Ages ago, after I saw the movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks as a poor FedEx executive stranded on a remote and uninhabited island in the South Pacific, I started to wonder how I would have handled the situation—you know, being a FedEx executive. Seems like a tough job. How in the world can they put something in a box and deliver it anywhere in the world within just a couple of days? Being stranded on a deserted island must be easier. 

But if I were stranded on an island, would I be able to survive with the same determination that Hanks’s character displayed over the four long years he was stuck there? 

Now, Hanks was only acting, and he was even nominated for an Academy Award—no small feat considering he only had to remember two pages of dialog, most of it spent chatting with a volleyball. 

Your Own Island

Anyway, imagine yourself in his position. You have to fend for yourself. You alone must acquire food and drink, or die trying. 

Sounds more and more like private practice optometry, doesn’t it? No wonder the corporate world seems so attractive. You show up, follow their system and never have a volleyball as your best friend.

Of course, Hanks was stranded for four years. Barring a lottery payout, private practice will last 30+. He had it easy.

Still, all things considered, I would rather be in private practice with all of its challenges and accomplishments, good days and bad. I would never give up the shared joy of providing patients victories in their visual and personal lives. Nor would I give up the shared hugs when they, or I, experience life’s losses.  

I encourage all of you doctors, new and seasoned, to carefully consider your future and your profession’s. Where do you want to be in your life? Our education has set us free so why not fly off the island or, better yet, create your own beautiful paradise right where you are?

At a certain point Hanks, the stranded fellow, had to accept reality. And so do we. The reality is that some doctors are just not the private practice kind. Plus, financial realities might make the corporate-run practice the best choice for some. That’s OK; they are just as educated, hard working and caring as any given private practice doctor. So, as we say in Texas, get off your high horse.

We’re Not Alone

Going into private practice can be challenging. Reimbursements are always threatened, patients make more and more decisions based on who takes their insurance (or who their sister’s hairdresser sees) and increased online competition that’s drifting toward online eye exams that might as well be performed by unknown and unvetted techs in the South Pacific. 

Some days it may even seem like it would be easier to search for water on a lost island than recheck a recent refraction on a patient who bought crappy glasses online. 

Just remember, no matter where or how you practice, you will always have the relationship you build with each and every patient who needs your help. 

Unfortunately, some would rather save a few bucks than see their world at its clearest. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. You can’t leave them stranded. Care for them and you’ll thrive as an optometrist. It has to be easier than being a FedEx executive.