By Melody Huang, OD
July 24, 2019
When you first graduate from optometry school it can take time to find an ideal practice situation.
You might determine that, at least to start, you want to work as an associate, but then have trouble finding the right practice. Or maybe you think you’ll be happy as an associate, but then realize you would rather freelance at a few different practices than keep regular 9-5 hours, five or six days at one office.
Currently, I work as a freelance optometrist. Over the years, I’ve worked in various practice settings that helped me figure out that the professional situation of freelancing is best for me.
Good, But Not Right for Me
I knew that not all practices wanted to hire new graduates, and many practices in the Los Angeles area, where I am based, only offered part-time positions. So as a new graduate, I didn’t feel like I had many choices. After being turned down for lack of work experience, I ended up taking the first full-time job I was offered.
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My first job checked all the boxes. It was a full-time, employed position with benefits like paid time off, health insurance and a retirement plan.
I was excited about this job because I was given a managerial position. But I soon realized what that job title entailed. Not only did I have to perform eye exams on a daily basis, but I was expected to help run the office. I was flooded with daily paperwork, weekly meetings or phone calls, and our office was constantly monitored to ensure we hit financial goals each month.
I was also in charge of managing staff, helping them with everything from eyeglass repairs to filing charts and making phone calls. Instead of focusing on practicing optometry, I felt like I was part store manager, part optician, part sales person.
I realized that this wasn’t what I envisioned for myself, and that I needed to look for more than just a full-time job with benefits. I wanted to be in an office where I had the freedom to practice optometry without being expected to do administrative tasks or be a salesperson.
Finding the Right Fit
After leaving the first practice, I worked at a couple of other practices to see what fit me best. I found that well-established practices that were not open to change were the hardest for me.
I realize now that the flexibility of the staff and owner is important to me. I felt more satisfied once I found a practice where the managing staff was willing to listen to me. After all, a fresh perspective can be helpful when looking for ways to better manage a practice. A practice is much more pleasant to work at when the staff, optometrists and managers all work together and give mutual feedback.
Along the way, I also discovered that I liked working as a freelance optometrist much better than being a full-time employee at a single practice. I might work anywhere from 3-5 different offices in the course of a month. The change of scenery keeps things more exciting and I see a larger variety of patients. Another benefit is that my schedule is much more flexible if I need to take time off for appointments, vacations, etc.
Research Practice: What Are People Saying?
Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to learn about a practice you are thinking of applying to. Here’s what you can do:
Check Google Reviews and Yelp for patient reviews of the practice. Are patients consistently happy with the service provided by both the optometrist and staff? Do reviews indicate how the practice addresses conflict and unhappy patients?
Speak to other optometrists or ophthalmologists in the area to see if they are familiar with the practice’s reputation, especially if the practice refers patients to them regularly.
Your contact lens or pharmaceutical rep can also be a great resource. Their familiarity with many different practices and optometrists is a big advantage. They can provide good insight on the practice you are looking at, and maybe even suggest other practices that may be looking for an optometrist.
Review the practice’s web site and see if they have social media accounts (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, etc). Often you can tell if a practice is more modern or more traditional based on its online presence. This may help you decide if the office suits your personality and the way you want to practice.
Key Questions to Ask to Find the Right Practice for You
The following questions will help you assess if a particular office would be an ideal working environment for you. First, consider the workload and scope of practice:
On average, how many patients would you see per day?
What would your work hours be like?
Would you be performing mostly eyeglass and contact lens exams, or also medically oriented exams such as glaucoma or dry eye management?
Also take into consideration the practice’s history, how strong a fixture it is in the community and whether it has many long-term employees:
How long has this practice been in business, and how long have most employees been there?
How often does the practice convene staff meetings to discuss what is working well and what needs improvement?
Are the associate optometrists involved in these meetings or can they otherwise offer input?
Questions to Ask to Gauge Potential for Career Growth
Not all practices are equal in offering the chance to grow professionally. Here are questions to ask to find out if a practice will offer you the opportunities you seek:
Are you seeking to add specialties to your practice like scleral lenses or a vision therapy clinic? (Mention your area of expertise or interest.)
Would you ever consider hiring an optometrist with the intention of making him or her a partner in your practice?
If the practice is only offering a part-time position, ask if the owners would ever consider a full-time position in the future.
Is the Salary Right for Me?
Providing a salary range is always a good idea, as opposed to providing an exact number. You don’t want to price yourself too high (and lose the position to someone accepting lower pay) or too low (and not get paid enough). Giving a range leaves some room for you to negotiate. It’s also a good idea to do market research and see what a competitive salary is in your desired area.
Here are responses you can give when an employer asks, “How much are you looking for?”
“What is your budgeted salary range for this position?” (Put the ball in their court and see what they have to offer.)
“Based on my research, other practices in the area are offering a range between $X and $Y. Is your range similar?”
“Based on my X years of clinical experience, I am looking for a range between $X and $Y.”
What is your professional situation? How did you discover the arrangement, and kind of practice, that worked best for you?
Melody Huang, OD, is a freelance optometrist and writer practicing in Los Angeles, Calif. To contact her: email@example.com