Article Date: 12/1/2004

lessons learned
A "How-Not-To" Book
Want a successful, happy practice? Here's what not to do.
By Jack Runniger, O.D.

A great many of you (at least three or four) have asked me in the past to notify you if a collection of the columns I've written was ever put in book form.

Southern College of Optometry is making such a book available. It consists of a representative 120 of the almost 400 columns I've written in the past 32 years. My purpose in the book, You'll Do Great, If You Communicate!, is best described by the preface I wrote for it:

Book preface

Rural folks here in the north Georgia hills tend to be a little taciturn. They'll answer your questions, but seldom volunteer additional information. As an example, the story is told of two such gentlemen running into each other in town one Saturday.

"Hey, Jed," said one of them. "I got a mule with distemper. What was it you give your mule when he had distemper?"

"Turpentine," replied Jed.

Three months later, they again ran into each other in town.

"Hey, Jed," said the first. "I give my mule turpentine like you said, and it killed him!"

"Killed mine, too," said Jed.

Obviously, Jed could have saved his friend a bad outcome if he had just told him the pitfalls of his experience. In essence that explains the purpose of this book.

Learn from mistakes

In my 45 years of practicing optometry, I probably made just about all the patient relation mistakes known to mankind. Relating the lessons I've learned may possibly enable you to prevent such goofs in your practice. "Learn from others' mistakes, because you don't live long enough to make them all yourself," is the way one sage describes it.

For some 30 years I have written a monthly column for optometric journals to transmit the lessons I have learned the hard way. This book is a collection of some of these often humorous experiences.

Hopefully, it can help you learn vicariously from my mistakes.

The key to a happy practice

The key to a happy and satisfying practice is good patient rapport. Paradoxically, building such rapport also results in a larger, more successful practice. A Carnegie Foundation report once stated that 15% of professional occupational success comes from technical skills, and 85% from human engineering skills.

This is not so much a "How-To" book as it is a "How-Not-To" book. However, occasionally I accidentally did things right, so you'll find boastful accounts of these rare occasions included as well.

Some books are written to instruct, some to entertain. Hopefully the pages contained herein will do both. They are written in a light, anecdotal, hopefully entertaining style, yet they contain the powerful message of how to build practice success and practice enjoyment via good patient relations.

Perhaps reading my experiences can prevent your giving turpentine to your mule.

To order it

If you wish to purchase these "words of wisdom (?)", send your name, address and a check for $24.95 made payable to SCO Scholarship Fund. The address: Alumni Office, Southern College of Optometry, 1245 Madison Ave., Memphis, TN 38104.

Please excuse the commercial, but I guess it's okay since I won't personally be making any money from the sale of the books.

Jack Runniger, our consulting editor, lives in Rome, GA.  He's also a past editor of OM. Contact him at


Optometric Management, Issue: December 2004