Most optometric practices are tied very closely to the practice owner. In many cases, doctors identify so closely with their practices that it feels like they are one and the same. But they aren’t one and the same. It is best to think of your practice as a separate entity. Thinking of the practice as a business and thinking of yourself as an employee (the CEO, perhaps, but still as an employee of the company) helps you focus on the needs of the business and not on your personal needs. This will also help you implement change that is vital to your growth.
For medium and smaller practices, the doctor/owner typically wears many hats and many things depend upon him or her. It is easy to develop a habit that the owner must be involved in many of the smaller details of operating the practice. This is usually quite practical in the early stages because it is not financially feasible to have a large staff, but think of it as temporary. Someday, you will not want the practice to be so dependent on you. Tell yourself that you are doing things this way for now for practical reasons, but eventually, many policies and procedures will change. Visualize how you want your practice to be someday.
Here are a few aspects of your practice that are impacted by how you think:
Practice name. If you want to have a practice that does not depend solely on you, select a practice name that is not simply your first and last name. Instead of Jane Doe, O.D., consider Doe Eye Care or Doe Vision Associates.
Office hours. When you are the only optometrist in the office, the clinical hours become quite personal. You may want your family to be the priority, so you design the office hours around that. But if you think of your eye center as a separate entity, you’ll realize that office hours that are convenient for patients are an important part of the business plan. It may be necessary to have limited hours with no evenings or Saturdays for now, because of your personal life, but think about how you can eventually expand the hours when you are able to hire more staff and another doctor.
Lunch policies. Similar to the thinking above, some offices close at lunch time because it is convenient for the doctor and staff. Someday you can have enough staff to take lunch in shifts, allowing patients to drop in over their own lunch hour if needed.
Staff. If the doctor thinks of staff as his helpers, there can be a tendency to want a small staff. A large staff feels like too much work. But a large staff leads the way to less work and less dependency on the doctor. I tried to hire more staff as soon as possible. It helped my practice to grow.
Size of the office. The office you are in now may not be your final office. You might move several times with each location getting bigger and better.
Delegation. Push yourself to delegate more to your staff, including optical, clinical and administrative work. Teach others to do the tasks you do now. Always maintain supervisory control and know enough so that if a staff member quits, you can show a new employee what to do. Set up a process where the office is opened and closed without you being there.
Practice image and reputation. As the leader of your practice, the reputation of the practice will always be tied to your reputation, but work toward letting the practice get the credit for doing great things rather than you personally. Let your staff be experts in their areas of the practice.
As you reflect on your present practice model and what it might become, be sure to think big. It may take time, but continue to invest in the practice in many ways. Make your practice look and act as much as possible like the center of excellence you dream of.
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.