My parents, and by parents I mean my mother, were always concerned about who I hung out with. My mom carefully considered multiple important factors in determining which of my acquaintances would be most likely to get me in trouble. When I say “multiple factors,” what I mean is things like hair length and church attendance, certainly critical areas to consider when one chooses their son’s friends.
Although those were probably good enough reasons back in the day to blackball those little town ne’er-do-wells, I’ve spent the past 60-plus years developing my own idea of who to hang out with throughout my career.
Earlier on I decided to make it my mission to hang out with “the old guys” of optometry every chance I could get. I’ve told every young doctor I meet to look for the table at the OD dinner where most of the doctors have had more than one colonoscopy and sit there. The old guys have a little thing called experience under their belts.
Now, back in the day, most optometrists were indeed guys, but I certainly did not exclude the women of optometry. I adored Dr. Slaymaker in West Virginia. She was the straightest shooter I ever met. When the fellows all started posturing about who had the best ideas, it was always Dr. Slaymaker who brought them down to earth in her brilliant, salty ways.
At one of the first optometric society meetings I ever attended right after graduation, Dr. Slaymaker, after casually destroying a room full of male-induced pomposity, announced the only doctor in the room who made any sense was “Dr. Vickers.” That’s right, me. I barely knew her at the time, but I did know this: she only said that to see the shocked expressions on the faces of the establishment ODs. And it worked. This had nothing to do with my amazing insight and wisdom, as I truly had none of it then, but it still made me feel good and gave me confidence that I would at least be an okay OD if I hung in there.
And if it wasn’t for Harriet Stein, who was an amazing practice management guru, I would have gone broke immediately. As a new OD, I would’ve been heartbroken if a patient changed doctors. But I remembered then and still do now her wise words: “If they love you when they leave you, they’ll be back.” This is especially true in today’s era of a patient’s insurance deciding who their doctor has to be.
I also loved to hang out with the outliers, those doctors who were always trying radical things, ordering new technologies, etc. This is where I was pitched the revolutionary idea of having a surgeon implant a small magnet in everyone’s glabellas so their glasses would not slide down their nose. Might have been one of my worst investments in hindsight.
Then this doctor told me he thought he could use some kind of high-tech laser to sculpt a patient’s cornea to eliminate myopia. Seemed pretty dumb to me.
But we need these visionaries. Without visionaries, we would never have 4,000 antihistamine eye drops at our disposal. I like hanging out with these kinds of doctors. I seem less nerdy when I’m with them.
Once you’ve been married a hundred years, you also hang out with your wife’s friends. The secret I’ve learned is you should keep encouraging your spouse to work so they don’t actually have friends. Now if you could just pry the TV remote from her, your life would be perfect indeed.
What about staff? If you have read this column before, you know I am not in favor of hanging out with coworkers except at work. If you spend too much time with them, they may realize you are not that smart after all. That could be bad for business.
Sales reps? Uh, no. I’ll stop you right there.
So, who should an optometrist hang out with? Good question. Do they have long hair and skip church on Sundays? It’s your call.
Dr. Vickers received his optometry degree from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in 1979 and was clinical director at Vision Associates in St. Albans, WV, for 36 years. He is now in private practice in Dallas, where he continues to practice full-scope optometry. He has no financial interests to disclose.