I have been fortunate in my career to meet some amazing people: optometrists, ophthalmologists, editors, those involved with industry, and several others along the way. One of the things I enjoy most about the profession is working and collaborating with many to help advance the profession and continue to move it forward.
Although I frequently find myself shaking hands and continuing to meet several new individuals, I wasn’t always that way. There was an experience that changed the way I looked at human interaction and that sometimes dreaded process of introducing yourself to new people.
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The awkward silence
It was September 2001, and I was in my fourth-year rotations. I was a student of the New England College of Optometry and was at the East Boston clinic for my second of four rotations. It was the morning of 9/11, and I still remember the awkward silence that started while I was seeing my first patient of the morning.
This clinic is located very close to the airport, and as such, we constantly heard a silent hum of planes in the background. This morning was different because the sound that we were so accustomed to hearing was gone. That silence was what made that morning so awkward. Shortly after that, we all had realized what was happening and, in shock, gathered around a computer in the back office to see what was being reported about the horrific event.
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In addition to the horrifying things that occurred that day, it created a significant economic unrest throughout the country and the world. It was two weeks later that I would call the ophthalmologist that I was planning on practicing with after graduation. Much to my surprise, the opportunity that I thought I had was eliminated. The main reasons, according to the practitioner, were concerns of business instability because of decreased LASIK demand, patients not purchasing glasses, and decreasing reimbursements for eye examinations.
Finding the right opportunity
In my fourth year, this put me in a challenging position. My future was uncertain, and I needed to figure out what I would be doing upon graduation. I had to now determine in what region of the country I was going to practice and how I would find an opportunity there. I quickly came to the realization that I wanted practice ownership.
So, as opposed to aimlessly searching across the country for an opportunity, I figured out where I wanted to be in the country. For several reasons, the most important one being close to family and region where I grew up, I decided northwest Ohio was the place for me.
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In 2001, prior to the advent of mobile devices easily acquiring Internet access, and at a time when the Internet was dial-up access through a desktop, I went in search of private practitioners who I could call on to determine if they had any employment opportunities with interest in partnering in the future.
I remember having a road atlas, and I put a big dot on Toledo and drew what was equivalent to 10-mile radius circles from the center dot. Then I drew two additional 10-mile radius circles outside of the original one. I used this to guide my Internet search.
After coming up with a list of practitioners within those circles, I called all of them. It was a great experience for me. Although some of the phone calls I made were met with some heavy resistance and negativity toward the profession, there were plenty of practitioners who were willing to embrace me and help me with my efforts. To this day, many of the positive phone calls I made introduced me to people in the area who I am still close with. Additionally, one of the phone calls I made led to a meeting with the practitioners who became my business partners.
What I learned
Going through this process I learned several things:
• The Doctor of Optometry Degree, although prestigious and well earned, is not an entitlement but simply gives you the opportunity to practice optometry
• People are a valuable part of optometry—even in light of all of the digital outreach. Cherish the relationships that you have with colleagues, patients, and others in the profession who share your mission and passion for better eye care
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• Although I had some great interactions with many practitioners who were very supportive, I also encountered some who were very discouraging. This process toughened me to be able to interact in situations that may not always be the way you planned or pictured
• To those who encouraged me: thank you! I only hope that I can instill a fraction of the encouragement that you instilled in me to students and young practitioners who I come in contact with.
Thank you optometry for everything that you have taught me to this point and everything you continue to teach me!