By Roger Mummert
ROB Content Director
December 4, 2019
In 30-plus years of reporting on optical, my work has taken me to many cities, towns and hamlets across America. I cherish that experience.
Well, not so much for the blur of convention cities nor the in-and-out airport meeting hotels where we never see the light of day.
Give me small towns any day, where I can rent a car and drive up a dusty country road to visit an optometry office. That’s my classroom. That’s where I’ve tried to learn about the challenges that ODs face, and that’s where I’ve seen the remarkable ways that creative ODs can flourish in practice and enjoy rewarding careers.
I recently added up all of the cities, towns and villages I have visited across the U.S. and Canada. To my amazement, I came up with 83. That’s 83 towns and at least 83 optometrists who serve these communities. What a wonderful view I have had, with camera and notepad in hand.
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My visits work both ways. I shine the bright light of the media onto an OD and his or her practice, and I walk away with a video and notepad full of insights into how practices work. On a good day, I learn something new, even after three decades of optometry office visits.
And it’s been a wonderful give and take. I’ve been gifted with a big ol’ bag of boiled peanuts at a practice in southern Georgia. I’ve taken a staff group photo on “ugly sweater day” on Long Island. I’ve been invited to sit through a very candid staff meeting in New Jersey. And I’ve reviewed with a practice owner the raw practice performance metrics written on a white board above the lunchroom table in California.
My biggest takeaway is in seeing how valuable doctors and staff are to their communities. In many practices, staffs are like family to one another and to the patients they serve. And in the best instances, they are happy.
I once interviewed the editor of a magazine about diners. I asked him how he knows a good diner from a bad one. “Simple, two things,” he shot back. “Is the ceiling clean and is the staff happy? If the ceiling is clean, the owner cares, and if the waitress smiles and calls you ‘Hon,’ your coffee cup will never be empty.”
In fact, I’ve shared a lot of great meals with optical folks. I went to dinner with an OD in a small Georgia town. We hadn’t gotten through our salads before a patient approached our table and thanked him for the care he provides to her family. Then she said she would call the next day to make an appointment.
“You don’t need marketing, you just need to walk around town,” I told the OD.
“Welcome to my town,” he said proudly.
It is his town. He’s like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” When he needed help from the locals he’d spent a lifetime helping out, he got it in abundance. “To my big brother, George,” his kid brother toasted him, “the richest man in town.”
I’ve seen that appreciation and respect again and again. And it comes down to one thing: relationships. There is a trusted relationship between doctor and patient, and in the best of cases that extends to staff and patients. It’s in the way patients are greeted. It’s the care and empathy shown in how a doctor listen to patients and speaks to patients. That’s a quality hard to teach in a classroom. It comes from within, from family, from core values.
I had an exchange with a second-generation OD from Missouri who has built a network of 11 independent practices with several dozen ODs. He told me his strategy for maintaining consistently excellent care: “I tell all my doctors, it’s about relationships.”
Last month, about 50 optical folks gathered at NECO for a conference on the future of optometric education. We were ODs, manufacturers, retailers and media. Our task was to ideate on how optometric education needs to adapt to technology, changing times and consumer needs.
NECO President Howard Purcell, OD, made a special call out to the reporters in the room. “I’ve always looked to the media for insights into what we’re doing well and where we’re lacking,” he said. We deeply appreciated the inclusion. We’ve developed our own trusted relationships with all of the optical community in its many facets.
Over the course of the two-day meeting, I’m not sure we identified a magic bullet for how education needs to adapt to forces like AR, telehealth, online sales of everything, etc. When it comes to envisioning the future, we often look for what is missing or what needs to be created. We also need to look at what values need to endure.
And in that regard, one word came up again and again: “relationships.” Namely the cherished, trust-based relationships between doctor and patient. In this fractured world where divisions often appear greater than commonalities, it’s these relationships that form the bond to a bright future for optometry.
Roger Mummert is Content Director for Review of Optometric Business. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.