Optometry Student to Successful Optometrist: Communication Part 1 of 3

In April I had the opportunity of interviewing Dr. Chad Fleming OD, FAAO for OptometryStudents.com. Dr. Fleming is the Business and Career Coach for AOA Excel, so he was a great interview when it comes to talking about what things students need to do in order to get a good job and excel at that job. During the hour-long discussion and interview Dr. Fleming hit on some important qualities or characteristics any aspiring optometry student needs to be a successful optometrist. In all of the qualities we discussed, there were three major qualities that he felt would help to set a driven optometry student apart from the pack: communication, initiative, and caring about your patients.

Successful optometrists don’t start to be successful when they graduate from optometry school – they are successful from day one of optometry school and continue to be successful when they start to see patients in the clinic and on externships. In this first installation of the “Optometry Student to Successful Optometrist” series I will discuss communication and how it is pivotal in the success of any optometry student.

Optometry School


Communicate with Professors

Most of us don’t have a problem communicating with our classmates, but communicating with our professors is a little different. Communicating with our professors is very important to our success as optometry students. Try to do things that help you to stand out to your professors (failing tests is not a good way to stand out).

  • Take time to talk with your professor after tests, and ask what you can do better. Ask what you can do to better understand the concepts on the test. Shoot the breeze with your professors about anything and everything (a professor that knows you and likes you is more likely to help you succeed in their class).
  • Get involved with the clubs at your school. Joining a club and attending the meetings puts you in contact with faculty advisors (faculty advisors are far more invested in your success than any other faculty members) and other students (upperclassmen) that can give you some great advice about being successful in school. OptmetryStudents.com is another great way to be involved and get in contact with some great ODs.



Communicate with the Staff Doctor

While at externships you will find out that your staff doctors are great resources and your relationship with them can make or break your externship experience.

  • Try not to give your staff doctor any reason to not like you as an optometry student, that means be on time, be on task, and try to know your stuff.
  • Pick their brains about how they practice. In order for a staff doctor to be associated with your school they can’t be just some Joe Schmoe, they have to qualify to work with your school and be entrusted with the education of optometry students.
  • Be willing to take the tough patients. Staff doctors will always help the student that volunteers more than the student that avoids seeing patients.

Communicate with Patients

This is one of the most important aspects of externships. Your communication with your patient will determine whether or not your patient feels confident in your assessment of their vision and plan to help them gain better vision. Don’t take this part of the exam off. Make it a point to explain what is going on with their eyes and vision. Patients that feel you sincerely care for their well-being are more likely to come back to you and buy glasses/contact lenses from you. We’ll talk more about this in part 3 of the series.

  • Start the exam by simply getting to know your patients. You have plenty of time to play doctor, so try and be friendly first and you will be amazed at how cooperative and pleasant your patients will become.
  • Talk through the exam. Tell the patient what you are doing, and why you are doing it.
  • Ask your patient open ended question and LISTEN. It is easy to get so caught up in performing a fast comprehensive exam that you can miss very important information if you don’t listen to your patient.

optometry doctor and optometry studentNetwork with Doctors

There is a saying that is repeated thousands of times while attending optometry school it goes like this:” It doesn’t matter what you know, it only matters who you know.”

  • Go to the state meetings where you want to practice. Get in contact with the executive director and ask if you can volunteer as a monitor or help in any way. Make the state executive director your best friend.
  • Talk to the reps.  While at the state and national meetings, talk to the reps that serve where you want to practice. After talking with them and exchanging information, make sure that you keep in contact. When the time comes to look for a job you should have a team of reps working to help you find your dream job.
  • Make a business card that intrigues doctors. Put a QR code on there to your website, Facebook, or LinkedIn page. Add a hyperlink to your LinkedIn page (Lawrence Yu has a great article about your LinkedIn page). Your business card should always have contact information, important titles, and a professional look.

Recommended Reading

Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time

  • This book was recommended by Dr. Fleming. He said that this book was great for learning how to network.

You’ll Do Great, If You Communicate! by Jack Runninger, OD, DOS, FAAO

  • I have this book and from what I have read it is a good read and discusses a lot of the stuff an OD will encounter in practice.


If you are interested in reading what Dr. Fleming had to say in my interview with him here it is: Optometry Student to Successful Optometrist: Dr. Chad Fleming OD, FAAO, Business and Career Coach at AOA Excel, tells us how.

 All pictures are from Southern College of Optometry website at www.sco.edu

Ross Chatwin
Southern College of Optometry
Class of 2014
Business and Finance Director

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