The Power of Getting Personal
By Erin Kelly, Senior Associate Editor

When Dr. Tran first embarked on her OD career after finishing her residency, her main priority was putting her training into practice. She didn’t want to be limited to refractions and glasses prescriptions; she wanted to be challenged. After more than two years in an ophthalmology setting, she realized she wanted something else, too—a personal rapport with her patients. Although she was busy and driven, she felt like she didn’t know her patients as well as she should.

Today, she’s getting what she asked for. As a business owner, she’s challenged every day. As an OD, she sees patients for primary care, not just new glasses. And she’s building relationships through it all.

“Dr. Susan Tran genuinely cares about her clients,” says a Yelp reviewer from Temple City, Calif. “She also wants to get to know you, too.”

Another reviewer writes: “My time with Dr. Tran was what a doctor/patient relationship should feel like. I have been a nurse for 10 years now (and) appreciate a good doctor when I see one. She sat there and made me feel like she was listening to my needs and didn’t feel rushed.”

Other comments:

• “[Dr. Tran] is upbeat and has such a friendly smile. She made small talk with me and got to know me personally before jumping into all the eye talk and procedures,” says Denise D. “Within 10 minutes, I felt like she could be a friend. Most doctors are so mechanical and just want to see as many patients as possible in a day. Dr. Tran is different.”

• “I’ve been to many optometry offices in the past and I’ve always felt like just another customer,” says Johnny L., of Orange County, Calif. “Dr. Tran and her staff made me feel at ease and comfortable.”

• Mike M. of Carlsbad writes: “Dr. Tran treated me like an old friend, not a new patient.”
 Susan Tran, OD
Sometimes the most unexpected things in life are the most pivotal. For me, it was a phone call from my optometrist.

At the time, I was working in an ophthalmology setting in San Francisco, where I’d stayed for more than two years after my residency at the San Francisco VA. Like an old friend, my OD asked what an L.A. girl was still doing in San Fran.

“I’m just waiting for the right opportunity to move back,” I said.

I had no idea that the phone call was that opportunity.

My OD wanted to sell her practice—to me.

There was dead silence on the line. My thoughts jumbled. Did I really want to leave a stable job? Was I ready to be a business owner? I was happy where I was, after all. My schedule was filled with surgical consults, perioperative care and acute exams. My professional life was quite literally like clockwork: clock in, do a great job, clock out, go home, collect a paycheck. I’d wanted a job that drew upon my training, and I had it.

But even before that phone call, I knew something was missing. Something elemental.

I cranked through so many patients that I couldn’t put a face to a name at the end of the day. When I joined the ophthalmology group, I’d underestimated how important personal relationships were to me, and I’d come to realize that having rapport with patients was as equally important to me as providing quality eye care.

Even before my OD rang, I’d thought about breaking free and starting a private practice. When I was a third-year in optometry school, it occurred to me during a practice management course that I might have my own practice someday. It was an exciting thought—but it terrified me. Starting my own private practice remained a “maybe, someday, one day” aspiration.

Call me practical.

But much like test-driving a car, I decided to take my OD’s suggestion and try it out. She told me that I’d have to speak a lot of Vietnamese, because that comprised most of her client base. Vietnamese isn’t my first language, but it proved to be negligible. I fell in love with the practice within a few days. I was worried I’d get bored easily if all I did were refractions and new glasses, but to my surprise, it was frequented by patients seeking primary eye care.

Quite frankly, though, I was still conflicted. The practical side of me wanted to just stay put, but the typically dormant risk-taker planted seeds that I couldn’t shake off.

Sometimes opportunities don’t knock twice. So, I jumped. And I hit the ground running. As it turns out, “someday” came and “one day” is today.

New Beginnings

As a new self-employed optometrist, I’m running into all sorts of new beginnings that I didn’t even know existed. It’s been three months, and every day is still a new day. Optometry has become the easiest part.

It’s the nine-headed hydra of entrepreneurship that I’m learning on the fly.

While I attempt to brace myself for the challenges ahead of me, I know that there will be plenty of things that I wish I had known. I’m sure I will run into things that no one told ever me before I became a business owner; things I never learned in school; things that I wish I at least had an inkling about.

I have no idea what’s in store for the upcoming year, but I do know that I’m going to document it.

As I can only anticipate the challenges ahead, I will open with an introduction to the early months of life as a business owner.

Here are the instant lifestyle changes I’ve experienced.

Goodbye, Lunch

I used to look forward to my glorious 45-minute daily lunch. I could always count on this welcome break around noon, when I would have time to eat, lounge around, read magazines or do a little shopping.

Those days are gone.

Don’t get me wrong; I have a designated lunch hour. But sometimes it’s filled with all sorts of walk-in patients—some needing an urgent consult, others needing a frame adjustment, still others picking up their glasses. So now, I eat when I can. Some days I get a real 30-minute lunch, but more often than not, I wonder where that hour went.
Goodbye, Sleep

I used to sleep through the blare of the alarm clock. Now? Not so much. And no more nights of sleeping like a baby. My circadian rhythm is dictated by unfinished business from the day before. In these last few months, my eyes instinctively open at exactly 6 AM, and my mind automatically runs through the day’s checklist.

My day used to end at 5:30 PM. Now it just … well, it doesn’t end. At the end of my workday, I turn into a DIY lumberjack/painter/interior designer/accountant/whoever else I need to be that day.

Goodbye, Vacation

Snowboarding in Canada? Sure! Zipline in Mexico? Sure! Once upon a time, it was ridiculously easy to do anything and everything in my heart’s desire. All I had to do was request vacation in advance.

I used to go on so much vacation, my friends wondered if I worked. But I’ve had to say goodbye to spontaneous vacation (for the foreseeable future, at least). Practices are fragile during doctor transitions; now is not the time for snowboarding or zip-lining.
So there you have it. When you get your own practice, the first few things you need to give up are lunch, sleep and vacation.

Lots of people have asked how I’m doing. My answer? There’s so much information being thrown my way in every direction, perhaps too much. I’m taking in what I can, when I can. I’m living and learning, one day at time. These days, I’m a lot like a duck—calm on the surface, but paddling like the dickens underneath.

Read Dr. Tran's blog here, and stay tuned for further updates!