By Cheryl G. Murphy, OD
Passing ownership of a family optometric practice to a son or daughter is fraught with complexities and challenges. This second installment in a series on multi-generational practices explores the gains in time and schedule flexibility afforded by keeping the business in the family.
Click HERE to read Part 1: Handing off to the next generation.
Success has many different definitions. Here’s an example of optometrists who happen to be father and son creatinga”successful” practice according to their own definition of success. Flexibility in scheduling to allow for family time and other off-time pursuits is a priority for the father and son team. “For us, business is not about making more money, it is about the ability to spend quality time with our families, and enhancing the quality of life for those we have the pleasure of caring for hands-on, as well as supporting those around the world we will never meet face-to-face,” says Dr. Aaron Werner of Werner Optometry in El Cajon, Calif. The father-son OD team of Drs. Rex and Aaron Werner of Werner Optometry in El Cajon, Calif., has enjoyed these perks since pairing up in 2008. Working for themselves has allowed them the liberty of putting their own priorities of family life, charity work and high-quality patient care at the top of their lists.
Relaxed Scheduling and More Patients
Rex Werner, OD, of Werner Optometry in El Cajon, Calif.
After the son joined the practice, the two doctors found that working side by side allowed flexibility, which meant more family time. Family-run practices enable flexible doctor schedules more than working with unrelated ODs or in a corporate environment. “With two of us covering the practice we are definitely seeing more patients,” Dr. Aaron Werner explains. And he says they could be seeing even more if they worked side by side each day, but covering each other on certain days allows them the time and freedom to do what they value in life. “Aside from making a good living to support our families, we want to enjoy our families,” says Dr. Aaron Werner. “I am able to coach my kids sports teams and make their games. Dad is able to spend more time doing the things he enjoys and visiting my sisters who are in Utah (just graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelors in public health) and the other is in nursing school at Loyola in Chicago.”
The bonus of newfound spare time has given Dr. Aaron Werner and Dr. Rex Werner the ability to actively engage in charity work. “We get to spend time helping those who would otherwise not be able to afford quality vision care. Dad spends two to three full days a month at the San Diego Lyon’s Club Vision Center, and I see patients in the office at no cost through the Lyons Club and Second Chance,” says Dr. Aaron Werner. “We are also able to support and donate funds from the office and personally to Optometry Giving Sight.” In addition, the doctors have donated their time and expertise to those in need by participating in mission trips to Mexico and Honduras, as well as Chile, where they went together in 2010.
Easy to be Flexible–When It’s Family
“It is very easy to ask my dad to cover for me,” says Dr. Aaron Werner. “Neither one of us have ever used outside doctors to cover for us. The only time that it becomes a challenge is when we want to take trips together. Those times we leave the office open but without a doctor.” Dr. Rex Werner worked weekends when he first opened and Dr. Aaron Werner said he promised his father that he would not have to work weekends anymore. Dr. Aaron Werner works two Saturdays a month, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and takes a day off during the week so he only works five days a week. “Family time is just as important as work time,” says Dr. Aaron Werner, “so I make sure that I make time for both.”
Most Patients Happy to See Either Doctor
There are a few patients who only want to be seen by a particular doctor, but most patients are flexible. “They have their preferences, but are happy to see either one of us if it works better with their schedule,” says Dr. Aaron Werner. “That said, we each have our “specialties” and encourage patients to see the right doctor for them. For example, I love working with young kids while my dad really enjoys gas permeable contact lenses and excels in treating keratoconus. During the day if one of us is running behind, our team often asks the patient if they would be OK seeing the other doctor, and almost all are happy to. Working together and having all the patients belong to the practice, rather than the individual doctor, allows us to better serve each patient.”
The History behind Werner Optometry
Aaron Werner, OD, of Werner Optometry in El Cajon, Calif.
Rex Werner, OD, opened cold in 1990 and practiced solo until he teamed up with his son. Optometry is his second career, one he chose to pursue when at a crossroads in his professional life. Dr. Rex Werner tried the corporate business world before switching to optometry. “I elected to have some control over the future by heading back to school to become an optometrist. My father-in-law was an OD, and I felt that I too would find mutual benefit and fulfillment in the optometric profession,” says Dr. Rex Werner. He says he is much more comfortable being business partners with his son than with a stranger: “We can talk freely about anything and can readily bounce ideas off one another as we have a good working knowledge of each other’s personalities. Also, we willingly step in to cover for each other should one of us desire or need time off.”
Dr. Aaron Werner’s Path to Optometry
Like his father, Dr. Aaron Werner is passionate about the profession of optometry. Dr. Aaron Werner’s maternal grandfather, great grandfather and great-great grandfather also were ODs making him a fifth-generation optometrist. Since Dr. Aaron Werner worked in his father’s practice in his teens, he was familiar with the responsibilities of owning a successful private practice. “I used to help edge lenses when I was a teenager. I worked as a technician in the practice through high school and college, as well.” While in optometry school at the Illinois College of Optometry, he gained new insights working as a tech at a private practice in Chicago. His experiences, internships and studies throughout optometry school prepared him well to be an optometrist. “Working at the other practices helped to expand the practice management skills I began developing as a teenager in my father’s practice,” Dr. Aaron Werner says.
Father-Son Form Partnership
After graduating in 2008, Aaron was not told what to do. “Dad was at the point where he needed to bring in a partner and asked if I would be interested or if I had other ambitions,” Dr. Aaron Werner explains. “I was often asked as a teenager if I would work with my dad and my answer was no! What teenager wants to work with their parents? However, as I went to college, I gained a new respect for my parents and now we have a very good friendship and mutual respect of each others’ opinions, perspectives and insights.”
Dr. Aaron Werner has been “buying into the practice yearly at a negotiated percentage every year. That said, all decision making is and has been 50/50 from day one. We do not have ‘your’ patients and ‘my’ patients but consider every patient to be ‘our’ patient.” Dr. Rex Werner advises other parent-offspring OD teams to “drop the ‘me’ and readily endorse the ‘we.’ I told my son as he came through the doors on his first day that this was ‘our practice,’ not mine. I told him that all of those charts represented ‘our patients,’ not that they were mine and that he had to go and build up his own patient base.”
Consistency of Patient Experience
Dr. Rex Werner rests easy at night knowing the future of his practice is in good hands. “How great it is to know that I can freely hand over the keys to the kingdom to my son and know that it will be run ethically with the patients well-being as the primary focus. I never have concerns that he will make decisions based solely on his ‘wallet.’ And I know that he will be there for the duration.”
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