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Continuing with the theme of last week's tip, let's look at some ideas to assist the recent optometry school graduate with finding a professional position. The concepts presented here will also benefit the established practitioner who is seeking candidates for an associateship or partnership.
Associates or partners?
The terms associate and partner often have different meanings in our profession depending on the context, but I define associate as a doctor who is not a practice owner. Associates may or may not be working their way toward ownership but the relationship is actually a form of employment. The partner term refers to two or more owners and ownership shares need not be equal.
The optometry student should consider his or her preference for employment vs. buying in as job opportunities are assessed, although the two options are not mutually exclusive. Many opportunities to buy into a practice as a partner will begin with a period of employment first. In fact, I recommend it. The success of a future partnership depends very heavily on the relationship of the doctors. Both parties should test the waters first and be prepared to just walk away if there are significant differences in professional philosophies or personalities. Working for a year as an employee for a fair salary is a good way to see if a partnership is likely to work out.
Having said that, I believe it is very important to discuss the potential for ownership in a practice during the early meetings. There are several possible scenarios:
The associate may want to buy in but the senior doctor may have no plans to sell until retirement.
The associate may not want ownership at all, but the senior doc may be looking for someone to buy 50% of the practice as fast as possible and provide a future exit strategy.
Either party may be somewhere in between on the factors above; open to the idea of partnership with the right people and right financing.
If both parties intend to move toward partnership it will behoove the junior doctor to discuss the formula for practice valuation at the outset. The worth will certainly increase as the new doctor helps to increase revenue and profitability.
Of course, there is never a guarantee that either party will be completely honest and forthcoming about their plans and people can also change their minds, but a discussion usually reveals a lot.
Realize that you are entering the business world and unless you have it in writing with signatures, nothing is certain (and even then there could be loopholes). Enter into a relationship with your eyes wide open and be responsible for yourself.
Where to look
Here are some tips for finding a job position or a job candidate.
Placement services. There are many organizations that provide services for matching ODs who are seeking positions with those providing them. The AOA has an excellent program that is supported in part by a grant from Vistakon at http://www.optometryscareercenter.org/.
State optometric associations provide the local knowledge that can be a huge benefit to job seekers and providers. The state association generally produces a monthly mailing or journal that offers job listings at no charge to members. The local society meetings are excellent places to meet doctors who might be interested in an associate. Practicing ODs should join the state association and students and new grads should contact the state and local group to find out how to submit their CVs for circulation to the state. The state educational meetings are a great place to make connections.
Optometry schools are the natural place for doctors who are seeking associates. Start with the school's website for online placement listings but widen your scope to include all the schools. Call or email the school to see if there are any other opportunities to meet students and residents, post job notices or send each student an individual letter. Don't wait until graduation time; any time of year is fine.
Ask around. Ask practicing ODs, wholesale optical labs, industry reps and anyone else who may know of a job position.
Cold call. Once you have targeted an area where you want to practice, stop in and introduce yourself to the local ODs. If you don't have a chance to visit in person then send a personal letter with your CV and ask if there would be an opportunity to meet.
Newspaper and online job listings might not be the first resource you would think of to find a professional position, but in some markets they are quite popular.
As a new grad, look for practices for sale as well as straight employment opportunities. You never know what will develop and there is no harm in talking. Maybe the seller will finance the purchase and the cash flow will make buying easier that you think. Check with practice brokers and look for ads in professional journals and newspapers.
Should the associate be an independent contractor?
This approach is fairly common and is attractive to the practice owner because he or she is relieved of many legal responsibilities that burden employers, such as social security matching and other payroll taxes. The IRS strictly defines these work related arrangements so be careful before agreeing to be an independent contractor. Read this IRS publication http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1779.pdf and speak to a tax advisor to understand the differences.