Kristie Nguyen, OD, of Orlando, Florida, spent her youth going to church seven days a week. No matter the weather, her family was in attendance. One day while she was in elementary school, Dr. Nguyen sat in the sanctuary and was reflecting on a frequent question she asked herself often: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” She weighed her options. She knew she loved to help people, so—of course—a career as a doctor came to mind. Only one problem: she couldn’t stand being around blood. After pondering the remaining options and narrowing down the possible specialties sans blood work, being an eye doctor just felt right.
That day, the service was on the story of the healing of a blind man. “I know I can’t heal a blind person, but I wear contacts and eyeglasses, and I remembered what it felt like the first time I put on those corrective lenses. It changed my life.” Setting that career as a goal, in junior high, she shadowed a local optometrist in high school, but the experience was limited mostly to reading magazine articles. Still, this didn’t deter her from her interest in optometry. During her undergraduate studies, she worked at a private practice and got a well-rounded, hands-on picture of her dream field.
Change is coming
Armed with a ready-for-anything attitude, Dr. Nguyen hasn’t experienced her own shortage of change. “When I was in school, I wanted nothing more than to have my own private practice,” she says. But she and her future husband were saving to get married and start their family and starting or buying into a practice did not fit into that plan. Dr. Nguyen worked six days a week at different practices for a year, which lead her to a discovery: maybe a private practice wasn’t what she wanted at all. “These doctors were complaining about how insurance affected how they practice, and I wanted to keep the flexibility in my schedule. I can do that best as a contractor. If I work for a doctor full-time, I may not have that flexibility. I can see different clientele without locking myself at one office.”
It’s not just Dr. Nguyen’s career trajectory that she approaches with an open mind. She enthusiastically looks forward to the ability of online exams to shape how optometry is practiced. “That’s going to affect optometry as far as how we are accessible to our patients.” Early online refractions have fallen short of providing patients with a quality experience, but she says she is excited to see how advances in technology and telemedicine can provide access to more patients.
Another way to prepare for the ever-changing world of optometry is to embrace social media—something Dr. Nguyen is extremely adept at. “Social media can be good or bad, depending on how you present yourself,” she says. Levity is important. “Instead of posting just boring optometry media all the time, switch it up. It’s not all optometry. I do a #WednesdayWisdom—general knowledge that people can easily understand. Mix a little of your personality in there!” Dr. Nguyen’s media of choice is LinkedIn. Since she works for multiple doctors, she has to be easily found. Patients who follow her on LinkedIn seek her out personally and are terrific sources of referrals, saying,“’You need to see that one person.’ By sharing what we do, it gets patients in the door. And we may change someone’s life with that visit.”
To the future and beyond
The old adage rings true in her advice to young ODs and those still in school: it’s who you know. “Your grades are important, but not as important as networking. Be kind and get to know people in general. You never know what opportunity they may be able to offer you.” She notes how in optometry school, doctors are taught to be doctors first—a logical step since students must pass the rigorous coursework and qualifying exams. But there’s more to being an OD. “You also have to think about the business aspect. I know great doctors who aren’t making any money because they know little about the business field. You have to network. The earlier the better.”