Women, leadership, and optometry

October 13, 2017

Over the past several decades, the profession of optometry has experienced a gender shift, which research shows is expected to continue. The most recent industry report estimates the female-to-male ratio among practicing optometrists is projected to grow to 52 percent female and 48 percent male by 20221-an increase from 2 percent female and 98 percent male in the 1960s.

Over the past several decades, the profession of optometry has experienced a gender shift, which research shows is expected to continue.1 The most recent industry report estimates the female-to-male ratio among practicing optometrists is projected to grow to 52 percent female and 48 percent male by 20221-an increase from 2 percent female and 98 percent male in the 1960s.2

Don’t wait for opportunities-create them

During the time when I was investigating options for my fourth year externship, I knew I wanted an opportunity that would challenge me clinically, professionally, and personally. 

Other optometry schools offered students externship opportunities at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMC), one of the nation’s largest and most renowned military medical centers in Bethesda, MD. But, unfortunately for myself and the other State University of New York College of Optometry (SUNY) students, there was no externship program set up for us to do so.

Related: Building trust with patients builds the practice

Because I desperately wanted the experience of working at a military site-and at such a prominent institution as WRNMMC-I contacted my externship coordinator, started asking questions, and soon found myself working with both the president of the university and the U.S. military to create a new externship program for SUNY students.

Six months later, the program was successfully qualified, and I gladly joined WRNMMC as the first SUNY student in its externship program.

Although I was slightly cautious about asking SUNY leadership about a program that didn’t exist, I was determined to find a way to make it happen. You may, one day, find yourself in a similar situation in which you want to pursue something in your career that may not have been done before or is seemingly impossible.

The lesson: Embrace change even if it involves risk, have the courage to follow unexpected paths to do new things, and create your own opportunities.

Related: Help! My team is falling apart

Take advantage of leadership opportunities

I believe women join the workforce with an open heart and open mind and are either lucky to be born with innate leadership skills or have the will and determination to be taught.

Leadership shows up in a variety of ways, and it presents differently based on the person or the circumstance. It can mean becoming the CEO of a company, owning a practice, leading a team of volunteers to provide care, providing educational contributions to the field, or working to establish yourself as the eyecare expert in your personal community.  

 

Each one of these, and many other opportunities, allows women to shine as leaders. The path each leader takes will always be personal to them and will pave the way to make an impact on the future.

What is important is finding where your interest or passion lies and taking action with this as your guide.

My passion has always been to help others. This was emphasized during my time in the military, where I was able to examine members of the armed forces, as well as during my time in private practice, where I helped to positively impact the lives and vision of people in my hometown.

What I didn’t realize, however, was that my passion could extend even further to help and influence both providers and patients all over the world. And this is what ultimately led me to consider a career in industry.

Optometry provides practicing and soon-to-be practicing optometrists the chance to establish themselves as leaders both within their practices and within the greater profession. There are opportunities in research, clinical care, trade publications, private practice, and within industry.

Related: The false security of a full schedule

Your goal should always be to use the passion that drives you to strengthen yourself personally and professionally.

Help others grow and care for our patients

In addition to focusing on your own career goals, it is equally important to help those around you grow. This is a skill that you may already be providing in your daily life at home with your family, with friends, or at the office with colleagues. I encourage you to leverage this skill and your experience in the industry to help others.

I have been honored to serve as a mentor and have had the fortunate opportunity to be mentored by a diversified set of professionals throughout my career. The practice of mentorship presents a wonderful opportunity to connect women within this profession.

Under the guidance of my mentors, I have been able to cultivate professional relationships, share ideas, and seek out opportunities that may not have been previously available. In return, serving as a mentor has allowed me to help other women within optometry by answering questions and providing insight to help advance their careers and ultimately influence the future of optometry.

Related: How to prevent no-shows in your practice

I am also thankful to have had the support of my mentors during the times when I was presented with challenges or opportunities. This was especially evident when I was considering leaving private practice to join Bausch + Lomb. My mentors’ encouragement and words of advice helped me think through my decision and realize the opportunity I had to help patients worldwide.

My work and role at Bausch + Lomb has been reflective of my experience in creating opportunities where they may not have already existed. I encourage any woman with a career in optometry to seek out both the visible and non-visible pathways that may lie ahead.

Do this by asking questions, researching, and connecting with those outside your network. By identifying opportunities for ourselves and helping to cultivate leadership within others, we can continue to foster growth within the industry-and ultimately for our patients.