Article Date: 10/1/2004

Can Employed O.D.s Afford Practices?
Definitely yes. But don't take my word for it -- ask a small business banker.

Some employed O.D.s tell me that they can't afford to purchase a practice. But I hear a different message from Larry Bardo. Larry isn't an optometrist -- he's a small business banker.

Let me say up front that I didn't formally interview Larry, an assistant vice president at Wachovia, and I didn't plan to write about purchasing practices this month. It happens that our kids play on the same soccer team. During a recent "parent's conversation," Larry was bombarded with questions about small businesses when he disclosed his occupation.

After a discussion on the challenges of restaurateurs, I asked Larry about loans for opening optometric practices. At the time, he didn't know I edited an optometry publication.

The low risk of health care

"Health care in general -- optometry, dentistry and family medicine -- is attractive because it's lower risk," Larry said. "Borrowers who work as healthcare providers typically don't default on their loans so we can be more lenient."

"Is it true that many doctors can't secure credit because they're paying off sizeable student loans?" I asked.

"Student loans are just another expense considered in the debt/service ratio," Larry explained. "If you spread the loan over a longer period of time, then the payments are lower so there's not as big an impact."

More important than a student loan is a good credit score because lenders look closely at credit histories.

At this point, I told Larry that I edit a magazine dedicated to excellence in optometry. It turns out that he recently closed a loan for an optometrist who is striking out on his own after working in a retail setting for eight years.

In the eyes of lenders, employed optometrists have an advantage over other borrowers because of their industry experience. "It's a win-win situation," said Larry. "Optometrists already know the business and a high percentage of patients will follow them to the new practice."

Of course, use common sense if you decide to strike out on your own. "Examine your legal situation and make sure you don't violate a non-compete clause," he advised.

A great business

Larry told me he looks forward to helping more doctors become practice owners. "This is a great business," he said. "I help my customers live the American dream."

But don't base your opinion solely on my soccer field reporting -- ask Larry. If you'd like his contact information, send me an e-mail at


Optometric Management, Issue: October 2004