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I hear from many eye care professionals that finding qualified job candidates is
a very serious problem. These practitioners would hire an optician or technician
in a heartbeat if they could just find one. The problem seems to be worse in
some regions of the country. Many practices are continuously running ads in the
paper and are offering very good wage and benefit packages, but still get very
few responses from people with eye care experience.
Good Staff = Success
Having the correct number of well-trained employees is a prerequisite for
success. As I’ve stated before in this column, I believe many practices are
understaffed, which can stifle growth and production. Delegation is one of the
most important factors in practice management and you can’t improve delegation
if there is not enough staff. The doctor ends up doing many tasks that he or she
is far overqualified for and while it may feel like it’s economical to do things
yourself, it is actually wasteful. If you know you’re understaffed, you can’t
afford to leave it that way for long for the following reasons:
You’re hurting your reputation for excellence in customer service
because patients are not cared for as quickly and as fully as you’d like.
Optical sales suffer when patients are rushed through the ordering
There is a lost opportunity cost for every day when your production is
lower than it could be. If you could see a few more patients per day, the
financial implications are huge.
A Do-It-Yourself Tech Training Program
I encountered a period in my practice several years ago when I had a high amount
of turnover all at once. We needed staff desperately and my effort to find
experienced technicians was turning up empty. I realized that all the eye care
practices in town were simply trading a limited number of trained staff.
Having taught optometry students at ICO and ophthalmic technicians at a local
community college, I decided to put together my own tech training school in my
office. I reasoned that the best eye care staff had some background education
and knew more than just how to push the buttons on an autorefractor. I decided I
would offer the program free of charge to the best and brightest candidates who
I was not sure if I would get much interest, but I placed an ad in the newspaper
announcing that my office was offering an eye care technician training course at
no charge. It turned out that there was plenty of interest and I used a
combination of job resumes, a general aptitude test and personal interviews to
accept the eight strongest candidates. I figured training a group would not be
much harder than training one person, I had space for eight people and it felt
like a good student-teacher ratio.
I had an immediate need for two or three new employees in my practice, so I
intended to pick the best of the graduates for myself and then turn the rest
loose in the community to assist my colleagues who were in the same boat I was.
I hoped that doing so would also lessen the need for one doctor to raid the
office of another.
I designed a two-week course that had a mixture of lectures and labs, all held
in the conference room of my office. The courses included:
Ocular anatomy and physiology
Obviously, since this was a two-week program, the content was kept very
practical and simple, but I had outlines, handouts, reading assignments and I
used PowerPoint slides, model eyes and real props. I taught many of the courses
myself, but I had my associate optometrist, optical manager and chief technician
teach as well. I moved my clinical instruments, frames, lenses and contact
lenses to the classroom as needed. The students practiced many procedures on
The second week of the course consisted of clinical observations. During this
part of the program, the students observed my staff performing their usual
duties. We advised patients that we were serving as a training site for students
and asked if they objected – no one did. The students watched us perform
pretesting, special testing, scribing for doctors, frame selection and
measurement, eyeglass and contact lens dispensing, frame repairs, lens
fabrication in our optical lab, and general office administration. The students
actually did some patient care work themselves near the end of their training,
with my staff supervising.
We had a couple students wash out and not complete the program, but in the end,
I hired three new employees and two of them stayed with me for several years.
The program was time intensive for me, but in a severe staffing pinch, I’d do it
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.