By Gina M. Wesley, OD, MS, FAAO
April 19, 2017
Mentoring, in which an OD learns from a more experienced doctor, or another professional, has been a great resource for me. I have benefited from the experiences, and hard lessons learned, of other ODs, and am now passing my own knowledge on to new graduates.
I made bonds with individual optometrists while I was still in optometry school, and those connections are still with me today. Mentoring can come in many forms, including from more experienced doctors you only know for a short time. But the greatest mentors in my career have been those who have been with me since my days as a student, or when I first opened my practice.
Kelly Nichols, OD, was my advisor in school at The Ohio State University. She challenged me to be well-rounded in my experiences and approach to optometry. This led me to add the clinical skills of thinking outside the box, attending to the individual patient, and ensuring that all perspectives are considered.
Dr. Nichols’ vast knowledge and high-level thinking allowed me to observe and learn, applying evidence-based practices to the core of my clinical practice. This resulted in my exploration of a variety of professional roles and capabilities, including working in advisory capacity to companies within the ophthalmic industry, lecturing, publishing and partaking in clinical research in my practice.
When I started my practice, Barb Horn, OD, shared her own successful start-up story, which gave me ideas for how I could do it myself. Dr. Horn is now an American Optometric Association board member, and serves the profession in a variety of ways, in addition to private practice. As my own career segued into speaking and advisory roles within the profession, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many ODs, who have shared their practice savvy with me, helping me to better serve my patients and grow my practice.
In aggregate, this mentoring gave me confidence to grow beyond what I imagined for myself in this profession. I am happier, as a result, because of the variety of manners and ways I work within the field of optometry.
Mentoring Can Take Many Forms
Mentors can serve in a variety of ways. Some are other doctors whom I see only occasionally, but when I do, what we gain from our interactions and information sharing is immense. I have other mentors with whom I communicate whenever a particular question comes to mind. Some of my mentors challenge me to grow and develop as a clinician and successful practice owner by making me think outside the proverbial “box” when it comes to how I run my practice.
I find a mixture of electronic, and face-to-face, meetings, are ideal, but I have many mentoring relationships that are purely phone or e-mail-related. It’s important to grasp that a mentor doesn’t necessarily have to fill a preconceived notion you may have about “guiding” you. That guiding can take the form of an occasional phone call or e-mail, when a clinical or practice management question arises that you have never dealt with before, and could use a more experienced perspective to help you wade through. When a long-term “elder-in-the-field” and protege relationship develops, it’s wonderful, but mentoring can be much less structured, and just occur as the need arises.
ODs on Facebook is a great place to find long-distance mentoring, and participation in national optometric alliances like Vision Source, of which I am a member, also makes it easy to meet potential mentors.
Serve as a Mentor Yourself
After being on the receiving end of so much valuable advice, I now serve as a mentor myself. The best lesson I have passed on to less experienced ODs and practice owners is to make sure they keep their end-goals in sight, but that they are constantly re-evaluating those goals. We grow and change as people, and where I’m at today in my practice is immensely different from where I thought I would be 10 years ago. I also like to pass along the lesson of being grateful and complimentary to others. When someone helps you, even if it’s just an e-mail or phone call, take a moment to thank them. When they have done something you admire, or aspire to do yourself, compliment the achievement, and be genuine. In our busy world today, a moment like that can make a great difference and open doors one would never expect.
Sometimes opportunities to mentor are right under your nose, such as when you have an associate in your office. I’ve learned to anticipate, and find ways to meet, the needs of the new ODs I work with. I always try to create a meaningful and successful employer/employee/boss/associate relationship. Gen Xers are statistically shown to be more self-motivating, independent and “I’ll do it on my own” sort of workers. Millenials and “X-ennials” (those caught in-between) tend to find value in the day-to-day work experience, and mentoring them includes guiding clinical decision-making, but also inquiring how they are doing and feeling on the job, and making sure you are helping them to grow and feel competent and satisfied.
Learn from Those You Mentor
Mentoring can go both ways, so that you may be surprised how much you learn from a person you are mentoring. I’ve learned much from my junior OD connections, particularly what matters to them in terms of career fulfillment, and how we can modify our profession to meet those needs. I’ve also learned new means of resourcefulness, as younger ODs aren’t afraid to ask for assistance, and often more open than older ODs to “community” thinking in group forums online, or in person. There’s a lot to learn in this mass sharing of ideas.
Being a mentor, or a mentee, are tremendous ways to be involved with, and give back, to the profession. Allow yourself to be guided, and serve as a guide yourself, to have success and fulfillment in your career.