In the most recent past year or two, I’ve been fortunate to be a part of, or coordinator of, forums, panels and webinars where the topic of balancing the stressors of daily life and work are addressed. Now, this is particular to the optometric space, but the experts in whom I’ve engaged have been from all varieties of the profession: practice owners, industry, military, corporate/retail, and associate/employed doctors. Although the settings vary, many of the challenges we face for balance do not. There are sometimes differences between males and females, but more in commonality than not.
It was incredibly informative to hear what each person has to say, and given the interest level and response we’ve had from attendees, here are two of the highest interest areas of inquiry and possible solutions I heard:
Q: For doctors actively seeking patients, how do you find the ability to manage work from home and not have to worry about home when at work?
A: There are many solutions here, but common answers included considerations for childcare. A nanny, or in-home au pair, gave the most customized and flexible support, especially when a child is sick with minor illnesses where traditional day care would not allow them to attend. As many pointed out, canceling a day’s worth of patients is not only inconvenient to those patients, but fixed expenses still need to be paid whether that revenue is realized or not. Family support was also mentioned as key for many, whether an owner or not, to missing fewer days of work.
Other options for managing work included completion of tasks at work, instead of at home, so when at home you can focus on more personal needs for you and/or your family. This means scheduling time for you to attend to those work tasks and prioritizing them getting done. This may mean a shorter lunch, or compression of patient care, or just simply designating some administrative time in your day. Work tasks may include researching new instrumentation, creating new protocols, staff training, continuing education, business management, and financial analysis.
Many incorporate a daily practice of only answering work emails when at work, and not having these connect to their personal cell phones. When you aren’t there, emails are not answered. This not only sets the appropriate timeframe and mindset, those who are working with you have an expectation now of your response time. Which isn’t immediate, thus giving you flexibility.
Q: How can I make my schedule more ideal for me?
A: Since the model of what is “ideal” for each doctor is different depending on personal life and needs, the main focus here was doctor efficiency. Whether employed or self-employed, there is opportunity here. So, the two camps here:
Self-employed OD: The best way to transition to part-time work and/or a different schedule is to work on in-office efficiencies. Assuming you don’t want to make any less, but want to work less, this includes delegation of teaching, or having a scribe, so you can see the same number of patients in less time. Start easy by blocking off the last hour to two hours on one patient care day, while still scheduling in the same number of patients. Then, cut it back more, and see if there are other “full” days you can add a few more patients to. By slowly morphing your schedule, you will mold it into what you feel comfortable with. Incorporate more profitable services, so your revenue per patient increases. Sell more daily disposable contact lenses and increase your optical offerings in both frames and lenses to boost sales there. You may not want to see the same number of patients in less time, which is my ideal, and this is how I’ve done that without sacrificing dollars brought home. Additionally, you can hire another doctor to do work for you, which brings me to…
Employed OD: In this case, demonstrating and proving your production capability to your employer is key. As a doctor who employs another doctor, I can tell you that I will never complain when you show me how you’ve increased production for the office and am happy to compensate more for that greater earning ability. Be prepared when going to your employer to show production, increased production and how you propose to maintain or continue to increase that production with a new schedule. Perhaps it’s greater efficiency, perhaps it’s increased revenue per patient, or maybe you bring in a new specialty. Just be ready with a plan and a proposal on how your new schedule would benefit them.
There are many more areas of work and personal balance, but these key tips were the most popular in terms of interest and engagement. I truly believe it’s hard to have both areas in perfect balance, but it does help to have a target to attempt to get them closer. Build on this dynamic process, and you will be in balance with your daily practice.
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Gina M. Wesley OD, MS, FAAO owns and practices at Complete Eye Care in Medina, MN. Accolades include Minnesota's Young Optometrist of the Year in 2011 and the Early Professional Achievement Award from The Ohio State University College of Optometry in 2013. She is a member of the American Optometric Association, a fellow in the American Academy of Optometry and enjoys practicing, writing and lecturing in the industry. For questions or comments about this article, please contact email@example.com.