THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY
Thank You, Dad
A father teaches his son some unexpected -- and lasting -- lessons.
By Patrick Whitworth, O.D.
The day I graduated from optometry school in May 1997 was special in more ways than one. Not only had I realized my dream of
completing school, but also my school arranged for my father to present me with my diploma when I walked across the stage. Symbolically, this linked our two generations. Dad graduated from the same school, the Southern College of Optometry, Memphis, Tenn., in 1953.
Like many new graduates, I was ready to conquer the world. I was going to join my dad, who was nearing retirement, and my wife, Lee Anne, in our family practice in Missouri. We'd be invincible -- especially after I modernized our practice. Unfortunately, Dad didn't see things that way.
Not seeing eye to eye
"Dad, we're booked for 2 weeks," I'd complain. "Why don't we hire an optician and a technician so we'll be able to see more than eight patients a day?"
"You can do what you want when you buy this place from me in a few months," he said.
"But Dad, I didn't learn how to treat glaucoma so I could spend all my time measuring bifocal heights."
"I like to work with my hands and give my mind a rest," he'd reply. "Besides, I like to catch up with how people are doing."
So we plodded along seeing one patient an hour, dispensing glasses, adjusting frames and replacing lost screws.
I could understand my dad's reluctance to change. After all, he'd run a successful practice for 48 years.
After graduating from SCO, Dad packed us up and moved to Kansas City to begin practice. "Those days were rough," he reminisced. "I sold the car so we could feed the family. I saw one or two patients a day and wondered what I'd gotten into."
But his practice grew, enabling my parents to send their five kids to college. Dad also served on the boards of the Heart of America Contact Lens Society and the Missouri Optometric Association.
In fall 1997, Dad cut back his schedule. Today, at 72, he still sees one patient an hour, 2 days a week. Even open-heart surgery and prostate cancer couldn't keep him away from the office.
Looking at the other side
During the months before his semi-retirement and my taking over the practice, I began to see Dad's point of view about modernization. At conventions, I'd hear colleagues say they saw 15 to 20 patients a day, not eight like us. They'd also talk about the stress of dealing with this patient load.
More than 3 years after Dad's semi-retirement, we're still seeing eight patients a day and catching up with them about deer hunting, golf and Kansas City Chiefs football. I did update our equipment, and we've decided to add another optometrist instead of increasing our overhead by hiring opticians and technicians. Because of low overhead we're netting the same amount as other doctors but with much less stress, even under managed care. I guess Dad was pretty smart after all.
More than the bottom line
This Father's Day, I want to thank you, Dad, for caring more about people than the bottom line. Thank you for developing not just patient-doctor relationships, but also patient-friend relationships.
Thank you for all that you've taught me and still teach me. You're my mentor, my colleague and my friend. But best of all, you're my Dad.
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Optometric Management, Issue: June 2001