Issues in Optometry

Career Choices: Are You Asking Yourself The Most Relevant Question?

By Jason Singh, OD

Chief Medical Officer, Luxottica Retail North America

July 12, 2017

Our profession is no longer dictated by a binary choice of corporate versus private practice; let’s reframe the conversation.

During recent visits with students at University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry, State University of New York College of Optometry and University of California Berkeley School of Optometry, my lecture on “The Future of (Corporate) Optometry” was much more engaging than anticipated. Students were eager to better understand the current transformations within our industry, and in the process, we tackled an antiquated question: “Do you want to be private or corporate?”

It’s a question that perplexes not only students, but many practicing ODs who aren’t quite sure what definition to use for themselves, as well as those looking at career shifts. The recent Vision Monday Top 50 Retailers report served as a springboard for this conversation. Vision Source topped the list of top U.S. retailers this year, and students were a little flummoxed by the question of whether these practitioners are corporate or private. They operate privately, and would identify themselves as such, but they are supported by a corporate entity, so it begins to become to less clear.

The results of a Luxottica-commissioned survey during AOA Optometry’s Meeting 2017 reflect the professional priorities of student ODs. Dr. Singh believes the question must now focus on the young OD, and not necessarily the setting, such as whether you want to practice in a corporate or independent setting.

Most students assumed that Luxottica Retail, which was second on the list, sat entirely in the “corporate” category. However, after learning that more than 90 percent of Luxottica Retail’s affiliated ODs are independent and own their practices, the students’ perceptions of the professional landscape began to blur further.

After considering the additional fact that Pearle Vision has 300+ franchisees, who each consider themselves as private and independent (with corporate support), full-on surprise set in.

Heading further down the list, MyEyeDr-affiliated ODs triggered a similar head-scratching. Many of these doctors started their practices as independent ODs, but are now consolidated by a large private equity-backed group. The same is true for others on the list.

In the end, the students asked thoughtful and provocative questions that led to their final conclusion: The reality is the lines between corporate and independent optometry are no longer clear-cut. There are straightforward examples of a private practice: a stand-alone location owned and operated by an OD with no support from any corporate entity. There are also obvious examples of corporately employed ODs: those who work in a corporate-location and receive their paycheck from the corporation directly. But there is a world of options between those two examples including opportunities in academia, industry, ophthalmology, hospitals, public health and more on the horizon.

It’s a wonderful time to be in the profession. But to set up this incoming generation of optometrists to achieve their personal and professional aspirations, and to help those who feel their wants and needs are not accurately reflected in the “corporate or private” paradigm, the conversation needs to change.

The dated question of whether a doctor wants to be corporate or private needs to be replaced by the more personal, more meaningful question of “What is most important to you?” There are positive attributes to every job, including salary, benefits, location, work/life balance and social mission. Optometrists must weigh the factors that are most important to them to find the right opportunity.

Of course, these factors can change depending on when and where we are in our lives. For example, salary may be the top priority for an OD just graduating with high student loan debt, while an OD with young children may consider his/her schedule as the key deciding factor. One optometrist may have aspirations to change their focus throughout the career, while others may want to build an optometric empire.

As ODs working in the profession, we can provide guidance by helping to reframe the question. Let’s recognize that optometry does not present us with a binary choice: corporate or private. That question reflects an era, workforce and economic reality that has evolved tremendously.

It’s time to have a different conversation from the one that got us here.

How did you make the decision of where, and in what setting, you wanted to practice optometry? What are the challenges you are facing as an independent practice owner, in any setting, to meet the evolving needs of younger optometrists? What are the key questions new ODs should ask themselves to find the right setting for each of them to practice?

 

Jason Singh, OD, is chief medical officer for Luxottica Retail North America. To contact him: JSingh@luxotticaretail.com

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