o.d. to o.d.
There Opportunities for the Majority of Graduates?
optometry school students indicate that they would like to own a practice. We must
ensure that they have this chance.
WALTER D. WEST, O.D., F.A.A.O. Chief Optometric Editor
of the many things I enjoy about my current involvement in optometry is the opportunity
to regularly interact with third and fourth year students from the United States,
Canada and Puerto Rico. While there is diversity in gender, culture, and the level
of ability and desire, there is one thing that is common among perhaps 90% of the
students: the interest in one day having their own practice.
Graduating in 1975, then starting, building
and managing my own practice for 28 years provided an experience that was often
exhilarating, occasionally frustrating, very rewarding and sometimes frightening.
Because I think that practice ownership is a great approach, I encourage new graduates
to look at private practice as an opportunity.
A rocky road ahead
I have to admit, however, that starting a practice
today, although certainly possible and done on a regular basis, seems that it would
be more difficult than it was 31 years ago. At the time, a common strategy was to
find a market within a metropolitan area where there wasn't an optometrist or a
rural town that had grown to need an optometrist.
In today's market those opportunities
are few and far between. However, one of the opportunities that exists today is
in the small towns that used to be rural communities but are now becoming suburbs
as a result of urban sprawl.
How do you find a practice?
When consulting for young practitioners interested
in practice opportunities, I now recommend that they find an established practice
that has been well maintained. By "well maintained" I mean that:
►the data base is computerized and there is an ongoing process to regularly update
patient contact information
►the practice regularly communicates with the patient base, thereby establishing
the practice not only as a source of care but also information
►the equipment isn't limited to the same chair and stand that the doctor bought coming
out of school in "1970-something"
►the office no longer has avocado-green shag carpet and macramé hanging lamps
►the patient flow is based on multiple booking rather than the more traditional "seeing
one patient after another"
►the practitioner who's selling recognizes that the value of the practice is not
"the amount of money they need to retire" but rather the value of the practice as
determined by a certified business appraiser.
Also, consider whether the O.D.
selling the practice is doing so in the prime of the practice's production years
rather than at a point where the practice is in decline.
Becoming good stewards
If private practice optometry is going to continue
as a practice modality, it requires interest among our new graduates. It also requires
that existing practitioners be good stewards of the practices they have, as well
as proactive in their approach to not just maintaining, but enhancing the value
of their practices as an ongoing part of their practice management strategy.
Optometric Management, Issue: April 2006