What We Learned from Corporate Optometry
in corporate locations provided footing for our future.
BY TRAVIS ADLINGTON, O.D., F.A.A.O.
AND CHERYL ADLINGTON, O.D., F.A.A.O., Reno,
we graduated at the top of our class from Southern California College of Optometry
in 1989, we had our dream practice well-defined in our minds: a high-end practice,
grossing between one and three million dollars with a high net. We had our academic
credentials to back us up, and we had each taken advanced courses in business management.
Quickly, we bought a private practice and set out to make our dreams come true.
Although we were able to grow the practice, it became apparent
that the demographics of our town could not support the kind of practice we ultimately
wanted to own. So after five years, we sold the practice and moved to Reno, Nev.,
an area where the population was growing rapidly and where we believed we could
build our future.
Doing the unthinkable
However, we also decided that we were not prepared to saddle ourselves
with the debts and potential headaches of buying another practice. So we did something
rather unexpected for the class valedictorian and salutatorian we went into
corporate optometry. For the next seven years, we immersed ourselves in corporate
practice, first with Sears and then with EyeMasters. We learned a great deal about
what makes corporations successful and about our strengths and weaknesses.
We also found that those practitioners who throw stones at corporate
optometry most often live in glass houses themselves. Many private practices are
run inefficiently. We heard from optometrists who complained vociferously about
the competition from corporate locations but took little to no action to improve
or differentiate their own practices. They stared at us in disbelief when we told
them that service and quality of care depend on the practitioner, not on the location
or the marquee hanging over the door.
It was during this time in corporate practice that a second dream
began to take shape to run a practice management consulting business. By
then we were in our third practice and had developed strong business acumen. All
of our practices had run like Swiss watches, efficient and on time. As corporate-affiliated
practitioners we had the tremendous benefit of studying from the inside, so to speak,
how this practice mode worked. For our future practice and clients, we took every
opportunity to learn what works and what doesn't. Here's a rundown of what we gained
from our seven years as corporate practitioners.
It's no wonder that newly-minted O.D.s with school debt are attracted to corporate
practices today. Corporate optometry offers practitioners a chance to make money
from day one. Under some corporate models, practitioners can focus almost exclusively
on patient care. Other corporations allow franchise options, which can provide the
practitioner the feeling of running a contact lens practice, complete with his own
staff, while the corporate location next door handles the spectacle sales.
clinical skills. Corporate O.D.s see many patients. We saw this as our chance to
learn to handle patient exams efficiently and gain the clinical confidence that
comes from seeing many patients and looking for occasional disease or problem diagnoses,
even when patients present with no complaints.
management skills. As practitioners in a corporate setting, we weren't in charge
of the optical lab, yet we watched it carefully. Corporate locations are the wizards
of lab inventory control. Any practitioner who wants to improve lab management can
learn a lot from corporate locations.
|Not All Corporate Optometry Is Alike
Opportunities in corporate
or affiliated optometry go further than just employment. Some include:
Leasing: Some leases only provide
the O.D. all revenues from clinical exams. Some leases also include revenue from
contact lens sales. Some make hiring and firing optical staff the responsibility
of the O.D. Leases can run from one to three years, or longer.
Franchise: Many more O.D.s are indirectly
affiliated with corporate locations as associates of leaseholding O.D.s or as fill-in
or part-time employees of corporate retailers.
Those corporate O.D.s who are leaseholders
or franchisees and not employed should review pros and cons of owning your own private
practice as they might apply.
Creating a plan
We had our hearts and minds set on our ultra-high end practice
and finally, in 2002, we had saved enough money to buy an existing practice.
In 2003, we bought land and built a new building. It had been more than a decade
since we first dreamed up the practice, but with a plan as our blueprint, we saved
and worked to make it happen. So for us, corporate optometry provided a means to
Most importantly, we had a plan. Too many O.D.s, whether in corporate
or private practice, lack that fundamental guide. Without it, the practice and practitioner
can lose purpose.
We can say with pride that we worked hard to provide the same
level of professional attention, expertise and service as corporate O.D.s as we
do now as private practitioners. So when we talk with young O.D.s who say they're
interested in working in a corporate setting, we tell them we don't need to hear
them rationalize it. Go for it. We encourage them to find the corporate setting
in which they are most comfortable. Being employed by a corporation is hardly different
from being employed by a private practice O.D., although the former typically has
better benefits and higher salaries to offer.
There's a place for it
Corporate optometry can play a role at the beginning of a career,
in the middle, at the end or even throughout. Those who aspire to a private
practice can follow much the same path we did. Because we gave our heart and soul
to helping the corporate practice grow, we can look back on that experience with
satisfaction. But we can also understand how many O.D.s would choose not to follow
us. Our days now are about 90% administration and 10% patient care. In corporate
practice, those numbers were reversed. Practitioners who consider practice management
a burden might find great relief in the increased patient contact offered in corporate
O.D.s who seem most dissatisfied, whatever their practice setting,
are those who feel stuck in their situation. We've seen this with private practice
O.D.s who feel overwhelmed by the financial obligations and corporate O.D.s who
had hoped that corporate practice was a step along the road but can't get out. In
most cases, these O.D.s didn't have long-term plans. For example, the young O.D.s
who say, "I'm going to work in corporate optometry until I've paid off school loans,"
may find themselves quickly living beyond their means. Paying back school loans
with income from a corporate employer is very possible and there should be
money left over. O.D.s who start spending that, rather than putting it toward the
next goal, will find themselves always playing catch up to their debts. A better
plan could be to pay off debt in a stated number of years and save 15% or 20% of
each year's income toward whatever the goal is.
Creating your future
Our advice to O.D.s is to develop a long-term plan. Plan 10 or
even 20 years into the future. Plans can be modified as needed, but in the meantime,
they'll provide a focus for the present. Then find the practice setting that allows
the plan to unfold. Whatever that setting is your own practice, a corporate
location, employed by another O.D., M.D., etc. give it your all and learn
from it. There are rewards in every experience.
Drs. Travis and Cheryl Adlington are owners of
the Adlington Eye Center and EyeGlass Gallery in Reno, NV. Contact them at eyeglassgallery.net.
and Cons of Major Practice Settings
your own private practice
ability to do it your way
Learn all phases of business
High income potential
Develop long-term patient/staff relationships
Large up-front investment
Latest equipment may be unaffordable
Revenue may grow slowly at first
Few on-the-job training opportunities/long learning
Income depends on cash flow
No paid "benefits"
Need for business training
Working for another doctor
On-the-job training from
Learn all phases of business
Entry into professional circles
Existing patient base
Opportunities may be limited
Salary may be modest initially
Must conform to senior doctors' methods
May get "undesirable" patients of senior doctors
Excellent starting salary
Opportunities across the country
May offer flexible hours
Freedom from administrative chores
Exposure to broad range of patients
Access to managed care contracts
Evening and weekend hours
Large patient load, busy schedule,
depending on location of practice
No choice in hiring staff
Patient care protocols may be dictated
Peer review required
Optometric Management, Issue: August 2005