Part II: Where and How Will You Practice Optometry? Four ODs Talk About the Settings They’re Currently In

Posted by Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry

May 2, 2016 9:29:16 AM

One of the many appealing elements of a career in optometry is the variety of settings in which doctors of optometry can work. We asked ODs from several different practice types to answer some questions, including what they find most challenging and most rewarding about their job, to give you a glimpse into the possibilities. Part II of this blog will cover the following settings:  large group private optometry practice, private practice (two owners), corporate optical adjacent and the opththalmic industry.

 

LARGE GROUP PRIVATE OPTOMETRY PRACTICE

Antonio Chirumbolo, OD

(State University of New York College of Optometry, Class of 2013)

Employed with Complete Family Vision Care, an eight-OD, multi-location group private practice in the Pittsburgh area

What does your practice setting have in common with other practice settings?

Dr. Antonio ChirumboloThe setting in which you practice can differ dramatically, but that doesn’t necessarily have to dictate how you practice. Although I practice in a large group setting, I perform many of the same daily tasks as eyecare providers in other practice modalities.

In what ways does your practice setting differ from others?

Practicing in a large group setting can give you access to a very large patient base, which means that you have ample opportunity to see a diverse population of patients with different eye disease and conditions. It can also afford you the opportunity to practice to your full scope. It’s not uncommon for each doctor to have different strengths within the practice, from pediatrics to specialty contact lens fitting. This allows us to keep a lot of patients in-house rather than refer them out.

How is the bulk of your average work day spent?

The bulk of the day is spent seeing patients and billing and coding. Very little of my day is spent on practice management because we have dedicated staff and a dedicated owner handling the business aspect of the group.

What other tasks/roles are included in your work day?

I’m always working on ways to build the practice. Whether it’s scheduling local school screenings or developing various marketing materials such as newsletters and advertisements, there is always something to be done when I’m not seeing patients. Brainstorming and working with staff to develop practice-building opportunities is something we routinely work on.

What do you consider the biggest challenge of working in this setting?

Working in such a large practice and seeing so many patients can become overwhelming at times. It’s not uncommon for me to see more than 30 patients a day, and many of the cases are complex and involve special testing. Because we see a lot of pathology at our practice, it can be heartbreaking telling a patient they are suffering from a sight-threatening condition, or have suffered irrevocable damage to vision, which may or may not return.

What do you consider most rewarding about working in this setting?

A majority of the patients I see have been coming to see us for their eyecare needs for decades. Seeing the same patient year after year is very rewarding as you build intimate relationships with them and develop a strong rapport. These patients become extended family members. It’s also a great feeling to have a group of experienced doctors working with you. As a new(er) graduate, it’s not uncommon to run into cases or conditions that you might not be sure how to handle or manage. It’s always a good feeling when you can get the opinion of experienced doctors!

What is your work schedule?

I work six days a week, Monday through Saturday. However, we are only open every other Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon. Tuesday through Friday we work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays we work from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

What aspect(s) of your practice setting might other doctors not like?

It can be difficult to build your practice within the practice, so to speak. That’s why it’s important to involve yourself in the community and get to know people. That takes a lot of hard work and energy and often takes time outside of the usual working hours. In other words, it involves a lot more than just seeing patients to be successful in this practice modality.

What advice would you give about choosing a practice setting?

Envision the type of days you want to have. If your goal is to punch a clock and check out at 5 p.m. every day, private practice is probably not going to be a good setting for you. It’s not uncommon for me to work after hours or call patients or pharmacies on the weekends. If you want to be part of something, and immerse yourself into building a practice, and stay somewhere long-term, then private practice is a great avenue. It’s also a great way to be your own boss in the sense that you have authority over what type of culture and experience for patients you want your practice to reflect.

PRIVATE PRACTICE, TWO OWNERS

Thanh Mai, OD

(Southern California College of Optometry at Marshall B. Ketchum University, class of 2012)

Co-owner of Insight Vision Center, Costa Mesa, Calif.

What does your practice setting have in common with other practice settings?

Every individual has different strengths, weaknesses, and a unique approach to patient care. Having a partnership allows for multiple viewpoints and more creativity in terms of offering the widest range of services to patients and in terms of building a practice.

In what ways does your practice setting differ from others?

Dr. Thanh MaiWe focus on vision therapy and specialty contact lenses. Because of this most of our patients are children, some very young, who we’re treating for conditions such as double vision or progressive myopia. Having a partner in practice to immediately consult with and bounce ideas off is a great benefit in treating patients with very challenging visual problems.

How is the bulk of your average work day spent?

Some days are devoted mainly to patient care. Some days we purposely see fewer patients in order to devote time to managing the practice.

What do you consider the biggest challenge of working in this setting?

We have a relatively new office so our biggest challenge is creating awareness of our unique services to potential patients in our area.

What do you consider most rewarding about working in this setting?

The ability to create a culture that really appreciates patients and treats them as close friends and family.

What is it like working with children compared to with adults?

I could write books about this! Children are such a mixed bag and each one has such a different personality that evolves in the short amount of time you see them. One aspect I like about working with children is being able to create a change that can positively affect them for the rest of their lives. It’s quite exciting.

What advice would you give about choosing a practice setting?

Don’t just look for a job. Begin your career thinking about why you wanted to become an optometrist in the first place. Practice in the area you want to live, where you find the most happiness and fulfillment vs. choosing your location based only on your career opportunities.

CORPORATE OPTICAL ADJACENT

Nikil Patel, OD

(Indiana University School of Optometry, class of 2004)

Owner of practice (Vani Vision) leasing space from Costco in Atlanta, Ga.

Dr. Nikil PatelWhat does your practice setting have in common with other practice settings?

The eye exam area is similar to other practice settings. We have two fully equipped exam lanes, including digital refraction systems. We have a pre-test area that includes an autorefractor, non-contact tonometer, wide-field retinal imaging, and a corneal topographer. (I own some of the equipment, and Costco provides some equipment.) Like other practice settings, we have many diagnostic contact lenses.

In what ways does your practice setting differ from others?

The main difference is we don’t have a dispensary and thus don’t sell contact lenses or eyeglasses. (Costco does.) I’m able to concentrate my efforts only on optometry and not on retail and merchandising, which are different skills.

How is the bulk of your average work day spent?

The bulk of my day is examining patients. I have a very large medical practice that continues to grow and takes the majority of my schedule.

What other tasks/roles are included in your work day?

I have managerial tasks such as paying bills, overlooking financials, managing two employees. I also keep up with the industry and constantly read about all aspects of optometry.

What do you consider the biggest challenge of working in this setting?

The biggest challenge is not having control of the actual building and thus not being able to set my own hours. I can only be open when Costco is open. It’s likely similar to other offices where a landlord or a partnership is involved. Both parties need to be considered.

What do you consider most rewarding about working in this setting?

Most rewarding about this setting is that patients appreciate that there is no financial bias in my recommendations for eyeglasses or contact lenses. I’m not selling them anything, and I believe because of that they tend to adhere to my recommendations.

What is your work schedule?

I work Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Fridays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a one-hour lunch each day. I’m off Saturday and Sunday.

What aspect(s) of your practice setting might other doctors not like?

Most optometrists make the largest portion of their revenue on eyeglasses or contact lens sales. Working in a corporate-affiliated environment means your practice revenue is solely derived from the patient care interaction, so embracing a medical practice is almost a necessity to grow.

What advice would you give about choosing a practice setting?

Be open-minded and try out different settings. The best way to see which modality is best for you is to work in each for a period of time. Coming out of school, there are many opportunities for hours within different practices, which can be a great guide for your long-term career.

OPHTHALMIC INDUSTRY

Mohinder Merchea, OD, PhD, MBA

(The Ohio State University College of Optometry, class of 1997)

Employed by Alcon in Fort Worth, Texas, as Head of Medical Affairs for Vision Care in the U.S. and Canada

What are the key characteristics of your practice/employment setting?

Dr. Mohinder MercheaMedical Affairs at Alcon provides scientific support for late-stage product development and post-market support for medical devices and drugs in the form of clinical trials, medical publications, training and education. Medical Affairs is located within the Alcon corporate headquarters along with other business functions such as Research & Development, Legal, Regulatory and Commercial.

In what ways does your setting differ from others?

A Medical Affairs role in industry doesn’t typically involve direct patient care, but we do have clinical facilities to provide demonstrations or training to eyecare practitioners on the products within Alcon’s portfolio in Vision Care and Surgical.

How is the bulk of your average work day spent?

The majority of my day is spent working with people from all areas of the business to ensure that eyecare practitioners understand how Alcon’s products can help patients see, look and feel their best.

What other tasks/roles are included in your work day?

Medical Affairs helps to formulate publications and presentations at scientific meetings and through journal articles. Medical Affairs also provides the scientific input and expertise in the design or review of marketing materials and tools. We communicate with and support external experts and opinion leaders. We also help respond to questions from patients about our company’s products, and serve as disease state experts to answer questions from internal colleagues.

What do you consider the biggest challenge of working in this setting?

I miss the feeling of successfully fitting a post-surgical cornea or late-stage keratoconus patient and seeing their faces light up with joy when they regain the gift of vision. In industry, that satisfaction of helping patients is indirect but no less satisfying when an eyecare practitioner tells you their patient is wearing a contact lens that you helped design.

What do you consider most rewarding about working in this setting?

In Medical Affairs, I get to represent the voice of the eyecare professional and patient within my business. The decisions or recommendations we make related to a medical device or drug have the opportunity to help millions of patients, so it’s amazing to think about that from a public health significance standpoint.

What is your work schedule?

There’s no such thing as a 40-hour work week, but it really comes down to your individual motivation and drive. In my current role, I have responsibility for the United States and Canada, so the majority of my work is during the day. Prior global roles required late-night conference calls working with colleagues from around the world.

What aspect(s) of your practice setting might other doctors not like?

In my role, what I am working on changes day to day, or faster in some cases. If you’re a person who loves routine, industry in general and medical affairs could  be frustrating. If you thrive in dynamically changing environments, if you’re comfortable making decisions efficiently, and you like to learn constantly, medical affairs can offer you a fulfilling career path.

What advice would you give about choosing a practice setting?

Optometrists have a wide variety of career paths they can take in addition to clinical practice. The best advice is talk to your peers and visit the settings you think you’re interested in for a day to see if they excite you.

 

About Eye on Optometry

Welcome to Eye on Optometry, a new blog from the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO)! The main goal of the blog is to provide timely and useful information to anyone who is interested in applying to optometry school. It’s all part of one of ASCO’s many strategic objectives, which is to help the schools and colleges of optometry develop a large, diverse and highly qualified national applicant pool while getting the word out about the attractiveness of a career in the profession.  We will also blog about other optometry-related topics from time to time.

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