Article Date: 4/1/2006

o.d. to o.d.
Are There Opportunities for the Majority of Graduates?
Most optometry school students indicate that they would like to own a practice. We must ensure that they have this chance.
BY WALTER D. WEST, O.D., F.A.A.O.
Chief Optometric Editor

One 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