Article Date: 6/1/2006

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Why Don't O.D.s  Make More?
Optometry is a top job, so why are the financial rewards so few?
GARY GERBER, O.D.

After eight years of college, perhaps a residency and surely lots of student debt, the average O.D. makes only $93,670 and only 5% make more than $113,888. This information came from a recent Money magazine article that ranked the "Top 50 Best Jobs in America." While I was proud to find us at slot #22, I found the dollar amount offensively low!

What gives?

While we could argue the meth-odology and outcome of the research, if the numbers were doubled, I'd still be troubled. My point is we aren't making nearly what we deserve! So, why exactly do we make so little money?

Our profession has an altruistic legacy that is choking our bottom lines. Free or extremely low fee office visits for "It's just a red eye and you don't need to worry about it," are pervasive in optometry. These situations are virtually non-existent in other branches of medicine. But emulating our medical peers isn't the core issue. The phrase, "that's what ophthalmologists do," has always bothered me. There are many similarities between the two professions. But to hold out M.D.s' financial policies and practices as the yardstick that we measure ourselves against doesn't address the real issue. Instead, we should look at why an M.D. would charge for a "simple red eye" visit and emulate that mindset. Do M.D.s charge for these visits because they can or because they should? I would argue it's the latter.

Like our M.D. counterparts, we're smart, we've dedicated a huge chunk of our lives to education and we've taken risks. It is those things we should be compensated for. If we can diagnose a benign subconjunctival hemorrhage in a millisecond, we deserve to be paid for the years of academic angst that led up to that diagnosis.

Top 3 Best Jobs in America

POSITION  AVERAGE PAY
1 Software engineer  $80,427
2 College professor $81,491
3 Financial advisor  $122,462
* Job position based on compensation and potential job growth. Based on information from salary.com.

What about insurance?

Insurance companies put a ceiling on what we can charge as well. (More correctly stated, the ceiling is what we can collect, not charge — an important and oft overlooked difference.) In our consulting company's experience, most doctors who deal with a lot of insurance charge well below that ceiling.

It's not about "working the insurance system" and that commonly heard phrase, "not leaving money on the insurance table." It's not about price gouging. Rather, it's quite simply about charging what you're worth as that value relates to patients!

Another strategy is to do what we do with our clients. Carefully examine the insurance companies you contract with. If they don't pay you what you know you're worth, consider eliminating those plans. You'll find the newly- constructed ceiling is full of holes for your profits to grow through.

What's it worth?

This forum isn't the place to recommend you raise your fees. In fact, doing so might be illegal. Each of us needs to look in our practice-building mirrors and ask the question, "Am I charging what I'm worth?" If you're not, it's time for some serious introspection and some positive changes.

So, how much should O.D.s make? There isn't a set number, but the ceiling should only be limited by your abilities, desire to make more money, imagination in developing and marketing and the depth of entrepreneurial spirit. Other, artificial barriers are the reason the Money figures are so low.

DR. GERBER IS THE PRESIDENT OF THE POWER PRACTICE, A COMPANY SPECIALIZING IN MAKING OPTOMETRISTS MORE PROFITABLE. LEARN MORE AT WWW.POWERPRACTICE.COM OR CALL DR. GERBER AT (800) 867-9303.



Optometric Management, Issue: June 2006