I’m sure many of you have read the recent article in the Onion titled, “LensCrafters, Pearle Vision Agree To Prisoner Exchange.” You know what you’re going to get with Onion articles, so I took it for what it was and thought the article was hilarious. At the same time though, it got me thinking (as I’ve been doing more often now) about the present state and future direction of optometry.
I’m currently a 3rd year optometry student, and here are a few questions and concerns that run through my head when thinking about the state of optometry….
-Is oversaturation, along with new optometry schools popping up left and right, and skyrocketing student loans forcing many new grads to take the avenue of corporate practice?
-Am I going to have to take the same route when I graduate, with 150-200K loans staring me in the face?
-If I do have to spend some time working in a corporate setting, how much of the skills and scope of what I actually learned will I be able to use?
-Will I even be able to find full time work?
-Do other optometry students (and pre-optometry students) really know what they’re in for once they graduate? Do they realize just how difficult it may be to find the job that they dreamed of when choosing optometry as a career?
-How am I going to be proactive and adapt to the changes happening now and in the future?
Now, I’m not completely bashing corporate optometry, I’ve heard both good and bad stories about working in that setting, but those are all real concerns that have passed through my mind (and there are many more not listed!).
So, here’s my plan. Here’s how I’m going to rise above many of the new challenges that lie ahead for all optometry students and new grads:
1. Be informed about your profession and what is going on around you: How can you prepare yourself to be successful if you don’t know the challenges that you have to overcome? I’ve been doing my best to stay educated on all optometry news, issues, technology, legislation, etc. ever since I decided to go into this profession. It’s so easy to be informed in all aspects of the profession with the internet, take the time and use it to your advantage! #2 goes right along with this…
2. Network and talk with other students, OD’s, anyone involved in the profession: I’ve attended trade shows around the country (Vision Expo East and West, SECO, Optometry’s Meeting, Congressional Advocacy Conference) and have had invaluable conversations with other students, optometrists and anyone involved in the profession from around the country. You don’t have to travel far to do this, though. Have meaningful conversations with your school’s faculty, optometrists you know and your peers. It helps to know what others have done to be successful or what they’re planning for in the future, and doesn’t hurt to have a potential connection for a job offer down the road.
3. Specialize: Want to really stand out amongst hundreds of other applicants out there trying to find a job? Everyone has been through basic OD school and can perform a general eye exam. Current, established OD’s are looking for ways to grow their practice. I’m interested in Vision Therapy and Pediatrics, and I know that I will be able to offer additional growth and success to any practice looking to expand. Worrying about losing patients to competition in your area, whether it’s private or corporate practice? Specialize in Contact Lens or VT, for example, and you’ll be offering something that the other general practices don’t.
4. Be prepared, proactive and confident: Keep hearing about how impossible it is to find full time work as a new grad? How the profession is going downhill? How about my concerns at the top of this article? Well, keep your head up, do more, be better, stay on your grind, do whatever it takes, and this will separate you from the next. That being said, optometry is a small profession. Work together with your classmates and peers, share ideas and view points, better each other and the profession will be better for it in the end.