By April Jasper, OD, FAAO, Professional Co-editor, Women In Optometry
According to a recent Women In Optometry Pop-up Poll, in which 46 percent of respondents said that they would not choose a career in optometry if they were choosing now, many respondents cited financial pressures as a common reason for the frustration with the profession. Read the poll results here.
With the cost of an optometric education and the pressures from managed vision care and business management, getting ahead financially can feel like a continuous struggle. Part of the challenge comes from unrealistic expectations early in our careers. When I graduated 20 years ago, I certainly didn’t have a good sense of how hard I’d have to work to hit financial security. I had looked at the general pay data and thought I’d be set. My understanding of what it would cost to repay loans, much less borrow more money to start a practice, was limited.
I was also so focused on my schoolwork, studying for boards and more that I didn’t have the skills to sell myself. I hadn’t done the research to see how I could present myself to practitioners and show them how I could help them generate more than enough revenue to pay me. In retrospect, I could have made more connections through networking so that I might have heard of more opportunities and learned what doctors already in practice want.
Even now, as I talk to practitioners around the country, I hear so many who say that they’d like help, but haven’t begun to advertise—and may not even do so. However, almost all of them tell me that if they were approached by someone who could show what he or she could bring to the practice in terms of patient flow and revenue, most of them would offer a job right then and there.
How does that help the financial pressure now? Directly, it doesn’t, except to serve as a reminder that every experience can be a valuable one. Even if you are feeling overworked or underpaid in your current role, try to leave work each day having learned something. Maybe you’ll glean a better understanding of patient care or practice management, complex contact lens fits, negation or frame board management.
Ask questions. Keep with you both those aspects that work well and those that don’t – so you don’t make those costly mistakes later in your career. In the six years that I was in a corporate setting, I learned how to generate revenue and run a business. I studied taxes and regulations and became more confident speaking to community groups. All of that experience allowed me to better represent myself to others. Ultimately, I purchased a practice. But even in that negotiation, I had to prove to the selling doctor that I’d be a good steward for his practice.
For me, at least, I determined I would be happy wherever I was at the time. But that didn’t stop me from looking at other opportunities. Indeed, I’m doing that still. Opportunity to one person can be a nightmare to another. I have learned to turn those “nightmares” into opportunity. That can be a little scary. At the start of 2018, I made a decision to close my office on Fridays. My children are nearly ready to launch out of the house, and I wanted some more time with them. It was equally important to me to give my staff plenty of down time so when they are in the office they are “all in” and have yes attitudes as well. I anticipate that I’ll be grateful for the opportunity to spend some more time with my kids and away from the office. I hope that my staff will take the time to recharge. At this time, this feels like the right decision. When that changes, we’ll adjust. It’s how we grow.