This is a sponsored post by National Vision, a supporter of NewGradOptometry & new graduate optometrists! 😎
Many of us have been steered away from corporate optometry since the day we entered optometry school. That’s a shame, because things have changed immensely over the years, and some of the information we’ve been fed simply isn’t true.
While there’s no such thing as the perfect job, being successful as an optometrist is all about finding the right fit for you. It could very well turn out that corporate fits your practice goal. I have been practicing at South Florida Regional Eye Associates, an independent practice affiliated with America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses (which is a National Vision, Inc. brand), since graduating from NOVA in 2012. Before you brush off the concept of going for corporate practice, give me a moment to share my personal experiences and dispel a few myths we have all heard.
Myth #1: Corporate optometrists just refract.
Many offices in corporate settings are high volume, meaning that you have plenty of opportunities to see a wide variety of ocular infections and diseases. Corporate ODs often have the ability to treat up to any level they feel comfortable.
Corporate optometry, especially where I practice affiliated with America’s Best, allows patients with no insurance to be able to afford an eye exam. This means that you will be often be the first one to diagnose serious eye diseases in your patients.
I have seen many diabetic retinopathy cases in patients who are not aware they have diabetes. My practice accepts walk-ins, which enables patients to be seen at a time that is convenient for them.
It also means that you are more likely to see emergencies, such as corneal ulcers, abrasions, foreign bodies, conjunctivitis, ocular migraines and even retinal detachments.
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These patients are not looking to be refracted; rather, they are seeking treatment for their conditions.
At my office, and many offices affiliated with National Vision, I am equipped with a fundus camera and visual field. I have seen a few cases of pituitary adenomas that were detected first-hand in my corporate setting with a visual field test.
I have also seen rare ocular diseases, such as acute posterior multifocal placoid pigment epitheliopathy, retinitis pigmentosa, Usher syndrome, anophthalmia and microphthalmia. There is no shortage of interesting cases at my office and it’s nice to be able to practice full-scope optometry.
You can co-manage certain ocular conditions to an ophthalmologist or you can treat them if you’re comfortable, just as you would in a private practice setting. It’s your call!
While many patients visit a corporate optometrist for a new pair of glasses or contacts, don’t think that’s all you’ll be doing. In fact, in many of these cases, what seems to be a routine visit for an updated Rx can become serious, as diseases are simultaneously detected.
Myth #2: Optometrists are not respected in corporate optometry.
My experience in corporate optometry has been nothing but the opposite. My peers and I are treated as professionals, and receive many great benefits that may not be offered in other practice settings.
For example, National Vision flies all of their full-time affiliated optometrists to a central location every year to complete our continued education course credits required to renew our optometry licenses. We can receive up to 22 hours of COPE CE approved credit.
This takes the pressure of having to find CE courses, and of having to take off work, off of the optometrist. National Vision coordinates everything and there are top-notch speakers and amenities. You just have to show up!
National Vision’s goal is to make sure all optometrists in their network are happy and have everything they need to practice at the level they feel comfortable. There are no restrictions on medical eye care services offered by affiliated optometrists.
My practice often has conference calls and dinners, as well as sends out surveys, allowing my peers and I to address any issues or concerns. Being able to provide feedback is important for any organization to grow and become a better advocate for their constituents.
All of these concerns and recommendations are discussed as a group at meetings held during the annual continuing education symposium. National Vision is truly a corporation that takes action and holds the optometrist in the highest regard.
We all work together as a team. In order for the optical to succeed and be profitable, the optometrist is needed to provide patients with a prescription, so the patient can purchase the pair of eyeglasses or contact lenses needed to reach their optimal vision.
With that said, many corporations treat optometrists with utmost respect and gratitude, as ODs are the foundation to the business. I know this is the case for me practicing in affiliation with America’s Best. Corporate optometry is both financially and professionally rewarding for me.
Myth #3: Optometrists cannot practice the way they were trained to practice.
I have treated many patients with corneal ulcers, abrasions, foreign bodies, uveitis, corneal edema, dry eye syndrome, filamentary keratitis, trichiasis, conjunctivitis, and the list goes on.
If a patient comes in complaining of a red, painful, light-sensitive right eye, and is a contact lens wearer, I automatically think corneal ulcer. My practices provides me with everything I need to diagnose and treat conditions just like this!
We do not just refract. Optometrists are provided with the necessary equipment needed, as well as the flexibility to treat whatever they feel comfortable treating.
In my office, I have access to everything I need to complete comprehensive eye exams and to treat anterior segment disease.
For example, South Florida Regional Eye Associates provided me with an algerbrush and an FB spud, which are instruments used to remove foreign bodies in the eye. Many times, a foreign body will leave a rust ring embedded in the cornea, which can be safely removed with an algerbrush.
It is the OD’s decision whether or not they feel comfortable removing a foreign body, or prefer to refer to an ophthalmologist. If a foreign body is central and penetrating deeper than mid stroma, a referral is typically necessary.
My office is equipped with a fundus camera (as are many other independent practices affiliated with National Vision). Fundus cameras are great because not only are you able to document retinal diseases and compare annually, they are also a good alternative for patients refusing dilation, since they can get great views of the peripheral retina.
My experience practicing in affiliation with America’s Best has proven to me that most corporations will not tell you how to practice optometry, nor will they limit your scope of practice or decision-making.
They will not tell you how much time you are allowed to spend with each patient.
Certain eye conditions, such as metal foreign body removals or trichiasis may take more time to treat; in our setting, the appointment books can be adjusted to give as much time as needed for those patients, as well as patients with other special requirements.
Additionally, if an optometrist is comfortable seeing a 4-year old, the practice will not tell that OD otherwise, despite knowing that the exam may be more challenging.
In fact, they encourage it, and allow you more time for patients that require it. All patients younger than seven years, older than 70 years, with diabetes or with limited mobility are allotted extra time.
Many people assume that corporate optometrists are all about getting the patient in and out of the room with a prescription for glasses or contacts. That is not the case. I spend as much time as I need with each patient, treating whatever I feel comfortable treating, no matter the case.
Myth #4: Corporate practices do not allow you to plan for your future.
Most corporate optometrists receive great benefits packages, including pretty stellar retirement plans! Quite a few corporate practices will match a percentage, helping your retirement fund grow.
For example, my practice provides a Simple IRA plan that will match 100% of the first 3% of your annual compensation.
For example, say you make $130,000 annually and contribute 3% ($3,900); the practice will match 100% of the first 3% you contribute, meaning they will contribute an additional $3,900, which brings your retirement total each year to $7,800.
You may elect to contribute a larger percentage of your compensation up to the annual maximum set by the IRS.
For the calendar year of 2017, the maximum annual deferral amount for a Simple IRA is $12,500, and the maximum annual catch-up amount is $3,000. Keep in mind that participants age 50 or older may make additional elective deferral contributions annually.
Other companies may offer a traditional 401(k) and match a percentage of your contribution. The 2017 annual limit for a 401(k) is $17,500.
Additionally, you can put money in a Roth IRA. The 2017 limit you can contribute is up to $5,500, depending on your annual income and tax bracket. Speak with your CPA for more information on how much you can contribute towards your retirement. I recommend maxing out your retirement plan annually for financial freedom.
Financial freedom has many meanings, but to me it means maintaining my desired lifestyle without a regular paycheck, once I elect to stop working.
It is important to me to have financial freedom by having a retirement plan, a savings plan, and a plan to pay off debt as soon as possible. I’m happy to be practicing somewhere where all of this is feasible.
Many young optometrists right out of school haven’t learned much about money or finance and are many times left with a small bank account due to excessive spending on things they really don’t need such as a new luxury car, huge house, designer attire or lavish outings.
We spent many years in the library, learning all about the human eye and body; there wasn't much time left for finance or business. Once optometrists get that first big paycheck, many will go out and celebrate, spending it on expensive things, which may become a new lifestyle, leading to financial stress.
Every optometrist can have financial freedom and never stress about money if they know the key concepts of finance. When weighing the pros and cons of practice opportunities, I highly suggest selecting a practice that will provide you with a retirement plan that can steer you towards financial freedom.
I recommend reading books on personal finance or investing each year in continuing financial education, just as you would invest in continuing medical education. One book I highly recommend is “The White Coat Investor, A Doctor’s Guide to Personal Finance and Investing” by James M. Dahle, MD.
This book should be a package deal with every medical degree, to help guide you through your financial life-long plan. It will help you understand why - and how - to pay off your student loans quickly, to have enough savings for emergencies, and have a desired retirement fund for when you stop working. The book can help you live a less stressful life and even teach you how to become a millionaire – something that is certainly possible for all optometrists, if you are dedicated and build it into your life plan!
This book helped me realize why a retirement plan is important for financial freedom, as well as how to use my income to escape from student loans and live a financially stress-free life.
I have been practicing in a corporate setting for over five years, and not once have I been told how to practice, who to practice on, how much time to spend with each patient, or to only refract. The myths and misconceptions regarding corporate optometry are a thing of the past for me.
I have had a wonderful, educational, stress-free and rewarding experience as an optometrist affiliated with America’s Best. I will continue practicing here to help my patients to the best of my ability. I encourage each of you to keep an open mind about corporate optometry when exploring practice opportunities.