Last week’s tip article focused on the benefits for a practice when it is open Saturdays (and evenings) and how one way to achieve that is by hiring an associate optometrist to work those days. There is a lot of interest in hiring part-time ODs, so I’ll share some ideas for you to consider if you pursue this strategy.
Part-time or full-time
There are some big advantages to hiring a full-time optometrist, but many practices simply do not have enough patient demand to keep the doctor busy enough to cover the expense. In these cases, a part-time OD can help keep the office open longer hours, which increases revenue production and improves customer service.
A part-time OD works out well for offices that do not have enough exam rooms and floor space to allow two doctors to both work at the same time. In that situation, with evening and Saturday office hours, the OD/owner can see patients full-time (or nearly so) and the part-timer covers the other hours.
How to find job candidates
As a consultant, I have noticed that it is becoming a bit harder for practice owners to find ODs who are interested in employment. It is a job market, so a reduced supply of candidates results in employers stepping up their game by way of salary, benefits, perks and an effort to accommodate. But everything is negotiable, so all you can do is get the word out and try to find a good match.
I’ll list some standard resources for advertising an associate position available, but with part-time jobs, you may have more luck calling local ODs and asking if they are interested. And if not, do they know anyone who might be? Even optometrists who own a practice could conceivably be interested in picking up some additional income if they are not super busy. Asking sales reps to spread the word is another way to find some leads. Here are some good places to post a job ad:
• Optometry’s career center (AOA).
• State association newsletters or other mailings.
• All schools of optometry have a placement service.
• There are several optometric career sites available; just do a Google search to find them.
• General job locator websites like Craig’s List and Indeed.com
• Post the opening on social media.
Pay and benefits
Optometrists who work on a part-time basis are usually paid by the hour or by the day. You can ask colleagues or even the candidates themselves what the going rate is for ODs in your area, but it is also smart to convert a typical full time salary to an hourly or daily rate. This provides a good reality check on what you are offering or for a wage that is requested by the candidate. To convert an hourly wage into a full time annual salary, just take the dollar amount and double it and add three zeroes. For example, $50 per hour is equal to about $100,000 per year. This method works with any dollar amount. To do this with a per diem rate, just divide the pay amount by eight hours to get the hourly rate and then do the conversion.
The reverse way is helpful also: Take any annual full-time salary, divide by 52 weeks and divide that by 40 (or just divide by 2,080). A salary of $120,000 per year is $57.69 per hour.
Full-time jobs usually come with a benefit package that is in addition to the salary, which often includes vacation and other paid time off, health insurance, retirement plan, and other perks. Typically, part-time jobs do not carry any fringe benefits and the employee is simply paid for time worked. But a shortage of OD candidates changes the rules to some degree, so practice owners are being creative and offering a few employment benefits in some cases.
Many practice owners incorrectly treat associate ODs as independent contractors and issue them a 1099. This allows the employer to not withhold taxes and not have to match FICA, but in most cases, the IRS would say these arrangements are against regulations. There are strict definitions about what constitutes an employee vs. an independent contractor and part-time or full-time is not a factor.
Of course, we must realize that evenings and Saturdays are not the most desirable hours to work, but there are some ODs who would like to pick up additional income and those times could be perfect. In some cases, practice owners pay a premium wage to attract ODs to working those less desirable hours.
Policies you may not have considered
Here are some of the trickier aspects of managing part-time optometrists:
• Paying on a daily basis can lead to a problem if the OD leaves the office early because there are no patients on his/her schedule. Decide in advance if this will be allowed and if it will affect the pay.
• Along the lines of the above, can the employed OD tell the staff to move patients in order to make the schedule more convenient or in order to leave early?
• Can the employed OD decide how many patients to see in a day or if he/she will see an emergency squeeze-in patient?
• Paying on an hourly basis can lead to a problem if an optometrist finds ways to work more hours than scheduled. For example, can the OD stay after office hours in order to write report letters or to complete data entry into the EHR system? Some ODs are extreme perfectionists when it comes to records. And why not if they will be paid more?
• Should the part-time OD be paid for a lunch break and are they required to take it? This may relate to staff availability and if the doctor can see patients or not. Does a daily rate include lunch and how long can it be? There really is no standard, but decide in advance.
• I generally recommend a restrictive covenant to prevent employed optometrists from soliciting patients if they were to quit and set up a practice nearby, but this is more difficult with part-time doctors. By definition, part-time ODs will need to work in another office and if employment in that practice does not work out, then the doctor will need to seek new employment. An understanding can and should still be reached about not soliciting patients if employment ends.
• How much notice should be given by the employed doctor if she quits? Is the employer willing to give the same notice if the employed doctor is to be dismissed?
• It is smart to write out a brief understanding between the parties to clarify these issues and any others in the form of a simple employment agreement.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.