Eleven Fourteen years ago in May I graduated from the University of Houston College of Optometry. We had to wait two months to get our license to practice, so we had some time to kill. It was during that two month break that I took a cruise with my wife to Bermuda (my first cruise and her third).
And it was on that cruise that I unknowingly realized how I’d want my practice to run. After getting my license, I realized that I learned more in my first six months of practicing in the real world than I did in four years of optometry school. You’ll see what I mean in about six months from now.
But why wait? Let’s see if I can come up with
10 11 14 pearls of wisdom for new graduates…
1. Develop guidelines, not policies. Be flexible. It’s really not that difficult to make most patients happy. Some may have unusual requests, but if you can make them happy they won’t even think about going to see anyone else. No changes here. Patients hate policies.
2. I wish someone would have stood up at our graduation, maybe with a bull horn, and told us to pay down our student loan debt as quickly as possible…before buying that first house and that shiny new car. Even though I listed this as #2, it’s the first bit of advice I give to any new grad. It’s the most painful check I write each month and it’s advice that I regret never receiving. Still writing those checks…Ouch!
3. No matter how young you look coming out of school, it’s easy to look like you know what you’re doing. Look every patient in the eye, early and often. And give them a firm hand shake. They want to see your confidence right away so that they can relax and pay attention to you.
4. Show appreciation to your staff. I’ve never been as good at this one as I’d like to be, but it’s very important. But I’m working on it, despite what they may think! Still working on it and may never be as good as I want to be…
5. Don’t expect everyone you work with to be a clone of yourself. It took me years to get over this one. Still doing okay on this one…
6. One of things I learned on that first cruise was that you can run your business like everyone else and be like everyone else, or you can run it differently and be that much better. During our dinner services onboard the cruise, I couldn’t believe someone was coming up to our table with a special little instrument to wipe the crumbs off my table. It reminds me often of this pearl #6. I don’t expect the crumb sweep as part of an average meal anywhere else, but it sets you apart if you do it. Of course this still rings true. Ever been on a Carnival Cruise? You get what you pay for…
7. Read a book or
two 12 on customer service. Don’t expect any real success unless you figure out the importance of it, because you will not learn it in school. Any fresh graduate can do a refraction and get a glasses prescription right most of the time, it’s the rest of the experience in your office that counts.
8. Get involved in the community. I didn’t learn this one right away.
9. Don’t just hire people with experience. Hire nice, intelligent people and teach them what you want them to do. Some of the worst people I ever hired had terrible habits that they had developed from “years of experience”.
10. Never stop learning something new. A lot of us left school with a good understanding of the eye, but not always the greatest understanding of vision. They are two separate concepts. And if you don’t know them both, you may have a lot of people leave your office with unsolved vision problems. Been there. Done that.
11. Don’t forget the importance of evaluating binocular vision. Patients will come back to see you and refer family members because you have given them a prescription that allows them to see comfortably and reduces those annoying frontal headaches. None of my mentors shed light on the impact of a little bit of prism added to an Rx. I’ve been fascinated by the difference it can make, especially with vertical deviations. This one’s hard for most to believe. You just have to try it. Why do you think we have so many prisms in our trial lens case?
12. Research and decide where you want to be forever. I’ve started over twice and that meant rebuilding patient bases, losing benefits and losing income along the way. I should have been in San Antonio all along, but just didn’t know it.
13. Figure out a specialty. Flipping lenses and fitting daily disposables will pay the bills, but it will also make you look like everyone else in your patients’ eyes. Specialty contact lenses and vision therapy/rehabilitation seem to have bright futures. I’m pursuing the VT/rehab aspect of patient care. See Pearl #6 again.
14. Make it your goal to be so good that you can eliminate all the discount vision plans that have taken over our industry. These plans make too many rules and pay us less and less to do more and more. It will take time as you establish yourself and your patient base in your community but plenty of optometrists have done it.
So there you go.
Ten Nine Six years from now I will hopefully have at least 20 pearls of wisdom to share. Thanks for reading!