Article Date: 7/1/2001

Lessons Learned
The Three A's of Success
Practice success involves more than being a good clinician.
By Jack Runninger, O.D.

Rural folks here in the mountains of north Georgia tend not to be overly loquacious. They'll answer your questions, but don't expect them to volunteer a lot of extra information. The following reported occurrence illustrates the typical mindset of this population:

"Hey, Jed. What was it last year you give your mule that had distemper?" asked a neighbor.

"Turpentine," replied Jed.

When the neighbor saw Jed again a few weeks later, he complained, "Hey, Jed. I give my mule turpentine like you said, and it killed him."

"Killed mine too," said Jed.

The three A's of success

"Availability, affability, and ability are what young M.D.s need to build a practice," said famed physician and teacher Sir William Osler. "And, in that order of importance."

Simply being the finest optometric clinician in the United States obviously won't do you much of any good if people don't know about your availability. Thus, a certain amount of practice promotion is necessary.

This promotion needs to lie somewhere between the bounds of saying too little, as was the case with Jed, and promoting outside the bounds of professional and ethical standards.

Flighty idea

A humorous example of the latter is an episode involving Jim Moran, a master of publicity stunts many years ago, that I read in a book by Jack Paar.

"An example of the Moran technique was his stunt on behalf of a product called X-M, designed to keep eyeglasses from fogging.

"To publicize his spectacle de-fogger, the bearded flack came to Washington, D.C., with a hundred homing pigeons. They were like any other homing pigeons, except that each was equipped with miniature spectacles.

"'I'm going to free these homing pigeons,' Jim announced to the assembled press. 'As you can see, they're all wearing spectacles. Half of the spectacles have been treated with X-M, half have not. I'm willing to wager that those whose glasses have been treated with this fine product will get home quicker and safer than those whose spectacles have not been so treated.'

"Sure enough, the 50 birds with X-M on their tiny glasses headed home to New York as straight as arrows, while the others fluttered about erratically and took off in all directions. One eventually turned up in Steubenville, Ohio, looking as if it had been trapped on the way in a badminton game.

"Skeptics have since charged that the 50 pigeons with the untreated glasses weren't homing pigeons at all, but Moran has never dignified this accusation with an answer."

Obviously, you can't be as blatant as Moran when promoting your practice, but you also can't be as reticent as Jed was.

More affable than able

I was surprised that a great scientist like Osler would rate "affability" ahead of "ability" in importance in building a practice. But, he obviously was aware of how important it is to relate well to patients in order to build a successful practice and retain patients.

"The path to practice success is to be a good person and a good O.D., and then make sure people know it," an extremely successful O.D. once told me. Please note that being a good person and O.D. are prerequisites.

Leave out the sponges

"The surgeon left a sponge inside me when he sewed me up," complained a patient.

"Does it cause any pain?" asked his friend.

"No," he replied. "But I do get awfully thirsty."

If you have a reputation like this surgeon, you obviously don't want prospective patients to know too much about you.

I'd like to leave you with other wisdom from Sir William Osler:

  1.  "The desire to take medicine is perhaps the greatest feature which distinguishes man from animals."
  2.  "Look wise, say nothing and grunt. Speech was given to conceal thought."

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


Optometric Management, Issue: July 2001