For a young OD, finding an optometrist job in Chicago might seem overwhelming. The city of Chicago may elicit feelings of being a major metropolis, a city of high crime, or a place where the politicians are as windy as the lake effect. I have called this city home for almost thirty years, and no matter how many places I have been it's still my favorite place to be. As an optometrist, it has provided me many opportunities, and I firmly believe that it is a place that an OD can have a long, successful, and fulfilling career.
Finding an optometry job in Chicago
Finding a job as an optometrist in the Windy City is not a difficult task. If you have a computer, cellular device, wireless internet access, and some social skills, you could probably find a job opportunity in the course of a day. As with many opportunities in life, my foremost advice to all students and new graduates is to network.
Through the AOA, ICO, IOA, or your respective state’s branch, there will always be a connection to Chicago. Most optometrists are happy to help a colleague get situated, all you need to do is ask. Some online job search engines that have been helpful for me included CovalentCareers and online through Illinois College of Optometry. The IOA also provides resources through their classifieds section.
If you're looking to call Chicago home, and you're looking from outside of the state of Illinois, strongly consider what you are looking for in your new community. The city of Chicago is big, and there is a great deal of difference between the northern suburbs and the south side of the city. This will also be helpful to negotiate salary in order to pay for the price of living.
Most recently, the average starting average salary for an optometrist is Chicago is $91,000-$100,000 gross income per year according to CovalentCareers' 2019 New Grad Optometrist Report and the overall average salary in IL is $127,521 (Glassdoor).
The Chicago optometrist job market
Overall, the job market in Chicago is abundant and there are many opportunities for new graduates as well as veteran ODs, with the one caveat being in full time private practice. While corporate entities are usually more than happy to take on a full time OD, I have found that in private practice, it usually takes a little bit longer to work up to full time status. This is not always the case, but it is less common to find a full time position immediately in the private sector.
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For this reason, a few of my classmates and I started working at a few locations, part time in each, when we first graduated school. As previously mentioned, job opportunities were never difficult to find. There were times when I would have too many opportunities to choose from.
The major corporate employers in Illinois include LensCrafters, VisionWorks, MyEyeDoctor and Warby Parker. Corporate sublease locations include Target Optical, Costco, and Sam’s Club.
Illinois optometry license requirements
The application process for licensure in Illinois is standard, requiring NBEO score and TMOD, a lengthy application, and a $500 application fee.
A controlled substances license is required by everyone who prescribes and/or stores and dispenses any controlled substances. The application fee for controlled substances is nominal.
As for continuing education requirements, every applicant is to complete thirty hours of CE relevant to the practice of optometry required during each pre-renewal period. A pre-renewal period is the twenty four months preceding March 31st in the year of renewal. A CE hour equals fifty minutes, and CE credit may only be given in one hour increments. A renewal applicant is not required to comply with CE requirements for the first renewal following the original issuance of the license.
Finally, ODs licensed in Illinois but residing and practicing in other states must comply with the CE requirements set forth for the state of Illinois.
How to succeed at a Chicago optometry job
As a major metropolitan city, Chicago is quite saturated with optometrists. In my experience, the ODs who have been most successful have provided a unique skill or service into their respective practice. If you’re looking to have a competitive edge while applying for jobs, it would be wise to focus in on a particular area of interest (i.e. pediatrics, orthokeratology) or learn a new language (Spanish, Polish) to target a particular area where those patients live or where the need is greatest.
Generally speaking, family private practice is more prevalent in the suburban areas of the city while smaller, high-end boutiques and corporate entities are more popular in the immediate downtown area. Therefore, if you are looking to be a family OD and want to see younger patients grow into adulthood, it may be wise to look into one of the surrounding suburbs of Chicago.
Overall, the OD community is tight-knit in Chicago even with so many ODs. I will often run into the same, familiar faces at continuing education lectures and conferences.
The most popular of these is the annual IOA conference where you can knock out a good chunk of CE in one weekend’s time. If you are not able to attend all days, rest assured there are always plenty of CE opportunities not only through the IOA but also through private practice and local ophthalmology practices.
How to relocate to Chicago for an optometrist job
Relocating to the Chicago area is probably the biggest draw to working in Illinois. As previously mentioned, it's best to first research the area of the city in which one would like to practice. While there are plenty of ways to get around (whether it be by vehicle, bus, or train) I recommend working close to home.
I am currently within walking distance to my Target Optical and it has made a significant difference in the amount of time I have saved commuting. My fiance and I also retired one of our cars, and we now share one vehicle which is not used very often. I do not recommend driving far distances to work within the city of Chicago because the main arterial highways are extremely congested at any hour of the day. If you have the chance, take the “L” or Metra, the latter being the more comfortable and nicer ride overall.
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With regards to housing, I have never rented, but if I were to relocate to a new city, I definitely would rent first and then consider buying. This will give you a good feel for the area of interest and prevent the chance of overpaying for property. Generally speaking, purchasing a home in the city will be much more expensive versus the suburbs so if you absolutely need a large yard and some land, the suburbs will be the more affordable option.
I cannot recommend a single suburb or neighborhood but generally speaking, the closer you get to the lake, the higher the demand. In the city proper, the most highly sought after neighborhoods are Lincoln Park, the West Loop, Bucktown, Streeterville, and the Gold Coast.
The OD’s guide to Chicago
One major caveat to living in Chicago is the weather. If you're from a warm climate or cannot tolerate the cold then I would not recommend moving to Chicago. The winters are very cold and the summers are very hot. If you can appreciate all four seasons, then Chicago might be the city for you! The winter tends to last a little bit too long every single year, so investing in a good winter jacket and all weather boots is key.
The geography is flat, but the city is situated right on Lake Michigan, which comes alive in the summer months and is a very popular travel destination, for tourists and locals alike. The lakefront path is a 18.5-mile-long (29.8 km) partial shared use path for walking, jogging, and cycling, located along the western shore of Lake Michigan. The path is easily one of my favorite places to be in Chicago.
Also keep in mind that the city gets very busy from about May to October, with there being any number of street festivals, concerts, and events going on every given weekend. If you are looking for something great to eat, the Fulton Market area has a number of restaurants including a variety of cuisine all in one neighborhood, with a few owning multiple Michelin star distinctions.
In the end, I do not think I could ever tire of living in the city of Chicago. Every day, no matter the season, I get to run to the lakefront and catch the morning sun and a view of the skyline. During my lunch break from work, I can walk home to take my dog to the park across the street and enjoy the company of my neighbors. After work, my other half and I love to check out any one of a multitude of restaurants, rarely trying the same establishment twice. Every weekend or weekday there is something to do, so much so that it is hard to find the time for it all. Even after all these years, it still makes me proud to call this city home and don’t anticipate that the feeling will ever change.