By Ian G. Whipple, OD
Oct. 27, 2021
Attending optical conferences and events is a great way to establish profitable relationships with vendors, enhance your education as a doctor and network with peers. Here are key actions I take to get the most out of our profession’s gatherings, big and small.
I still feel that in-person networking is the most valuable. I missed the live optometric events that were cancelled or postponed due to COVID. I usually attend the Utah Optometric Association annual meeting every June in Midway, Utah. I also attend the Vision Source Exchange and the Power Practice client meeting every year. Every several years I try to attend a specialty conference, such as Vision By Design, and an industry-wide conference like Vision Expo West.
I expect that I will have spent roughly $5,000 by the end of this year on in-person education events. That does not include equipment or supply purchases that resulted from my attendance. I usually budget $2,500 annually for my continuing education via attendance of in-person events. I spent it all this year and then some. I look at it as making up for time lost during the pandemic.
Set Goals; Make an Effort to “Put Yourself Out There”
The older I get, the more I realize that I’m an introvert. I need to set goals to put myself out there and network with doctors and industry leaders at the education events I attend.
I usually attend an event with several goals in mind. For example, at the recent Vision Source Exchange in Houston, I had the goals of finding a new sunglasses line (I ended up purchasing American Optical classic sunglasses, such as the pair that President John F. Kennedy wore), researching the potential benefits of the Vision Source Optical Dream program and picking doctors’ brains about the staffing shortages many of us face at this moment in the pandemic.
I asked other doctors what they’re doing about “The Great Resignation.” I ended up sitting next to a doctor who I knew by reputation, but with whom I had never personally spoken. We had a great conversation about travel and food that led to further conversations about digital optical measuring devices, specifically the Smart Mirror device I have used in my office for several years. I was unaware of some of the sales features that are included in the Smart Mirror. I was able to show my opticians these features when I returned to the office the next day.
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I find that it can be easy for me to shyly wander the exhibit hall, but when I have goals that need to be accomplished, I generally get out of my comfort zone and solve the problems of our office.
Intentionally Sit Next to Someone You Don’t Know
Occasionally I make a point of sitting next to somebody I don’t know. At an in-person event in Wyoming last month I made new friends with three doctors. We went for a hike together during our free time and we had a great time discussing best practices in optometry. It was a great opportunity to de-stress and enjoy the company of others. I love that this opportunity was possible because I forced myself out of my comfort zone.
Offer Give & Take Sharing of Best Practices
It would be unfair for me to expect a colleague to discuss the inner workings of their practice if I weren’t willing and able to do the same. I closely guard the “special sauce” of my practice, but I have no concerns in talking to other doctors about some of our successes.
For example, I share with colleagues that our office has developed a script to use when discussing the Optomap with patients. I don’t share what the exact script is (the secret sauce recipe.) Rather, I share that we have a script, that it works and that other practitioners can develop their own script that works in their office.
Make Time to Exercise
I budget time in the mornings to go for a run in the conference city. I love that I can use this personal time to consider what I have learned and what I still need to get done before returning home.
If Staff Accompanies You, Give Each An Assignment
I brought my entire staff to the Utah Optometric Association annual meeting this year. Each staff member was assigned a specific task. Opticians were tasked with investigating frame and lens companies, techs were asked to price out a new iCare tonometer, our patient coordinator was asked to investigate intense pulse light (IPL) options for dry eye and aesthetic treatments and our billing specialists were asked to attend MIPs/coding classes. The doctors were asked to evaluate the potential benefits of offering COVID and flu vaccinations in our office.
When everyone, including the practice owner, has assignments and goals, an industry event or conference can be productive, and even lead to practice changes that improve care and profitability.