Professional Development

Six Degrees of Optometric Separation: My Most Powerful Professional Networking

By Benjamin Kachelman, OD

April 21, 2021

Professional networking can take you to new heights as an optometrist. You can meet people with job opportunities to offer and new skill-sets to mentor you in. You may find just the guide you need to move into the next phase of your career.

I heard about an opening in the practice where I currently serve as partner while in optometry school. An optometrist alumnus thought I would be a good fit for the practice. It was an early lesson in networking before I even realized what networking was. The OD told me about the opportunity, and it led to an associate position, and eventually being a partner in an amazing five-doctor, four-location office. The lesson I learned was that we network all of the time. As humans, we can’t avoid it. It’s a lot more difficult during the pandemic, but it is in our nature to network, and we never realize where our most important life-changing contacts may be made.

Here are the networking activities and connections that have meant the most to me.

Join a Professional Organization Especially for ODs
Most of my optometry networking interactions happen during IDOC-sponsored gatherings and at those organized by my state optometric association. Our IDOC quarterly dinner meetings are wonderful to share ideas related to the latest happenings and challenges in our profession, creating a sense of camaraderie among ODs.

Other valuable opportunities to network have come to me through dinners sponsored by eyecare vendors, such as contact lens manufacturers seeking to educate doctors in my area about a new product.

Drop By a Chamber of Commerce Meeting & Volunteer
Don’t forget about local opportunities to network with other businesses in your community through Chamber of Commerce events and volunteering.

You can meet other small business owners who can give you tips for attracting people to your practice from the local community, and you might even find opportunities to promote each other’s businesses by leaving your cards in a nearby store or another healthcare practitioner’s office, or co-sponsoring an event like a trunk show with merchandise from another local business also on sale or promoted.

Another way I engage with my community and meet valuable contacts is by volunteering my time. I coach my four boys’ little league baseball, basketball, soccer and football teams. This has helped me network locally successfully and be more active in the community. I have added many new patients to my practice while volunteering as a coach.

It’s important to network with those outside of optometry, as you never know where a valuable new contact will be found. Good networking involves many branches: accountants, internet specialists, optical, bankers and beyond. Much like the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game, the person you need may be a friend of a networking contact.

Making Connections for Collaboration & Career Building
The best part about networking is establishing relationships with ODs and others in the industry that can lead to new projects and new career paths.

Richard Williams was a contact lens rep for our office years ago. We developed a friendship. He received a promotion and moved on to other things. Years later, we touched base again and have had the opportunity to work on projects together that otherwise I would have missed out on.

I learned many pearls about sports and performance vision from Amanda Nanasy, OD and Jennifer Stewart, OD. It is always interesting to hear how they built sports vision niches, and the work they are doing to better their communities.

I made a connection at a networking event with Rob Szeliga, OD, who is in an area north of me, close to Nashville, Tenn. His son was playing in a travel baseball tournament in Tennessee against an opponent who was from my area. A boy on the opposing team was hit by a baseball suffering a concussion and Rob evaluated him on the field that day. He texted me to help him provide follow-up care. Being in each other’s professional networking circle allowed us to work together to help a young person in need of eyecare.

Dave Brown, the CEO of IDOC, is constantly meeting and networking with people to get the best benefits for the members of IDOC. I had the opportunity to meet him at a national meeting recently, and as we were talking, I noticed that he pulled out a notebook he kept handy in his coat pocket and jotted down notes about what we were discussing. The networking events are so beneficial that even a person like Dave, who is well versed in the needs and challenges of optometry, finds something to learn. I try to have that same attitude when I attend industry events, making notes to myself for further exploration.

Start By Breaking the Ice with Common Interests
Joe Pizzimenti, OD, was giving a class on the retina and made a biblical reference. I had a retina question I wanted to ask him, but I broke the ice by first asking about his comments on the Bible. We talked for a few minutes about our shared faith before moving onto a discussion of the retina. I have discovered that if I can find common ground like that–faith, family, sports, music, or whatever, that sometimes it is easier to talk to someone I have never spoken to before. The other discovery I have made is that, whether we are an introvert, or outgoing, people are a lot more approachable and personable than we think they are. After all, we are all on the same team of taking care of each other’s eyes, vision and health.

Benjamin Kachelman, OD, practices at Florence Eye Center in Florence, Ala. To contact him: drkachelman@florenceeyecenter.com

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