The first year of practice is both exhilarating and frustrating. New doctors must be mindful of many things, but concentrating on the following four areas can pave their way to a successful career:
1. Never stop learning – After graduating, most new optometrists are relieved to finally be finished with four years of studying and testing. However, we must not forget that the field of optometry is always growing and advancing. In school we had access to the latest technology, treatments, and research, but now as doctors we must follow new developments on our own. It is important to continue reading optometric magazines, optometry journals, blogs and websites (some are even dedicated to new optometry grads). Research the areas where you feel you may need more knowledge. Continuing education courses are also good, but new graduates need to keep in mind that for the first few years some classes may simply be a review of recent education. The important thing is don’t relax in your office chair for too long, if you get behind the learning curve it is hard to catch up.
2. Take time to listen – Listening to your patients is crucial to success. As a new optometrist your schedule may not be as busy as a seasoned veteran. This allows you more time to spend with each individual patient. Listen closely to the patient’s symptoms and complaints. All of your patients are “new patients” so there’s a lot of history of which you are not aware. Get to know not only their ocular history, but also their career, family, hobbies, etc. This will build a rapport with them for future visits. Make notes in your chart about the things you talked about. At the next year’s exam you will be able to strike up a conversation, picking up where you left off. Listening to patients helps build relationships, which makes them feel as if they are an important part of your practice–and they are. Marketing to the patient sitting in your office is easier than trying to reach the masses in the community. Patients who are satisfied with their care are more likely to return, and they are also more likely to refer family and friends.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – In school our attending doctors held our hands. They were always there for us to ask questions and for them to question us. When we walked across the graduation stage, they let go of our hands. Now our questions must be directed to different people. You will encounter many different situations with patient care, insurance reimbursements, billing, frame representatives, staff, etc. Do not be afraid to ask other doctors in your practice or at continuing education meetings. Especially consider the doctors you know and respect. No question is a dumb question when it comes to any of the previously mentioned concerns, and remember every optometrist was in your shoes at one time. Take the time to pick the brain of your colleagues and don’t have so much pride you can’t ask their opinion or advice on a particular patient or potential treatment plan. Some of the more thought-provoking conversations I have had came from discussing patient cases and treatment plans with my colleagues.
4. Find a niche – Consider Low Vision, Specialty Contact Lenses, Vision Therapy, Dry Eye treatment, or other specialty and less commonly performed aspects of optometry. Look at the needs in your practice, among your patients, and even among your colleagues in your community. You may work in a practice with another doctor who does not have experience or interest in fitting SynergEyes or Scleral contact lenses. Consider discussing with this doctor options for the patients in your office who would benefit from these specialty contact lens fits. Or you may find the majority of your patients are on computers for more than eight hours a day and have concerns with eye strain, fatigue, and dry eye symptoms. Dry eye treatment is multi-factoral and requires several examinations to evaluate and treat. Also consider prescribing computer Progressive glasses with a blue-blocking filter technology. Not every private practice or corporate setting provides all areas of eye care or specialty eye care. Finding a niche in your group practice or community can ensure a successful first year and many years to follow.
Consider one or all of these areas and run with them. They may not only jump start your success for the first year but for many years to come. If your first year has not been as successful as you hoped or planned, don’t let it dictate your future. It’s never to late to plan for your success.
Drew Heide, a 2014 graduate from Northeastern State University Oklahoma College of Optometry practices at Wichita Optometry, P.A. in Wichita, KS.