LESSONS LEARNED: Five Steps to an Enjoyable Practice

There's more to life than just money.

Lessons Learned
Five Steps to an Enjoyable Practice
There's more to life than just money.
By Jack Runninger, O.D.

If I asked you to describe in one word what you want out of your practice to make it enjoyable, what would you say? Success? Money? Contentment? What about happiness?

After close to 50 years in practice, I vote for the latter. Financial success is one factor in this goal, but it isn't the only factor. As I see it, five components contribute to being happy in practice:


  1. money
  2. sense of usefulness
  3. sense of achievement
  4. respect
  5. independence.

1. Money

"Money won't buy happiness," an old proverb professes. "But," adds some sage, "you can be miserable a lot more comfortably with it than you can without it!"

Money is important for giving you the wherewithal to live comfortably, but, as Gregg Ossip, O.D. points out, it also is a measuring device as to how well you're doing. When your income is growing, it gives you a lot more satisfaction than if it's stagnant or dropping.

2. Sense of usefulness

I may have already mentioned the case of the young man who had nystagmus and a high degree of astigmatism. But he had to attain 20/40 visual acuity with best correction before he could get the job he'd always wanted. He'd already been turned down for this employment because his acuity was 20/60, and he reported that no eye doctor had ever been able to improve it.

With careful refraction and keratometry, we got him to 20/40 with a new prescription. It didn't involve that much skill, but after he got the job, he and his mother wrote me glowing letters of thanks. He was 2% of my income for that week, but having been able to affect his future was worth more to me than the other 98% I earned that week.

3. Sense of achievement

Simple cases are nice because they provide easy income, but they're no fun because they don't give you a sense of accomplishment. So the next time you're complaining because you're having difficulties solving a patient's problem, think of how dull practice would be if you didn't have any challenges.

4. Respect

You can't be content in practice without the respect of your patients and your community.

"I've come to you for an eye exam because I just don't trust the optometrist I work for," a lady once told me. No matter how much money I make, I couldn't live with myself if I had no more respect from my employees than that woman had for her employer.

5. Independence

A local man, with whom I had a great kidding relationship, was being promoted and moving to his company's head office.

"I understand your company's receiving this year's City Beautification Award for having transferred you out of town," I told him.

"At least there won't be as many jackasses where I'm going as there are here," was his response.

"Maybe not," I said. "But they're fixin' to have one more than they used to have."

I tell you this not only to boast about how terribly clever I am, but also to point out that optometrists have much more control over their lives than do many other occupations. In most cases, we can set down roots and don't have to keep moving.

Count your blessings. Optometry, better than almost any other vocation, can provide these avenues to a happy life.