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I received an email from a fourth year optometry student asking the following questions: "I was wondering if you have any recommendations on finding private practice opportunities in this tough economy. Also, from your perspective, what does a new graduate have that may seem attractive to an established doctor?”
Here are some thoughts that may help students and recent grads as they enter their professional careers, but I hope my comments are also of interest to independent practice owners who should be assessing how new doctors can help them reach their practice goals.
Not everyone wants to own a practice!
It is important for optometry school graduates to consider their goals for practice ownership. Many excellent young ODs today want to practice clinical eye care in a professional environment but they do not want to manage and operate a practice. These doctors would like to work a 40 hour week and go home to their families. They would rather not have the time burden of building a patient base, the stress of managing a staff and the business risk of borrowing money. Those of us who own practices can certainly understand that and fortunately for all, there are now practice modalities that facilitate this career goal.
Many ODs mistakenly believe that you must either own your private practice or work in a retail store or optical chain. Many senior ODs mistakenly believe that to recruit and retain a good OD into their practice, they must offer some form of future ownership. Actually, a growing trend is for independent private practice owners to employ ODs and pay them an excellent salary and benefits.
How can a practice benefit from another OD?
As the new graduate approaches practitioners about the possibility of becoming an associate, it is good to have an awareness of how the practice owner might benefit.
How any associate can help a practice:
Can dramatically increase revenue production (if there is some unmet patient demand).
Could help build the practice by assisting with projects (see more below).
May allow the senior doctor to reduce clinical hours and use time for practice management or personal life.
May play a role in the senior doctor's exit strategy by buying into the practice or buying all of it at retirement.
Why a new grad may be better:
New grads may be hired for a lower salary than an experienced OD.
New grads may be more amenable to practice procedures and policies than a doctor who is set in her ways.
New grads bring the latest optometric training.
New grads extend youth to the practice demographics which often ages with the practice owner.
What to promise
Here is some advice for new grads seeking a job position. If you bring up these ideas in a job interview situation, I guarantee the senior doctor will be impressed. Of course, you must be willing to follow through with them if you are hired.
Be friendly and personable. Smile.
Lose any arrogance and don't have a fragile ego. Mention that you will be respectful and considerate toward practice staff members; you are not better than them.
Pledge that you will pitch in wherever needed. At first, you will not be very busy with patient care. You will actually be costing the practice money – possibly a lot of money! Be willing to do the extra things like dispense eye glasses, do your own pretesting, join a civic organization.
Indicate that you would make an effort to meet the patients. Hang out in optical when you are not busy and introduce yourself to whoever drops in. Offer to see all emergency visits.
Offer to assist with office projects that are not direct patient care: research new office computer systems, implement electronic medical records, train staff to expand their testing ability or scribe, work on practice marketing projects, be the point person for a new practice website, overhaul the practice fee schedules, analyze practice data.
Ask if you can observe the senior doctor doing eye exams if you are hired. Ask if you can sit in. You may know the technical aspects of refraction and ocular disease very well, but you will learn valuable skills in patient communication and efficiency by watching and listening to someone who has been doing it in the real world for 10 or 20 years.
Bring a new specialty to the practice... vision therapy? Low vision? Dry eye therapy? Treatment of glaucoma and eye care for senior citizens? Nursing home visits?
Can you give in-office presentations (seminars) to the public? Can you visit local physicians to introduce yourself and discuss referrals both ways?
I'll offer more tips next week for finding a job position.