O.D. to O.D.

Optometry at the crossroads

o.d. to o.d.
Assessing Optometry at the Crossroads
With so many opportunities available, we might ask: In
which modality does optometry have its most secure future?
BY WALTER D. WEST, O.D., F.A.A.O. Chief Optometric Editor

Much of my time is spent working with optometry students from across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. In this diverse mix of soon to be practitioners, there are many different personalities, many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, many different dreams of what their professional career in optometry will become, and many different opinions of what their success in practice might look like.

Surveying the opportunities

There are many opportunities for optometrists in today's eyecare industry. Many new graduates are on a quest for employment, perhaps in industry or research and development. Others search for an associateship, and still others see themselves owning their own businesses. Many opportunities exist today that weren't available 20 years ago or even ten years ago — laser centers, co-management centers, referral centers, practices that combine optometry and ophthalmology, optometry and opticianry, optometry and discount clubs, optometry and large retailers and the list goes on and on.

One thing that all of these opportunities have in common is that they rely on what has always been the life's blood of optometry: the patient. That's right, the one thing that all of the varied modalities of practice have in common is that they connect optometrists with patients. The optometrists who would rather gain their patients through the name recognition and marketing efforts of national, regional or local optical chains have that opportunity available, as do others who would prefer that they be represented by the branding efforts of retailers and discounters.

Still others, in smaller and smaller numbers, will choose to brand themselves and grow their own business in local markets.

Which direction is right?

So which is the right way to practice? Which is the "professional" way to practice? In which of these practice modalities does optometry have it's most secure future? I believe that the correct answer is, all of the above.

All of the above, because in each and every instance, optometrists are serving patients, and more patients than ever are having their needs met in a broader scope of practice than ever before.

Does the "traditional" optometric practice look different than many of us remember from the early years of our own career? Sure it does. But the market — and the consumers of healthcare services in that market — looks different as well. The practice modalities of today's optometry look the way the consuming public desires: conveniently located, easily accessible, highly visible and innovative.

The common thread

While optometry evolves to meet the needs of a demanding consumer, optometrists themselves continue to seek products and services that will help them improve, innovate and grow. Optometrists in all modalities of practice seek national representation, resources for managing their practice, continuing education and a sense that they belong to something larger in optometry than just their specific mode of practice.

Every optometrist, regardless of practice modality, also needs the sense that he or she belongs. And I don't mean that their dues are paid, but rather that they are welcome and that they are part of optometry's present as well as its future.