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I want to share a very rewarding experience I had last weekend with the hope
that it might make a difference to some optometrists who are contemplating their
careers and reevaluating their modes of practice. I presented some lectures and
participated in a two-day conference on practice development hosted by the Hayes
Center for Practice Excellence at Southern College of Optometry in Memphis. The
target audience consisted of optometrists who had been out of school from one to
five years and who wanted to start up or buy into a practice.
The Hayes Center is a wonderful educational resource for our profession which
was made possible by a very generous donation by Dr. Jerry Hayes and his wife
Cris, along with subsequent matching funds by SCO.
Of course, career decisions are not limited to recent graduates. Many
practitioners start out in one mode of practice right out of school, hold
several different jobs over a period of years and then decide to seek practice
ownership. And that’s fine. Experience is a great teacher.
The 35 young ODs who attended this conference were enthusiastic, intelligent and
eager to own their own practices. Some had already opened a new practice and
needed advice and some were currently employees who were planning to open cold
very soon. Some were entering partnerships and some were buying a practice from
a retiring doctor.
Like most recent grads, these optometrists had sizeable student loan debts.
$100,000 is now on the low side. Many had tried various associations and job
offers only to have them not work out as planned. The group realized they knew a
great deal about the clinical side of practice, but they were taking on a vast
responsibility with the business side of practice that they were not so familiar
with. That’s why they were attending the program. They all had decided they
wanted to own their practices.
These doctors, about half male and half female including some married couples,
were proving that the gloom and doom portrayal of the future of private practice
was simply not true. They were proving that the prevailing sentiment that new
grads can’t open cold is simply a big myth. They found that they could acquire
equipment, find office space, stock an optical dispensary, hire a small staff of
employees and start examining patients. They discovered that there was funding
available and their debts were not so unmanageable after all. Sure, most had to
maintain a second source of income if they opened cold, but their fledgling
practices did not require them on a full time basis yet anyway. Sure, these docs
have much to learn about practice management, but I could tell they found that
aspect rewarding and exciting.
Practice ownership is a great choice
I have no doubt that these ODs were making the best choice for their futures. If
personal income is a major goal, and it usually is for most careers, private
practice is clearly the way to go. Consider the following:
You are your own boss and you lead the organization you work for.
You build equity in an asset that can be sold upon retirement. This
asset is often worth more than one’s personal residence and it is usually
debt free at retirement.
You will be able to own the optical dispensary associated with the
practice. This is a huge income producer and a huge loss to optometrists who
can’t own an optical in their mode of practice.
You decide on the practice philosophy… family practice, contact lens
specialist, advanced medical eye care, or trendy optical boutique.
You decide on the size of your office, the layout of the rooms and the
number of locations.
You have the opportunity to own the building your practice is in as an
additional secure investment.
You will set the office hours and decide how much time you spend seeing
You set office policies and make all decisions about practice operations
and fees. You decide which managed care plans to participate with.
You hire and fire your staff and determine how many staff. While this
aspect of management is never easy, at least you have control over it.
You will have a job where you can never be “let go” by management.
Sounds like a nice life and an enriching career, doesn’t it?
Would you like to own your own practice?
How did these recent graduate ODs get so lucky as to own their practices? Luck
had nothing to do with it. They just decided that is what they wanted and they
went after it. They discovered no one was stopping them.