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Optometry Career Paths - Executive Leaders Panel

Oct 16, 2019
11 min read
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Matt Geller, OD, sat down with some of the most influential leaders in the industry to reflect on the forces that have shaped optometry in 2019.

This panel, at Vision Expo West 2019, discusses some of the optometric industry's top driving forces over the past year.

What changes have you seen in the optometric profession in 2019? How have they impacted doctors and patients in your organization?

Weslie Hamada, OD, Senior Director of Engagement at Luxottica, begins by providing an example in which she spoke with a new grad. The new grad had just joined a Luxottica sublease. When she asked why they chose that setting, they simply stated, “because it was the right fit.”

This student began as an optometric technician for the doctor before going into optometry school. When they graduated, there was the option to choose corporate/retail optometry. There are definitely some changes, but it really hasn’t affected Luxottica. Luxottica allows its doctors to find an opportunity that really aligns with their personal and professional goals.

It’s not just changes in optometry but in healthcare as a whole, describes Bill Werner Jr, OD, Director of Professional Services at National Vision. Optometry is being affected by factors such as access to care, shrinking reimbursement rates, remote medicine, and changing ratios—the face of optometry is changing, states Allison Brewer Jones, OD, Regional Talent Specialist at Walmart. Most doctors at National Vision are not highly affected by these changes, because they get to have the company as a buffer. For example, doctors’ salaries are not affected by shrinking reimbursement rates.

Dr. Jones brings up that the ratio of doctors is changing, as well. Optometry students consist of almost twice the amount of females as males. She wanted to be able to practice independently, with the flexibility that Millenials are looking for in this new digital age. Walmart allows each of its leaseholders to practice the way they want.

Private equity—the elephant in the room. Ben Chudner, OD, CMO at Acuity Eyecare, thinks that many doctors are now looking for qualified business professionals who can really take their practice to the next level. Especially in the short term, private equity is a great option for optometrists. Many ODs don’t have an exit strategy, incur a lot of debt, and use private equity as a way to expand their practice and do what they couldn’t do before.

Eric Schmidt, OD, Founding Partner at Keplr Vision, chimes in with a reminder of how important it is to reflect. Keplr Vision underwent extreme growth from 4 practices to 80 in 16 months. It’s important to not only look at that growth and appreciate it but also to look at why you’re growing. They were able to find doctors who wanted to keep practicing the same way but perhaps didn’t have the financial means. They made sure that the doctors and associates were well taken care of, professionally and financially.

Finally, it’s time to broaden your scope. A lot of people are interested in telemedicine, but most private practices aren’t doing it yet. As Maurice Wilson, OD, President-Elect for the American Association of Corporate Optometrists, reflects, telemedicine isn’t going to take jobs; instead, it’s going to increase doctors’ availability to patients. Focus on growth and capitalize on the opportunity to foray into this new territory.

Share a success story from this year

You grow by seeing others’ success and emulating their methods, Wilson pontificates. You can grow your practice through education, buying opportunities, and even by adding nutrition to your treatment plans. Doctors suggest nutriceuticals to their patients and immediately see improvement. The best products are not the ones you get from the store shelves, but the ones directly from the manufacturers. These optometrists become their patients’ main doctors, especially in smaller towns. Diversify and broaden your abilities and see your practice grow.

Keplr Vision is committed to helping its optometrists become better doctors. Dr. Schmidt created a program with the Optometric Glaucoma Society, in which thought leaders in the profession offer mentorship. They take other ODs along the journey, from diagnosis to treatment, to progression, to sickness, in a six-month program. Doctors love this program and the ability to improve.

The rapid growth experienced by Acuity Eyecare allowed Dr. Chudner to see a variety of different practices. As he states, the thing that blew him away the most was the vast difference in how people practice in each location. Some doctors will claim to be highly medical practices but are 75% retail in actuality. There are discrepancies in how they run their businesses. Acuity is trying to bring more medical capabilities to its practices through new equipment. They create referrals that “hub and spoke” off one another, and ensure that patients get the care they need within their network.

Walmart’s optical leadership has changed and they’re building a new team, states Dr. Jones. A majority of their network is sublease doctors. Doctors wanted to become more of a network. So they took it back to the culture of their company. They took that model to optical and started sharing their doctors’ stories. Whether through print, newsletters, or highlighting the way that doctors give back to their communities, this allows for greater accessibility, especially for patients and doctors in rural areas.

As Dr. Werner describes, National Vision was involved in a lot of partnerships but wanted to do more. They created a new program, called “Made Locally, Giving Globally,” which provides a pair of glasses to a developing country for every pair that is purchased. Their doctors and affiliates can be truly proud to be a part.

Dr. Hamada is on the eyecare team at Luxottica, which is devoted to taking care of doctors across all brands. The company has a whole marketing eyecare team that takes care of everything that doctors might not have time to do. They handle reviews, online presence, printed marketing materials, etc. Luxottica builds clinics around the world to provide eyecare to communities that might not have this opportunity. They really focus on public and patient education to promote the importance of annual eye exams and eye health.

The support that is provided is appealing to anyone looking to join a practice. When looking for a job, think about how this practice will support you and give back to the community. It’s also important to come up with a forecast for the future.

What is the number one lesson your organization learned in 2019? How will your organization use this lesson to create value and benefits for its ODs in 2020?

Dr. Hamada mentions the importance of a doctor summit in order to bring doctors together across brands. It provides great networking opportunities, in which doctors can practice leveraging each other to really grow their practices. If you’re joining a sublease, you might find it quite daunting, especially when first starting up. Luxottica provides a support service that guides them through it all so they can focus on seeing patients. They really focus on creating a seamless onboarding experience and building a community so that doctors can go through the process together. At the end of the day, most ODs are in their offices alone, and Luxottica aims to make them feel less alone.

Dr. Werner states that the team at National Vision prides itself on being an organization that truly listens and focuses on improving both the doctor and patient experience. They send out yearly surveys to get direct feedback on how the company’s doing. In 2019, the survey respondents pointed out that there was room for growth in the new grad training process. So they developed a focus group to gather information on improving. In 2020, NVI will be starting a new onboarding program for new grads in order to give them an additional round of training.

The face of healthcare itself is changing. How do we collaborate with other healthcare professionals? It’s important to come together—ODs, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, etc, says Dr. Jones. The focus on accessibility has increased. One way to increase collaboration is to create a communal space that local organizations can use for free to promote a sense of community and collaboration.

Along the lines of increased accessibility, how can we encourage patients to receive full care?

  • Have a nutritionist in the same building.
  • Encourage diabetics to go to the dentist and take care of that aspect of their health, as well.

Eventually, we’ll end up seeing more collaboration across all industries.

Dr. Chudner maintains the importance of allowing better access. Doing so will take the medical model to the next level and help doctors be able to see more patients. It will also allow optometrists to be the doctors they really want to be and make associates happier than before. Ultimately, the goal is to keep them around until they retire. Aim to create appealing career ladders for all employees at your practice. Help doctors be able to increase both the care that they provide for patients and the value they provide their doctors.

Dr. Schmidt reflects that Keplr Vision almost became victims of their own success after experiencing a period of rapid growth. They want to provide their doctors with learning opportunities and a steady yet manageable stream of patients. However, with more patients comes the need to recruit more doctors—to grow more, they need more staff. They are now actively recruiting, and even hired an HR team. It’s hard to find doctors that want to work in busy, medical-based practices so they expand on opportunities of existing doctors and hope those new associates will stay with their practice for a long time.

According to Dr. Wilson, the goal from the beginning was to create a sense of community across all practices. We can’t just have an online community—optometrists need face-to-face interaction. There can be a digital branch for broader-scope communications, but the AACO has moved to doing smaller regional conferences for networking, etc. A strong digital presence is also important when looking to attract younger doctors. Connections are good for everyone from students to those looking to go into corporate optometry.

Advice to folks out there . . . How can I grow in my career?

It’s important to be open to different choices. Find a culture that fits your morals and values and go with it, says Dr. Jones. Dr. Hamada says that if you’re not an expert in something, then find someone who is. Leverage colleagues, mentors, companies, etc., and find opportunities for growth throughout your career. It’s always ok to ask for help.

Mentorship is important, but observation is key, too, says Dr. Chudner. He has gotten to view a variety of practices and ODs in action and maintains the importance of being open to learning at all times. There’s always someone who knows more than you and who can help you grow in your career.

If you want to do something, don’t compromise. Things won’t get handed to you, says Dr. Schmidt. Dr. Werner reminds students how important it is to gain all the knowledge you can during school and to keep their options open.

Dr. Wilson advises all students, new grads, and optometric professionals to find the niche that they want to work in. He also states that there are two things that need to happen for growth. Do more medical optometry and secure your position in the field. Learn how to see patients faster; you have the knowledge and the technology to do so. Maximizing efficiency will only help you in the long run.

Finally, create long-term goals and strategies, recommends Dr. Geller. What’s important to you? What do you want to do?

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About Lauren van Oeveren

Hi there! As the current Social Media Coordinator at CovalentCareers, I have over 5 years of experience with content creation and social media. I double-majored in Biological Anthropology and Psychology when I was in college, and this knowledge helps me to create interesting, engaging, and unique content.


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