As of June 2005, Hispanics comprised 41.3 million of the 294 million total U.S. populationone-seventh of all those living in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Also, Hispanics accounted for about one-half of the national population growth of 2.9 million from 2003 to 2004.

Optometrist Allan Tocker, of Wilmington, Del., has seen this surge in the Hispanic population firsthand. When I opened a practice at the New Castle Farmers Market [located in New Castle, Del.] in 1991, 10% of my patients were Hispanic, he says. Now, 50% are Hispanic.

Dr. Tocker opened the bilingual New Castle Vision Center in a 700-square-foot office across from a clothing store and a Mexican restaurant in the New Castle Farmers Market. All photos courtesy: Pete Lounsbury

While Dr. Tocker believes that the overall growth of this population in the United States has led to the increase in his Hispanic patients, he also believes that his decision to learn how to speak Spanish has contributed.

This article is the third and final installment in our Practice Profile series, which looks at innovative ways in which optometrists are expanding and bettering their practices.

Locacin Cuestionable
In 1991, Dr. Tocker received a phone call from the owner of the New Castle Farmers Market. The gentleman, whom Dr. Tocker had known through the community, asked the O.D. if hed be interested in taking over an existing optical at the market that had gone out of business. Dr. Tocker had a new practice in Wilmington and thus, showed little interest at the time.

First off, I didnt want to work on the weekends. [The market is open Friday to Sunday.] Secondly, I didnt think the location was conducive to attracting patients, he says. But my wife, Iris, changed my mind. She said the farmers market was a great place for a practice due to its ability to attract patients who were either unable or didnt want to take time off from work to see an optometrist during the week. She was right.

A few weeks later, Dr. Tocker opened the New Castle Vision Center in a 700-square-foot office across from a clothing store and a Mexican restaurant. He saw patients at the farmers market every weekend, from 1p.m. to 5p.m, until 1999. Now, he sees patients every other weekend.

When Dr. Tocker opened his practice in 1991, 10% of his patients were Hispanic, he says. Now, 50% are Hispanic.

He describes the farmers market as an eclectic mall, in which everything from seafood to toys and hardware is sold. The owner-operated businesses attract a loyal clientele who appreciate good value and good service, Dr. Tocker says.

After a short amount of time, I realized the market is a major shopping destination for a Spanish- American population, who know little or no English, Dr. Tocker says. Sometimes, these patients would bring their children just so their children could translate for them. And, there were often situations in which the translators could barely speak English themselves.

To improve communication and make his Hispanic patients feel more comfortable, Dr. Tocker decided to learn how to speak Spanish. Coming to a country with a language barrier is intimidating enough without having to see a doctor who cant understand you, he says.

Cmo Se Dice ?
Dr. Tocker, who took Russian classes as a high-school student, learned how to speak Spanish by asking those Hispanic patients who could speak a degree of English how to say certain key phrases pertinent to optometry.

I would ask someone, for instance, How do you say: How is your vision? and I would write down Cmo estas su visin? which is the Spanish translation, he says. Soon, I began saying Cmo se dice ? to these patients, which in Spanish means How do you say ?. (See Key Spanish Phrases for Optometrists.) Dr. Tocker says he was completing Spanish sentences with-in a couple of weeks.

Dr. Tocker learned how to speak Spanish by asking those Hispanic patients who could speak some English how to say certain key phrases pertinent to optometry.

Writing the phrases down helped, but I think what really helped me learn was that I was surrounded by so many friendly Spanish-speaking people who were happy to help, he says.

Dr. Tocker says he realized he had a fairly good grasp on the language when he came home one night and unknowingly answered S when his wife asked him if he had a good day. But, he is quick to point out that he is still learning. Sometimes, when a patient replies in Spanish, I have to ask him or her to slow down, he says. I am constantly adding new words and phrases to my vocabulary.

Key Spanish Phrases For Optometrists
brase los ojos anchos. Open your eyes wide.
Est su visin mejor aqu o aqu? Is your vision better here or here?
Es su visin mala? Is your vision bad?
Usted usa las lentes de contacto? Do you use contact lenses?
Es su visin mala cuando usted est mirando la televisin o la lectura? Is your vision bad when you are watching television or reading?

Mil Gracias
Dr. Tockers patients appreciate his willingness to learn. When you move to a place where no one speaks your language, you become afraid to try to communicate because oftentimes, the people you try to communicate with look at you like youre from outer space, says Ivette Lopez, a bilingual patient of Dr. Tockers who is originally from Puerto Rico. But when you find someone who speaks your languageespecially a doctor who knows what hes doingthere is this enormous sense of comfort, and youre not afraid anymore.

Ms. Lopez, who moved from New Jersey to New Castle almost a year ago, says she was drawn to Dr. Tockers office because he had both an English and Spanish sign out front.

I was walking around the farmers market with my mother when I saw his sign, and I thought:   Wow, thats so great, she says. Having just moved, I needed a new optometrist, so I went in and had an eye exam with Dr. Tocker that day. He started speaking Spanish before I even opened my mouth.

Dr. Tocker says he has also made the New Castle Vision Center more accessible to the Spanish-speaking population by having a Spanish version of the patient history form; Spanish signs in his office that advertise the types of services he and his staff provide, such as eyeglass and contact lens dispensing; and, most recently, a staff member who is fluent in Spanish.

Ms. Lopez says she has since referred many friends to Dr. Tocker. I told them that he is a great eye doctor who can speak Spanish, she says. Now, they are his patients, too.

The bilingual O.D., who splits time during the week between his Wilmington practice and a practice in Newark, says that his New Castle Farmers Market practice is his only practice that has immediately seen patients just by virtue of the location. In addition, he says he receives numerous words of thanks for both speaking a second language and offering weekend service.

When I opened my practice in Wilmington in 1988 and a second office a few years later in Newark, it took a number of years before they became self-sufficient, he says. My office in New Castle was productive from the outset.

Dr. Tocker adds that opening a practice in a farmers market has taught him that in order to be successful, you have to think creatively in terms of location and in offering better access for patients.

Accessibility is critical today in attracting and retaining patients. We have to be sensitive to our patients work schedules, he says. Certainly, this requires a commitment to your community and a certain out-of-the-box approach to business.

His out-of-the-box approach: Making his practice accessible to the growing Hispanic population in the United States. In fact, both His-panic and Asian populations are expected to triple by 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

If you want to sustain the success of your practice and attract a new population of patients, you have to make yourself accessible to this growing population, Dr. Tocker says. This means learning how to speak Spanish. I dont care what anybody says; the writing was on the wall years ago.

Vol. No: 142:12Issue: 12/15/2005