By Melody Huang, OD
Jan. 22, 2020
Book learning and continuing education only take you so far. To get the rest of the way, you must learn on the job, and from fellow optometrists. Here are a few key lessons I learned from my colleagues.
Lesson #1: You Won’t Know Unless You Ask
Many of my colleagues share the same mentality: when it comes to contracts for work, we accept things as they are and don’t ask for much. As a new grad, I thought, if a more experienced optometrist feels this way, I guess I should too.
Early in my career, a job opportunity came along and I accepted without negotiating my salary or benefits. Later, I learned that my practice wanted to hire another optometrist to work alongside me.
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Fortunately, a colleague happened to be looking for a job and I referred her to my practice. I recall her confidently telling me, “I’m going to ask for more money than what they’re offering.” I told her that I was doubtful, based on what I knew about the practice and how much they paid previous optometrists.
Sure enough, she called me after the job interview, telling me they offered her the position. She also mentioned that she got me a raise. Imagine my surprise! Not only did my employer hire my colleague at the rate she wanted, but he increased my salary to the same rate as well.
Seeing my colleague successfully negotiate her salary changed my mindset. I realized that it’s OK to ask for something, whether it’s a raise, vacation days or another benefit. The worst your employer can say is no. But if you don’t ask, you will never know.
The other thing I realized is that you should be confident in what you have to offer to a practice. If you are, then it’s easier to make sure you’re compensated properly for your work. Don’t compromise on a job offer if it doesn’t feel right in your gut.
I once had a fellow optometrist confide that she worked for my employer for six years and never received a raise. I was earning about the same amount she was even though I was new at that practice.
She seemed content not to say anything, but I felt like she should be paid more for her loyalty to the practice and great work ethic. I encouraged her to speak to the employer and tell them why she deserved a raise. After all, sometimes it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.
Lesson #2: It’s OK to Let a Patient Go
I’ll always remember the first time I witnessed another optometrist firing a patient.
One day, an elderly gentleman came in for an exam. The first thing he said to me was, “I’ve never been happy with any pair of glasses I’ve ever received in my life. I’ve been to many different practices and no one can get my prescription right. So let’s see if you can.” Right away, I was on alert. This wasn’t going to be an easy exam.
He was wheelchair bound, so I did my best to accommodate him and spent extra time refracting him. The optical lab made his glasses and dispensed them to him.
Sure enough, he came back a few weeks later dissatisfied with his glasses. After rechecking him, I didn’t find any change in his prescription. He also had cataracts, so I explained that there was only so much we could do to improve his vision until he had cataract surgery.
At this point, the patient started getting upset, demanding that we do something to help him and to refund his money. The situation escalated quickly, with the patient yelling and using harsh language. Eventually we got the practice owner involved. After a heated discussion with the patient, the owner-optometrist firmly told the patient that we would refund his money and asked him to please find another practice to go to.
Though my employer’s conversation with the patient sounded harsh, I believe we had every right to ask the patient not to come back. I learned that day that it’s OK to let a patient go out of respect for ourselves and the staff. We treat our patients with professionalism, and we deserve the same treatment in return.
Maintaining a mutually positive relationship with patients is essential. This helps with your long-term job satisfaction and makes your workday more enjoyable.
Over the years, I’ve listened to colleagues complain about problem patients who are rude, overly demanding, or just a bad fit for their practice. There’s no reason to keep that patient at your practice if they are negatively impacting you or the support staff. If a patient’s behavior continues to be a problem, document everything and politely inform them (verbally and in writing) that another practice may be more suitable for them.
Lesson #3: Make Time for Yourself
I’ve worked in very busy practices over the years. Because of the fast work pace, I got used to not taking regular breaks outside of lunch. After continuing at that pace for a while, I noticed how stressed and burnt out I felt at work.
I recall filling in at a bustling office where we had an endless flow of patients. I was working alongside an optometrist who had been working there for years. Despite the hectic pace of the practice, he had a zen-like attitude about everything. He never seemed rushed, yet was able to see all the patients he did, day in and day out. I wondered how he managed to do this while keeping such a cool demeanor.
I started noticing his behavior around the office. He always made sure to take a coffee break during the day, and would leave the office. Between patients, he took an extra minute to recharge with a quick snack or a stretch. Little things like that. It sounds simple, but I realized this was how he kept himself calm and relaxed at work.
I thought to myself, why don’t I do what he does? I would stress out if I even had to leave to go to the restroom, knowing there would probably be another chart waiting for me when I came back. I knew I needed to shift my mindset. Instead of feeling like I had to keep seeing exams back to back, I told myself to slow down.
Work will always be there, so take a moment or two for yourself during the workday. You can do this in many ways. Bring your favorite tea or snacks to enjoy or keep a small yoga mat in your office for a quick stretch. Don’t feel bad about going outside for a minute to get some sunshine. Your physical and mental health will thank you!
Melody Huang, OD, is a freelance optometrist and writer practicing in Los Angeles, Calif. To contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org