The top 11 things I’d tell new optometry school graduates after 11 years of practice

This post was done about a year ago with the title “Ten things I’d tell new optometry school graduates after 10 years of practice”.  I decided it needed an update…

Eleven 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.  It was during that two month break that I took a cruise with my wife to Bermuda (my first cruise and her third).

I’ve always believed that I learned more in my first six months of practicing in the real world than I did in four years of optometry school.  And it was on that cruise that I realized how I wanted my practice to run (though I didn’t know it at the time).

So let’s see if I can come up with 10 11 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.

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 advice that I regret never receiving.

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!

5.  Don’t expect everyone you work with to be a clone of yourself.  It took me years to get over this one.

6.  One of things I learned on my very first cruise is 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.

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.

So there you go.  Ten Nine years from now I will hopefully have at least 20 pearls of wisdom.  Have a great weekend!

About admin

Eye/vision doctor in San Antonio. Serious sports fan. Goofy dad. Husband who tries hard. Never met a bag of beef jerky that I didn't like. Except salmon. San Antonio, TX ·
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  • Don E

    Good tips. If I may expand on the customer service aspect tip. The approach I take is find out what most motivated the patient to get an exam (blurred vision, dry eyes, head aches, ect…) and I always remind them before they leave my office how what I did for them is going to help that problem. It’s a sign that I care about the patients. On the flip side there are patients, mostly contact lens abusers, that require I educate/warn/scare them into better contact lens wearing practices. I used to think that would put people off and they would just go to another doctor next time, but instead what I have found those patients do return and they do so because they appreciate I cared enough to explain the dangers to their eyes and vision their bad habits could bring.

    That’s it for now. Good job Jason. Just wanted to show you I remain awake for several minutes a day now.

    • Thanks, Dr. E. Your comments are always appreciated. Seriously. No, really…I’m being serious. I appreciate you reading and contributing some very good points.

  • J K

    Great tips, but telling a new grad to pay down his/her loans before doing anything else? Now days, it’s not possible. I graduated with over 180K in debt. I chose optometry because I believed what I read on the AOA website , what I was told by my school’s recruiter, and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (USBLS). The USBLS took all of its data from the AOA and optometry schools so there you go. Optometry used to be a great investment, but it is no longer. Grads can expect to work in several PT commercial jobs as contractors, not employees, and for low pay. Pay for ODs has declined over 21K per year since 2007 and continues to drop. Most new grads are ignorant of how damaging a contractor position is in most cases. You pay much higher taxes and pay all of your own expenses, unlike an employee. A new grad 10 years ago had a good shot at opening or purchasing a practice because commercial optometry had not gutted the profession just yet and the cost of an OD was much lower than it is today. I wish someone had told me how bad of an investment I was about to make when I signed up for 180K in student loan debt. I now pay over 1/3 of my income to student loans and I will do so for most of my career. I make barely enough to pay my bills and take care of my family (81K) as a contractor. This may sound like a lot to a college student, but when you take out student loan payments and self-employment tax from your income, you’ll be making about 50K per year. You don’t need a 200K OD degree to make 50K per year. Take my advice, please. If you’re going to spend 150K or more on a degree, make it one that can actually pay for itself. Don’t go to optometry school. To read more about what has happened to the profession, go to youtube and search my channel “StayAwayFromAnOD.” There are videos that describe in detail what has gone wrong. There are too many reasons to discuss on this comment. Please keep your money out of the pockets of greedy private optometry schools and subsequently, the AOA. Do something else with your money. Otherwise, you’ll be working at WalMart for the rest of your career.

    • Hi Dr. J K. I debated whether or not to approve your comment but realized you were not really criticizing me as much as criticizing our profession. I stand behind my recommendation to develop a plan to pay down student loans. But hey, I didn’t do it and will be paying on them for many years to come. Definitely a painful check to write. Plus my debt started as half of yours, maybe due to in-state tuition of public vs private optom schools. Perhaps if I could do it over again, I WOULD have started practicing in the military before going out in the real world. My views on debt when I graduated was much different that it is today. Many of us have become conditioned to think that debt is just a part of life, which I did back then. It’s obviously not.

      I watched your video and encourage others to watch it as well. You bring up many good points and I don’t disagree with many of them.

      It is necessary to learn how to bill medically due to lower vision plan reimbursements. That’s why we do not take any vision plans. Difficult or impossible to not take vision plans when practicing in a saturated metropolitan area, as you said because of all the competition. Which is exactly why I moved halfway across the country to this small town with no mall opticals, no Walmart optical within 75 miles and less competition overall. I grew up in a small town and don’t have the desire or need to live close to a big city. There are many advantages to small town living such as cheaper housing and less stress.

      I agree with you that it seems to make no sense at all to open new optometry schools. But I don’t have much to add to that subject beyond what you’ve said.

      So thank you for reading. I understand your frustration with optometry and I’m not trying to debate any of the points you bring up. I invite readers to chime if they feel the need.

  • J K

    Thanks for approving my comments. I’m just trying to get the word out to prospective optometry students to do their own research about the investment before making such an enormous financial and time commitment. I sincerely appreciated your input. J K