I would like to start my very first tip of the week by saying how truly honored I am to be included in the talented pool of authors, taking over what has been such a tremendously impactful publication for the past 800+ weekly tips. I am looking forward to contributing my thoughts and practices for the betterment of the profession.
My professional history starts with graduating from The Ohio State University in 2006. I started my own practice, cold, in 2008 and have grown that practice to well over seven figures in revenue. Lecturing, publishing and consulting work within in the industry are other endeavors I enjoy. After I had my first child in 2010, I began working just three days per week and have maintained that schedule since then, including after the birth of my second child. With that, I would like to focus my first tip on one of the most common questions I get from doctors: How have you maintained a part-time schedule and made that work both professionally and personally? There are several considerations here I would like to review:
Why do you want to work part-time? I believe this reason must be powerful, whatever it may be. Spending more time with family, travel, pursuing other business ventures, more free time and balancing schedules around a significant other are just a few reasons I’ve been told doctors want to work part-time. The significance behind the reason being powerful is that this is your driver. It is a commitment for some to figure out part-time schedules/work, and can often be a sacrifice. If your motivation behind doing so is somewhat weak or non-substantial, you could create more turmoil for you, your family and your practice.
What are your financial obligations? Working part-time can be lucrative, if you plan correctly, and I know many part-time doctors that make more than the average full-time doctors’ salaries doing so. This typically involves practice ownership for the part-timer, but not necessarily. Even considering the most well-paid part-time schedules, there is always the possibility you will be earning less professionally. Do you have a high student loan debt? Car payments? Mortgage? Are you the breadwinner in your family? A proper analysis of all of this is necessary to determine the feasibility of shifting your work-time.
How can I earn the same as or even more as a part-timer? Many doctors are tremendous producers of revenue within a practice, and should be compensated accordingly. If you are an employee within a practice, perhaps you can demonstrate to your employer how your production brings in X amount of dollars per hour. If this production is greater than other doctors within the same practice, or you can build it to be greater and prove additional worth, a move to a production-based pay system makes part-time work more reasonable. You may be able to work less, but earn more, on a schedule such as this rather than being paid per diem. If you are more productive in less hours of work, this is a win for your employer as well. The employer’s fixed costs likely haven’t shifted much, but her revenue has gone up because of your increased production in less time. This would be a fantastic demonstration of your value and would support a move into part-time hours.
If you are the practice owner, the same concept applies here. How can you boost your revenue per hour, and/or see the same number of patients in less time? This can free your schedule so you have more time to work on the practice, or simply have a few more hours to yourself every week. Dr. Gailmard touched upon this many times in the history of his tips.
Move into part-time gradually. Working slowly into the part-time schedule you desire is another way to shift. Maybe you want to have every Friday off, but are having a hard time figuring out how you will just cut one day out of patient care. You could start by blocking your schedule on Friday afternoons for just 1-2 hours at the very end of the day. Either compress the patients who would normally be there into earlier in the day or move to another time of the week. Test the waters to see what patient response is, staff flow, etc. Then add a few more hours to this time over several months, continuing to shift and build until you’ve moved into a full day off.
Opportunity in the job market. Personally, I looked for a couple of years to find an associate doctor who would be committed to my practice, yet desired only a part-time schedule. Many practice owners can’t afford to bring someone on full-time, yet would love a couple of days a week of patient care they don’t deliver themselves, so they also can work part-time. They may not be advertising this fact, either, so I invite doctors to put themselves out there and start asking around. This is how I found my very first job out of school: I cold sent my resume to the practice I wanted to work for. Target a geographic area, reach out to a doctor you know and admire for their practice work, start conversations with industry reps and you may be surprised at what opportunities you find out there. Working part-time, or flex schedules, is something I know many optometrists do already, but I know many more desire to do more fully. Personally, I feel that I am a better clinician in many ways because I’ve found balance for myself in my life. This is in no way a reflection on anyone else’s choices, as we all need to examine what works best for each of us individually. I plan to work more as my children get older, but maybe I won’t. Continual and dynamic evaluation of your personal and professional path will help determine what is ideal for you.
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.