I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Chad Fleming about how an optometry student might prepare himself/herself to be a successful optometrist. Dr. Fleming is an accomplished optometrist practicing in Wichita, Kansas where he manages patient care, as well as the business aspect of his practice. When Dr. Fleming isn’t dedicating his time to growing his practice he is working as the Business and Career Coach for AOA Excel. As a Business and Career Coach he helps optometrists and optometry students understand the ins and outs of optometry as a business. Dr. Fleming publishes an article highlighting important business topics on a regular basis on his website, OptometryCEO.com.
The following is my conversation with Dr. Fleming.
What are the three most important attributes/skills that a graduating optometry student should have in order to be successful?
- Communication – In order for a student to become a successful optometrist, they will need to know how to communicate well with their patients to explain the conditions they have been diagnosed with and the treatment plan they has chosen for them. Communication is very important when an optometry student is negotiating the terms of his employment upon graduation. An optometrist must be willing to communicate with a prospective employer truthfully and with integrity when discussing you intentions. In many cases, if the optometrist has integrity the prospective employer is far more willing to work with you or even make sacrifices to keep you with then.
- Initiative – Initiative is a very valuable attribute to have when graduating from optometry school. If an optometry student has been looking at ways to better themselves years before graduating, they will have built a repertoire of skills that a potential employer would love to bring to their practice. Optometry students that have taken the initiative to find a practice where they feel they can grow and succeed are more like to do just that.
- Care about your patients – Surprisingly patients are able to tell when their eye doctor is just punching their time card to earn a buck. Doctors that take the time necessary to get to know their patients and really address their needs are far more likely to be successful. Think of it this way, if your patients like you they are more likely to recommend you to their friends and family. These patients are more likely to listen to your diagnosis and management plan. These patients are also more likely to pay attention to your recommendation concerning lenses, frames and materials. Needless to say caring about your patients is a win-win situation.
How can a new grad earn a spot at a practice that wants them to be there but doesn’t yet have the patient base to sustain another doctor?
- Be patient and be willing to find a second part-time job somewhere else, but make sure the place you want to be long-term knows it.
- Be willing to see the potential of that practice and therefore be willing to get paid less for the short-term in order to earn a long-term gain.
- Communicate with the owner/employer honestly and frankly. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Tell the owner of this practice what you think of the practice and why you want to be there. Tell them how much money you need to be making in order for you to work there full-time. An employer is far more likely to make concessions for a doc they can trust to be honest with them.
What is one of the most common mistakes you see optometry students make when preparing to graduate and find a job?
- The most common mistake that I see 4th year optometry students make when searching for a job opportunity is they narrow their options down. Most of the time they narrow down their options to a small geographic area and become unwilling to look at possibly better options outside of their designated area. It is important that you leave your options open to places you have ever thought of practicing before because you never know what your circumstances might be when you graduate. Keeping your options open as to where you might practice allows you to learn from the various doctors you meet. By discussing the possibility of practicing with various doctors you can see how all of the different practices you interview at are managed, and you can gain an opinion on which way to practice best fits you. It is also important that from all of your different interviews and discussions you can see how finances will be for you, and at the practices you’re visiting. Remember however, money is not all that matters. There are plenty of ODs out there could be making more money but love the office and staff they are at and the patients they see.
In the future OptometryStudents.com will be doing a three part series highlighting the three attributes that Dr. Fleming mentioned during his interview. In this three part series we will discuss how we can develop these attributes as optometry student and how they benefit us in our future careers.
I want to thank Dr. Fleming for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk with me. I would also encourage all of the 4th year students to follow Dr. Fleming on his blog at OptomtryCEO.com and visit AOA Excel for help in finding a job that is best for you.