A lot of my parents’ friends were doctors, and every medical doctor said, “I hate what I do, but I love the money.” Every optometrist said, “This is the greatest profession in the world.” So, that’s when I decided that if you love what you, do the money will come.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Chicago. My parents decided when the winters were really bad they needed to move, and we moved to San Diego when I was a youngster. I truly, honestly love San Diego. I suffer through it every day.
How did you get from physiological psychology into optometry?
I went to UCSD for premed and realized everyone was killing themselves, competitive and all that. So, I talked to my counselor who said if you want to be an eye doctor, the best thing you should do is go into psychology because being a doctor you deal with people every day and you might as well understand how they think. The physiological side is more science-based psychology. I was trying to decide if I wanted to go to optometry school or medical school. A lot of my parents’ friends were doctors, and every medical doctor said, “I hate what I do, but I love the money.” Every optometrist said, “This is the greatest profession in the world.” So, that’s when I decided that if you love what you, do the money will come.
Q&A: Kelly Nicols, OD, MPH, PhD
What about contact lenses that attracted you?
I get to see what’s coming. I love being on the cutting edge. It was always fun because the rep would come in and instead of the rep telling me what’s new, she would ask me what’s coming. I’ve done over 375 clinicals in the last 28 years-I’ve done more clinical investigations than any private practice optometrist in the country. I want to know what is the absolute best contact lens, contact lens solution, wetting drop, for my patient, and the best way I’ve been able to do that is to be a clinical investigator.
Next: Why did you go into private practice?
Why did you go into private practice?
When I was a second-year student, I was asked to go into practice. The doctor didn’t want to wait until I did a residency. I love being a private practice optometrist. I have the utmost respect for corporate, clinical, and academic optometrists, but I think I’m in the best of everything. I’m my worst boss because I keep pushing myself because I love what I do.
What keeps you involved in research?
I love the idea of clinical research, and it’s fun. My secret weapon is my study coordinator, Karen-she is an absolutely phenomenal, organized, great coordinator. Everything is always perfect, always precise, and done well. That’s why we keep getting to do more studies.
What are the benefits of private practice over research?
In private practice, I have the best of all worlds. If I was doing only research, I’d only be doing research. But in private practice, we use our own patients. And because of that, I have gotten to know patients. Because I treat every patient as family, I literally get to know them like they’re part of my family. The biggest thing that I love about private practice is the relationships I’ve been able to gain over the last 28 years. In just clinical research and some corporate practices, you’re told how long you have with a patient. We are scheduled for an hour for an exam; I see a patient for 30 minutes. People think I’m absolutely crazy, but I’ve won a lot of awards for giving a very thorough exam because I don’t feel rushed.
Next: Where did you get the idea to develop a closer rapport with your patients?
Where did you get the idea to develop a closer rapport with your patients?
When I was four years old back in Chicago, I was hit by a car. When they got me to the hospital, I had no brain waves, and the doctor told my parents, “There’s no way he’s going to make it.” My parents prayed and prayed and prayed, and God gave me a second chance. From that day on my whole life, my parents would tell me, “God gave you a second chance. Make the most of it.” So, I’ve always wanted to help people. My dad always told me and I’ve told my three boys as well, “You treat everybody you deal with as family, and you’ll always be successful. So, every patient who walks in the door is my family. I give every patient my personal cell phone number. Three weeks ago, I got a call at 4 a.m. from a patient in severe pain, she scratched her eye. I can’t tell you how many times she has referred people. She called to thank me and said, “I was in horrible pain. I called, and you answered. What kind of service is that!” I said, “I’m here for you.” That’s the kind of practice I want to have.
What are the three best ways an OD can improve a practice?
One, keep up with technology. Everything is changing in optometry, and we have to invest in ourselves. Two, I believe the best way to build a practice is with doctor-driven dispensing. One my biggest secrets to grow a practice is prescribing computer glasses. The third thing is investing in your staff. I am blessed with a phenomenal staff. I pay them well, and because of that they have loyalty to me. They have to be educated, they have to know what is new, what is the best thing for their patients. I feel those three thing will help make any practice succeed.
Do you have any regrets?
I have always dreamed I was going to wake up one day, I was four, and it would be the day I got hit. I’ve had this dream my whole life. I would never want to change one thing. My life is so unbelievably blessed. I love what I do so much, I have not worked in years. I play every day.
Next: What's something your colleagues don't know about you?
What’s something your colleagues don’t know about you?
I have no hobby. I live and breathe my office. I used to play golf. Then my wife took up golf, so we started golfing together. And then my wife got better than me. That’s probably my only regret, I never figured out a hobby.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
[Laughs] I am the most conservative person you’d ever meet in your life. When I was in Boy Scouts, we were hiking in Hawaii. We started atop a volcano and hiked all the way down to the coast and then to the airport, took us two weeks. We climbed a cliff and couldn’t get down, so we jumped 80 feet into the water. We had no idea if there were rocks down there. [Laughs] I’m so conservative, I never do anything that crazy.