Yes, I just lost my job, well three months ago actually. I never thought it would happen, but it did.
Roughly a year ago, I began working in a private practice two days a week. After several months, I was brought on full time, working five days a week. We had all the latest instrumentation and not only did I see a lot of routine exams, but I got to see a lot pathology, specialty contact lens fits, and pre and post operative surgical care. The hours were second to none as we were open Monday through Friday 8:30-5:00 and every other Saturday from 8:00-12:00. The staff was absolutely fantastic, and the senior doctor could not have been more helpful and welcoming.
I was becoming a known figure in the community as I participated in school and wellness screenings in the area, and was slowly building a substantial following within the practice itself. Things were great!
And then it happened..... I got a phone call and was notified I was terminated!
The situation leading to my termination is a bit more complicated. Without going into too much detail, the senior doctor sold the practice to an outside management company a year before I joined in an effort to facilitate his retirement. The outside management company was a rapidly growing organization that had owned around 100 practices across the country. Due to some upper level management blunders and poor business decisions, the company found itself in bottomless debt and was forced to file bankruptcy and close all offices, no matter how successful the offices were. The practice I was at was no exception.
So there I was, without a job, a free agent so to speak.
Over that past month I have been presented with a lot of different challenges and opportunities. Faced with such overwhelming anxiety and stress on where to begin again, on what to do, and how I was going to continue to pay school loans, I did the most logical thing I could think of....... I took a vacation.
It was during vacation that I was able to think with a clear mind on what my next move was.
- Find a new job - A lot easier said than done. Unfortunately, job opportunities have been essentially nonexistent in the area I am living in at the moment. I did pick up an extra day a week at an optical that I was previously working at. This has helped me generate some income, but aside from some corporate opportunities, things have been stagnant.
- Purchase the practice back - I was offered an option to purchase the practice and open its doors as the sole owner after a month of closure. After a very difficult decision, I decided against this option for several reasons:
- The practice was damaged. In a small community, word travels fast, and unfortunately, no one in the community had even known we were owned by a third party. The community had simply thought we went bankrupt and closed our doors. Nonetheless, the practice image and name had been tarnished.
- Lost patients. In the 5-6 weeks that we had been closed, we lost all of our summer appointments, along with their family members and many other patients who became aware of the news. Several hundred patients had already requested their records to seek care elsewhere.
- Angry patients. Patients who had picked up glasses in the few weeks preceding the closure and now had trouble with frames or spec Rx's were greeted with closed doors. I could only imagine how angry I would have been if I were one of those patients. Those words definitely travel fast.
- Financial commitment. Sure, I could have purchased the practice at what was a bargain price, but I still needed to get a loan well into the six figures to purchase the practice assets and have enough capital to pay staff, vendors etc. for several months. This was far too great a commitment to make on top of a school loan.
- Lack of experience. Only a year out of school, I still do not feel comfortable and confident to run a practice alone. Signing a tenant lease, contacting vendors, hiring back staff, paying salaries, medical benefits, explaining the situation to patients, notifying insurance panels... These were all questions I had and simply did not know the answers to. Once again, far too much for me to handle.
- Setting roots. I liked the community and I liked the practice and the people there; however, is this a place I wanted to set my roots down and call home forever? Or for at least a very very long time? At 26 years old, it was something I could not make a commitment to.
- Risk. How would patients react to us opening our doors again? Some would be delighted of course, others maybe a little cautious to come back? How many patients did we lose? We were hemorrhaging patients all summer long, would they return? Would we recover? Would we be profitable again and how soon!? Given all the risks and the financial obligation I would be undertaking, it was far too unsettling for me.
- Open cold – Maybe this was a great opportunity for me to open up from scratch. I have an idea on how I want to practice and how a practice operates. I could now look to set roots down in an area I know I want to be long term, but similar to option two, the financial commitment, risk, and uncertainty are far too great at the present time, and I still have too much to learn regarding management.
Losing my job - The Negatives:
- Loss of income – The issue here is quite obvious. Student loans, car payments, and other bills never stop arriving.
- Damaged pride – How do you tell your friends and family you are now unemployed?
- Beginning the job search once again – What if it takes me a long time to find a new job? What if the new job I find is terrible? Will I ever find a new job? Will I end up just settling for anything because financially I have no other choice?
- Loss of benefits – Losing a position as a full time employee means you lose your health benefits as well. Medical insurance is quite expensive to buy regardless of the new health care exchanges and of course is a requirement to avoid a fine. Combined with a loss of income, this compounded an already difficult situation.
- Losing the comfort of routine – I had developed a fantastic routine. As a creature of habit, I enjoyed knowing who I was working with, seeing, and where I was going on a daily basis. Now I found myself in a state of flux.
Losing my job - The Positives:
- Time off – I finally got a chance to take that long vacation I always wanted!
- Experience gained – Over the past year, I was given a great opportunity to work and learn in a very progressive private practice environment with a lot of new technology. I treated a lot of disease among other things and had a great mentor who was the senior doctor. That experience is invaluable going forward and I can take this with me to the next practice.
- Finding out what I like – With so many different practice modalities and settings, it can be difficult to determine what type of environment you prefer to work in. Having worked in a private practice as well as an optical, I know that I prefer private practice environments. I know I could not work in a commercial setting and with this knowledge, I can narrow down my job search.
- A fresh start – I am a creature of habit, but perhaps this is a good opportunity to get out of my comfort zone. Work other places, meet new people, have new experiences. Maybe I'll find a better opportunity out there.
- Freedom to relocate – I enjoy where I live; however, I always thought about living in other cities in other states. Maybe this is just the chance I needed to release me from the shackles of convenience and comfort. It's a great opportunity to get out there and see what other parts of this great country have to offer.
Take Home Lessons:
- Your first job, no matter how great it seems, may not always be your last.
- Life is all about looking at the positives and negatives. Good can come from what at first seems to be bad.
- Maintain contacts. I still am in close correspondence with the industry connections I made over the past year learning about new products, and just talking about life in general. Not only is it nice to have friends to talk to, but these same people may know of an opportunity that isn't advertised as they spend a lot of time visiting many offices.
- Never burn bridges. My first job was at an optical before I started at the private practice. As tempting as it was to quit the optical altogether once I was offered a full time position, I kept working at the optical one day a week during any days or time off I had. I was the only doctor the optical had, and I did not want to leave the owner stranded. Not only did he appreciate what I did for him, but now he has accommodated and strived to give me an extra day of work. This has greatly enabled me to keep up financially over the past 5-6 weeks.
- Be open to change. Do not get stuck in a rut, because life throws some serious curveballs. Sometimes relocating to a different area or finding a new job may be in the cards, and sometimes that can be a good thing.
Time will tell where I end up, but I can only be patient and enjoy the time off as it all unfolds. Sometimes a little unexpected vacation can be good for us all!
Since the writing of this article, the practice was eventually purchased and re-opened by another group practice in the area with four other locations. I was hired back on under the new name and management.
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