I was drawn to residency training from day one of optometry school: I knew I wanted to dive into the medical model of optometry and work side-by-side with ophthalmologists to diagnose and treat disease without having to do surgery.
As a residency-trained optometrist at South Florida Regional Eye Associates LLC working at an office inside an America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses, I use my medical training every day treating patients with conditions ranging from the simple to the severe. Many of them do not have access to ophthalmic care, and it’s my responsibility to diagnose and treat their pain or discomfort.
My journey in optometry began in 2015 at Nova Southeastern University. My grandmother was my biggest reason for success: she brought me to the United States from Cuba and instilled in me the values of hard work and dedication. In 2019 I graduated with highest honors from NSU College of Optometry, published an article in Optometric Management magazine titled “Trends in Prescription Medications: Take a greater part in medical eye care,” and went on to complete residency training in ocular disease at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, the number one eye hospital in the United States.
Journey to optometry residency
I knew since day one of optometry school that I wanted to do a residency in ocular disease. What drew me to this was my passion for medicine. In addition, residency would open the doors to teaching at an optometry institution in the future, which is one of my goals. Post-residency I had plans to work at a private practice with a friend, who is also an optometrist. Unfortunately, COVID-19 changed these plans. As businesses shut down during the lockdowns, the opportunity to work with my friend dwindled.
During this time, I was working part-time every Saturday in a Walmart Vision Center in Clewiston, Florida (also part of the National Vision OD network). At the Walmart Vision Center, I would see two patients every hour. The drive was long, but my time was well compensated. COVID-19 caused me to lose my Saturday job, which was paying me more in four days of the month than Bascom would pay me in thirty days of the month as a resident. I felt very stressed since I had recently purchased a home and had a baby on the way. This economic strife made me explore opportunities outside of my original plan, and led me to a career opportunity in the National Vision network.
As an employee of South Florida Regional Eye Associates LLC, I work within the retail stores of America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses, which is a brand of National Vision, Inc. My practice provides me with great benefits such as a stable salary, PTO, medical and dental insurance, liability insurance, CE credits, and 401K. I do not have to worry about billing and coding. There is also no cost to the OD for prescription pads, or topical ophthalmic drops; these are covered while being employed. I did not have to worry about losing my job during a lockdown, and all the doctors within our network were compensated by their practices during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Finally, I believe there are tremendous benefits to being residency-trained and practicing under these settings. Residency training provides an extra boost of confidence and better care for patients. Here are just a few cases I’ve managed recently that having that additional training and confidence has paid off.
A 45-year-old female presented with a right red eye and a history of herpes simplex epithelial keratitis. The patient was in pain and did not have the means to see an ophthalmologist. The cornea was significant for a dendritic lesion that stained with sodium fluorescein dye.
The patient was started on Viroptic ophthalmic solution every two hours while awake for up to nine times per day. The patient was followed until the lesion had healed.
A 29-year-old female presented with a painful right red eye, history of contact lens use, and a white lesion on the center of both her corneas. Upon examination, the patient was found to have one peripheral infiltrate in each of her corneas. The infiltrate in the right eye partially stained with sodium fluorescein, while the one in the left eye did not. In addition, the patient’s conjunctivae were injected.
The patient was started on Ofloxacin ophthalmic solution, one drop in each eye every 30 minutes while awake for two days. On follow up, the patient felt a lot better and was pain free. Ofloxacin was tapered to QID for the next five days.
A 55-year-old male presented with a red left eye and a history of contact lens use. The patient was in pain and had mild discharge.
The patient was started on polytrim ophthalmic solution four times a day and followed up in 1 week. The patient returned for his follow up and was very happy with the treatment. He now passes by every so often to say hello and sometimes bring sweets for me and the rest of the staff.
Opportunities in the National Vision network as a residency-trained OD
Working for a practice affiliated with the National Vision Doctor of Optometry network provides great opportunities for ODs who want better work-life balance, as they do not have to worry about dealing with insurances and billing, or have to take work home.
I have been fortunate to work within the retail stores of America’s Best and Walmart Vision Center, both part of National Vision. The biggest difference for me between these two settings was the independent contractor versus employee setting; both offer unique value. In the Walmart Vision Center, I was an independent contractor working for the sublease holder doctor. I received a stable salary per day that was not dependent on patient volume. In addition, I did not have to worry about insurances. I do know that there are some National Vision-operated Walmart Vision Centers with employment opportunities, as well.
With COVID-19, optometry has changed a lot. For example, many optometrists, such as those that own a private practice or sublease, have faced financial burdens. Some doctors have had their sublease terminated or have been forced to close or eliminate staff. COVID-19 has also caused practices to change the way they run, such as cleaning and disinfecting every touched surface and using personal protective equipment, which include masks and gloves. My practice has provided doctors with masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning spray, slit lamp and phoropter breath shields, and UVC bins to disinfect glasses. Other practices are also incorporating telemedicine as a way to safely provide patient care.
As for career opportunities, my practice has a hierarchy of growth, which I hope to be a part of. These roles include area doctor, mentor, ambassador, and more. I look forward to continuing to move up the ladder with my practice.
Finally, working for practices within the National Vision OD network provides great benefits and stability for many doctors like myself. What has surprised me the most so far is the ease at which I am able to communicate with my area doctor, store manager, and district manager. Everyone listens and replies to emails within a reasonable time. My team tries to accommodate everyone as best as possible, although sometimes the task may not be easy. Teamwork is very important to me, and I feel my practice strives to achieve this.
National Vision Doctor of Optometry Network Career Hour
On December 8, I joined several of my colleagues with National Vision for a career hour. If you missed our discussion about the career options and opportunities with National Vision, you can watch the replay below!