By Jennifer Jabaley, OD
Dec. 12, 2018
What distinguishes highly successful people from everyone else? Many would say it’s the power of relationships. Building connections and networking is critical for everyone, and can be very useful in building your optometry career.
Networking with other ODs can help set you up for lifelong success. Whether you’re happy in your existing practice, or interested in new opportunities, networking with other optometrists can help you better understand our industry, make you aware of career opportunities, educate you on recent research in our field, collaborate on new ideas and connect with like-minded professionals who share similar career paths.
Where can you network?
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Conferences: Network, Find a Mentor
Optometric conferences are great opportunities to network. Not only will you be surrounded by other ODs attending the conferences, but there will also be speakers, vendors and sales representatives attending. You never know when friendly conversation with someone might lead to unexpected relationships.
For example, at a conference last winter, I struck up a conversation over lunch with an OD I didn’t know. While chatting, we discovered that we practiced in similar settings. She practiced in small-town Texas; I practiced in small-town Georgia. We both practiced in medically oriented, two-doctor practices. The difference was she was 20 years ahead of me in her career. She shared the story of how she expanded her practice, added an associate, built a new building and carved an exit strategy for easy early retirement.
It was an unexpected, valuable conversation filled with counsel over a quick lunch. She gave me her card and e-mail address, and told me to contact her for future advice.
It’s easy to settle into comfortable conversations with colleagues we know, but true networking happens when you broaden your circle and open the door to new relationships.
Associations: Help Build Local OD Resources
Local associations and state associations are excellent resources to provide networking opportunities. Most associations organize events where the intimidation factor of networking may be blunted given an immediate connection based on location. Easy icebreakers are available if you strike up conversations about local events.
Additionally, leadership within local associations are a great resource. Recently, a colleague called our local optometric association representative with a question about billing and coding. From that conversation, the local representative put together a coding and billing continuing education class available to all doctors in our area.
Networking Skills: Share Knowledge & Empathy
For some, networking does not come naturally. Networking requires similar skills needed in regular socializing, but with a subtle difference. Networking is about creating relationships, not just for social enjoyment, but to further the career interests of both parties. True networking is about adding value to both parties and maintaining the relationship over time.
Networking is not about just adding names and phone numbers to your contact list, but sharing knowledge, resources, empathy and time.
An important part of networking involves connecting with others who have more to gain from you and your expertise and experience than you can gain from them. However, I’ve found that helping others brings joy, even if you don’t immediately get something in return. And there is always a karmic payback that comes unexpectedly sometimes in return.
Online: Swap Stories & Challenges
Social media offers optometrists tools to share information, ask questions and seek help from colleagues and develop professional networks. Online communities can provide news articles, research development, billing and coding advice and practice management tools.
I’ve enjoyed reading about challenging cases, engaging in practice comparison questions and laughing at outrageous patient stories on ODs on Facebook. This is just one of many social media outlets that allow ODs from all over the country to connect and share experiences.
Network to Build Relationships with Local MDs
Getting to know your local MDs on a personal level will greatly improve the potential for future referrals. I’ve used visits with my children’s pediatrician to hand out business cards, and remind her that we perform comprehensive eye exams on all children.
Recently, at a dermatology appointment, while the dermatologist was talking about the increased rate of skin cancer in younger patients, I commented that I’d found three choroidal melanomas in the last 10 years. He asked for my card, and then also inquired if we did testing for Plaquenil patients. Of course we do, I told him, and handed him my card.
Both of these incidences demonstrate ways that casual conversational networking can provide big results. Launching into a hard sell of your expertise can be off-putting. But friendly banter can often lead to professional relationships.
When a referral does land in your office, be sure to send the referring doctor a note thanking them for sending the patient, along with a report from the exam to ensure they continue to send other patients.
Connecting with others is a great opportunity to move your career forward. Networking with other optometrists, or professionals, in our industry can open up opportunities, and ultimately, help you become the optometrist you want to be.
How do you use professional networking to build your career? What have you learned about making the most of your professional connections?