Key pieces of advice that changed the trajectory of one doctor’s career.
By Shalu Pal, OD, FAAO, FSLS, FBCLA
Oct. 18, 2023
Starting a new practice, or continuing to grow an older practice, sometimes requires special inspiration.
I purchased my practice in 2008, growing from a two-day per week single-doctor schedule to a six-day single doctor schedule within one year. Our gross revenue has increased 565 percent since that time, with an expected 20 percent year-over-year growth in 2023. We have six part-time ODs now in the practice now.
Here are a few life lessons I applied to the growth of my practice over the last 15 years.
Don’t Be Afraid to Do Things Your Way–Even If It’s Different from “The Norm”
If you have thought through a decision, it makes sense from a financial standpoint, and you are not putting yourself or anyone else at risk, do it. Believe in yourself.
At a time in my practice’s growth when the expected ratio of doctors to staff was 1:2, I hired four support staff members.
Everyone said I couldn’t travel as much as I like to and run a successful practice, but I did it anyway. Traveling feeds my soul, which makes me love practicing more.
Everyone said I couldn’t put a bar in my office. My eye bar is where we dispense glasses, and I love having our patients walk in surprised and excited to take a seat at a bar to pick out eyewear.
When I bought my practice in 2008, every bank turned me down. I didn’t let it stop me – I borrowed money from my family and paid them back within a year with interest. I hustled and gave them every penny I earned to reassure them that I was good for the money.
People are scared of taking chances and doing things differently from “the norm.” If you listen to them, they will hold you back. It’s OK to color outside the lines, it’s OK to push and try new things. I have been burned in many situations where I doubted myself and listened to others, who I felt were wiser, even though my gut told me I should listen to myself. I always regretted not following my own instincts. Failure is going to happen, and you will make mistakes, but that is how you learn and do better the next time.
Find Your Why & Hire Based on that Why
Author Simon Sinek advises that you “Start with the Why,” and that’s exactly what I did, and continue to do.
First I had to figure out what my “why” was. It is happiness – to be happy and bring happiness to all those around me
Once I realized this, everything became more structured and easier to understand. Understanding what makes me happy was important (from the small to large things) and making sure my life aligned with ensuring those things were being satisfied.
I bought a practice so I could make my own hours, and chose to live close to an airport, so I can easily travel.
For the practice, knowing that our “why” is happiness, I will only hire people who are positive and smile a lot. I want team members who will bring joy to our patients. We laugh a lot, we have fun together as a team and we share that joy with our patients. I want my patients to feel great when they are greeted and when they leave to have warm, happy feelings about their experience with us.
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When you hire for personality and good traits, you have to interview more people because the first nine may not fit this mold. And when you find someone who has a great personality, they may not have the skills that you want. So, you have to spend more time training them. You also have to continue to maintain this culture with weekly/biweekly meetings that come from the top down, reinforcing the positive attitudes and goals you have for your patient experience. However, this effort is well worth it.
When your patients are happy and laughing, so many things are forgiven – running a little late, or administrative errors made.
You spend more time at your offices than you do at home. Create an environment that makes you happy. You have to understand yourself and what you want and why you are doing the things you are doing, and then your purpose becomes more clear for the day-to-day activities you are doing.
Do Things the Right & Honest Way
When you do things the right and honest way you build trust and loyalty. If you do things properly, the right way, rather than cutting corners or cheating, people will ensure your name and reputation will linger happily with patients.
No matter what it costs, I always do the right thing by the patient. I stand by my word and by our products and services. I honor every commitment I make to my patients. Even if it costs me more than I expected, I do the right thing by them. They always know that I will do the right thing to make things right for them.
When we make a mistake we own up to do it and we do everything needed to fix the problem. Honesty doesn’t cost anything, doing the right thing can be costly, but will pay itself forward over and over again when you build loyalty. Patients know they have a safe space in your office where they will get the highest quality service and products with honest and ethical care.
I remember a patient early in my career, with a very difficult prescription, who we were making progressives for. I only had an administrative team member with me at the time, so I was doing everything myself. I didn’t have a lot of clout with my lab yet because I was so new. I redid his lenses twice, and the lab said if I wanted to remake the lenses a third time that they would have to charge me again. The patient asked me why I didn’t just give up because he knew that I was spending so much money to try to make this work for him.
I told him that we had to figure this out because, if we didn’t, he would go somewhere else and would have to start all over again to figure it out with someone else. And we had come too far to give up. He was shocked at my response. On the next redo, we got it. To this day, he has returned every year and bought many pairs of glasses from our office and referred many patients to us because he knows that my priority is always doing the right thing by the patient and not my pocket. That small investment paid off so many times over the last 15 years.