Who said optometrists were boring people? Dr. Garret Wada has certainly proven that notion wrong. He was known as a bit of a “Trekkie” since before his days as a student at the Illinois College of Optometry back in the early 90’s, and has since turned his love for the iconic television series into a business venture by transforming his office, Wada Optometry in Anaheim, California, into a Star Trek mecca.
His practice promises to offer “The Next Generation of Eyecare” to his patients. The waiting area resembles the bridge of the Enterprise where they can watch original episodes of the series on the TV monitor overhead. Life-sized cardboard cut-outs of Star Trek crew members can be found around the office, mementos and memorabilia can be seen hanging on walls, and there are even actual props purchased from the prop maker who worked on the “Star Trek: Voyager” series .
When I got in touch with Dr. Wada, this was what he had to say about his must-see practice:
Adrienne: Dr. Wada, your practice, Wada Optometry, has garnered a lot of attention for its unique décor. How did it all start, and why Star Trek? Was it something that you always had in mind when you first started your own practice? Do you feel that you made a good business decision?
Dr. Wada: I started my practice upon graduating in October of 1993 after I had received my board results. I started my optometric office as a regular office with typical frame displays. It wasn’t until many years later that I decided to gradually change the office. I started hanging Star Trek models, memorabilia, and other collectibles and it brought conversation from my patients.
One in particular was a movie set designer. He told me he would do anything he could to transform my office into a starship or turn it into an aquarium. That made me think and gradually, I added a little bit here and a little bit there until today in 2013, I finally have it the way that I want it.
I believe it was a great business decision as it integrates technology with my office. I have an automated Marco phoropter with a rotating table, an automated keratometer, an autorefractor, an automated lensometer, fundus cameras, a corneal topographer, and a full finishing lab.
Adrienne: Every inch of your practice pays homage to the popular franchise and it has definitely set your practice apart from others. What has the reaction been like from patients, visitors, and staff? Have you lost patients because they were uncomfortable with your unconventional practice?
Dr. Wada: Many of the patients are just amazed when they enter the doorway and they tell me what a great office I have. They tell me that their boyfriend, girlfriend, or their family member is a Trekkie and they would eventually bring them into the office for an exam. People come to take pictures when they come with their friends. I get a lot of word-of-mouth referrals as well as many hits on my website that bring patients in.
Really, I have not seen anyone who did not like my unconventional office. *knock on wood* Sometimes, older patients in their 80s cannot really appreciate it.
Adrienne: What was your most memorable patient encounter? Has anyone involved in the Star Trek franchise been to your office?
Dr. Wada: I had one patient who was working at Paramount Studios and he even brought me a plaque from the starship Voyager when they were working on the show.
Adrienne: Has the attention you received from owning such an office affected the way you practice optometry? Is there anything you would like to change or improve about your practice?
I still want to go from room to room changing each but with the economy the way it has been, I have not been able to do that. I just try to keep my office clean and try to keep up with technology. I think having a nice unique practice like this makes it fun to go to work!
Adrienne: Was it difficult to start your own practice?
Dr. Wada: Opening a practice in 1993 was a challenge. I opened the practice but I worked outside of the office two days a week to supplement income. I had to pay the bills and student loans. I worked for doctors in private practice and Eye Exam 2000. I also did auditing for insurance companies, auditing patient files. It was a great experience because you can look at different practices and copy their forms, get ideas, etc. to help get your practice going.
Adrienne: What advice would you give to graduating students who want to start their own practice right out of school?
Dr. Wada: When you start a practice, the big question is “open cold or buy?” Opening cold is very tough but doable. You just have to get into the practice with barebones and no fancy stuff. Keep expenses low so you can rough out the slow times and work out of the office if you can for two or three days a week so you have money to live on.
I recommend getting a practice of a retiring doctor who has a very low gross and build it up. That way, you don’t have to pay a lot for the practice’s goodwill! Goodwill is not a guarantee that patients will come back when they hear the other doctor left the practice.
I bought normal equipment to start. The autorefractor was probably the most high-tech machine I had at the time but I did purchase an edger. It allowed me to make glasses for patients while they waited. That helped bring in a lot of patients. I do highly recommend edging your own glasses. Fast turn-around helps attract patients. I cut the jobs myself at the end of the day or in between patients if needed.
I believe that it is still possible to open a practice now, but it is challenging with the rising cost in rent and equipment, not to mention the student loan bills and all the changes in vision insurance and medical insurances.
My recommendation for anyone opening up a practice is to not go overboard. I would not recommend that you spend a lot of money expecting people to just knock your doors down, trying to get in. It just doesn’t happen. The phone doesn’t ring like at Eye Exam 2000. You have to realize that patients are loyal to their previous doctors and unless something happens, it is tough to take them away but the patients you do get will continue to see you if you do a good job.
My advice to students graduating now is to decide what type of optometry you want to practice. The chains are okay to work for. The money is good but the stress level is high – get ‘em in and out! If you are a managing doctor, the management always pushes you to increase the gross every year, eventually getting higher and higher, which is tough in today’s economy. That adds to the stress levels of the managing doctor but at least you have a guaranteed income and you are working.
Another thing to remember is that full time work at one place is tough. Most docs work a few days here and a few days there until they are able to piece together a five to six day work week.
Working in private practice is nice because you can set your own hours. If you work hard, you make more money and there is no one to report to. Having your own practice, I’m not going to lie to you, is very stressful sometimes. It was very difficult when the recession hit and certain times of the year are slower than others, e.g. Christmas, tax season, summer vacation, etc. Keep your overhead low! Don’t run out and buy the OCT right away.
Adrienne: Finally, I just wanted to ask, what did you think of the latest Star Trek film?
Dr. Wada: I really enjoyed the new movie! I have to say it was well done. I saw it on opening day and will probably see it again soon.
 Cook, Jacqui (2012) “Live Long and Prosper: ICO Alum Gives Patients Full Star Trek Experience,” ICO Matters, Fall 2012. Illinois College of Optometry, pp. 16-19.
I would like to thank Dr. Garrett Wada for taking the time out to answer my questions and for his super speedy replies!