First Year In Practice- “Choosing the best practice location”

Welcome students to a brand new 5 article series by 2010 SUNY Graduate Dr. Paul Heeg! The article series will run for the next 5 weeks EVERY FRIDAY EVENING – so keep checking back for “First Year In Practice Friday’s” by Dr. Heeg.

I was distant friends with Paul for about 4 years and I have always known him to be not only an exceptional student and intern, but an amazing person. This man has his head on straight, determined to improve the state of optometry via involvement with organizations like the AOA and also to create for himself a bright future as an OD.

Whenever I had questions I went to Paul for help because he KNOWS HIS STUFF. So enjoy this 5 article series “First Year In Practice Friday’s” and be prepared to learn some valuable advice!

Dear future colleagues,

It has been a good month since I last wrote an article for This article is going to be Part one of a five series in that will appear on First, I want to thank you for taking the time to stop by and take a look at this article. This is only the beginning of your success as an optometric professional as you are already investigating your future as an optometrist.

Have you ever thought about where you want to practice?

Perhaps you want to live somewhere warm or maybe by the ocean. Perhaps both? Some might want to live by their family, where they grew up and made lifelong friends. Others may want to venture out the unknown and start a blank new page in their exciting new life.

Well, in my case, I had the opportunity to live internationally from growing up in Canada, being the son of two immigrants from Europe and living across the United States from New York to California, I can see that this land has certainly many options. Too many at times it may seem, but very exciting none the less. It is important in optometry school, even as a first year to start thinking of where you would like to live and practice. Once determined, I would encourage you to start researching the communities in that area.

What sort of research should you do?

Well, for one, it is a great idea to look at the population demographics of an area. For example, if you want to specialize in pediatrics, obtain a good idea if that area has a large middle age / family population before analyzing whether you should focus in that town. For example, where I am living in Texas, the town has a mean age that is older. However, where my brother is living in North Dallas, the demographics are much younger. Many young families live in North Dallas. When deciding to locate for example in either the community where I live or where my brother lives may depend on what you want you would like to do. I find that I see many patients who are 50 years plus that I find a good number of ocular pathology cases. However, if pediatrics and refractive surgery management peaks you interest, perhaps a younger community would be a good match.

Where should you go for that data?

Well, believe it or not, but Wikipedia is great for obtaining a quick general synopsis. Another statistics that you will have to look at is the mean income and crime rate of an area. As much as I would love to say that every location is equal in quality and safety, they are not. If you plan on having a family, it is essential to find an area of the country that is safe and progressive. Many of the mean incomes and crime rates are available online either through Wikipedia or I also contacted the local police department to see where the lowest crime rate was just to double check.

Another key to your location success will be to think about growth potential.

What do I mean about that? Well, just because a community has a decent size population, it does not mean that it is the best choice for you. You need to make sure that it’s an area that will continue to grow and expand as time progress along. Make sure that the industries in the area are not going to close down. I have too often heard of smaller communities turning into ghost towns because the one industry sustaining the town was outsourced to Mexico, India or China. Be certain that if you are considering a smaller community that it has industries that will continue to grow and sustain the area with a strong economic climate.

Also, think about saturation.

As much as I don’t like to say it, saturation is important. Is there a sustainable income for you if you locate in a community of 10 000 with 4 full time ODs? Unless you sub specialize in something that is not there, probably not. I always liked saying “there are never enough good doctors”. That is true, but if all the doctors in the area are good… then you need to find something that sets you apart from the others in the community. According to “Business Aspects of Optometry,”1 rural areas should have one optometrist for every 4,000 to 6,000 residents. Be sure that your community can support a full time doctor before you take the time and money to find out the hard way that you are unable to make financially what you need to pay off your student debt and jump start your future.
Wow, the list can certainly continue, there is a lot more that I can talk about in considering where to move to. When it came to my decision to move to Texas from New York, it had to do for financial reasons and the warm winters. There is no state income tax in Texas and Optometry is practicing at a near full scope.
You will have to decide what is important to you in your choices and I hope that you will encounter much success in your future. Be sure to stay connected with the AOA as the AOA will build up your career making you the most successful OD you can possibly be.

Paul Heeg

(please comment, I would love to hear from some students!)

1. Hisaka C., Classé G, Tai L, et al., eds.: Business Aspects of Optometry. Philadelphia: Elsevier; 2004.

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