management.

Optometric Management, Issue: April 2001