Published in Non-Clinical

10 Steps to Becoming a Sought-Out Optometry KOL

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9 min read

Learn what it takes to be a key opinion leader in eyecare and how to utilize that status to advance the field.

10 Steps to Becoming a Sought-Out Optometry KOL
If you are like I was, you may not even know what the acronym “KOL” means. Whenever someone talked about a KOL or said they wanted to become a KOL, I just nodded my head and pretended I completely understood. After a period of time, I finally swallowed my pride and asked someone what this auspicious “KOL” that everyone talked about was exactly.

What is an optometry KOL?

A KOL is a Key Opinion Leader. Finally! I pieced together from all these conversations that a key opinion leader is someone who truly understands optometry, optometrists, and has a strong understanding of how the eye care industry is advancing. They are the people that optometrists, industry partners, and organizations look to when they are envisioning what the future of eyecare can look like.
Many optometrists desire to become a KOL because it allows them to be an active participant in the profession they love. Over the years, I have been able to be a part of organizations, groups, panels, and interviews that allowed me to be seen as a small key opinion leader within matters of women in optometry, and as a young optometrist.
While I am not even close to some of the giants in our profession, I do have 10 tips that can help you also become a key opinion leader.

1) Find what you are most passionate about in eyecare.

What part of optometry are you passionate about? Contact Lenses? Pediatrics? Equality? Representation? Dry Eye? Education? Advocacy? Practice Management? What makes you super excited to learn about and have a desire to grow within optometry? Finding this niche is super important because it is what fuels your fire.
Becoming a leader in our profession takes a lot of energy. If you aren’t passionate about the area you are investing in, quickly it will become a hassle rather than a joy!

2) Within that passion, determine what have you already learned or participated in.

You want to become more involved with contact lenses. Sweet! What fit sets do you have? Have you gone to any contact lens meetings? Have you traveled to any special fitting training? Do you have a residency or other background that gained experience in?

Take stock of what you have already done, and make sure you have it listed on your CV, resume, and LinkedIn.

If you keep it to yourself, then no one will ever know the things you have done towards becoming a leader in your niche.

3) Decide what area of optometry you want to become involved in next.

You know where you have been, but where do you want to go next? This can range from organizations you can join tomorrow, to conferences you want to speak at, or industry partners you want to work with—list it, even if it feels unattainable. Putting down on paper where you want to end up will help guide your steps to get there. But if you try to choose items on a whim, you may not end up in the direction you want.

4) Assess the amount of time you want to dedicate to becoming an optometry KOL.

As you become more involved in optometry, you will find there are endless opportunities to be involved. Article writing, speaking engagements, conferences for networking, panels, interviews, podcasts, social media, and SO much more. It is important for you to know how much time you can dedicate to your goal of becoming a KOL. If it is a little bit of time, that is fantastic! If it is most of your time, also fantastic! Knowing how much time you can give will make sure you are able to continue enjoying every piece of this journey—and make sure you can reliably meet deadlines too.

5) Pinpoint what pursuits you want to spend your time on.

Each person has a way to express themselves in a way they feel most comfortable. For some, they like to be behind the camera; this could be YouTube, a video-based podcast/interview, or social media. Maybe you are a keyboard warrior. You like to write blogs, articles, or even research papers. You may like to participate in speaking engagements. Maybe you like networking, or being a part of engagement opportunities.

Find what gives you energy, and look for opportunities to showcase your skills.

And if there isn’t one, then create your own! Start creating content that you have authored, and become a source that people go to find information. It proves your skills as a leader before you have even ventured into the upper echelons of your niche.

6) Make friends in your passion area of optometry.

This is the best part of becoming a leader in optometry. The people. Truly there is not better way to learn more about yourself and optometry than to meet your colleagues who soon become your friends. Reach out to someone on social media, comment on a YouTube page, network at conferences, but most of all be willing to take a step into the uncomfortable to get to know someone because you find their work fascinating.
When you make connections with people within your niche, you also are showing people who you are and what makes you an asset to optometry. When it comes time for someone to recommend a new face in your niche, you will have people who are already in the room who can be an advocate for you to join.

7) Figure out what you value most in partnerships.

As you become a leader, you will have opportunities that come to you from all different aspects of our profession. It will be super tempting to say “yes” to all of them in the beginning. But, approach with caution.
When you say “yes” to every opportunity, you aren’t carving out what you are passionate about and what makes you different. Let’s say you agree to speak on behalf of five different contact lens brands; you aren’t able to speak to why you chose to speak about that particular brand over another. Also, many times organizations and industry partners will be leery about your true commitment to the vision they are asking you to be a part of.
To help combat this, find out what you want out of a partnership. Is it visibility, financial incentive, position in the industry, values, impact on the profession, or confidence in the product or service? Being able to identify what is most important to you will make sure that your partnerships are beneficial to you and the group or organization you are a part of.

8) Be there.

When you are first becoming a leader in the profession, it is easy to think, “Man, I wish I would get invited to things like that” or “EVERYONE is at X meeting.” So, I learned from my favorite TV character, Winston from New Girl, the best way to combat this: Be there!

The best way to have fresh content and make new connections is to be there.

Go to the meeting. Ask people where they are going and what they are doing ahead of time. If you can, connect with reps prior to the event to learn more about a product or service. While you are there, network: Introduce yourself to people who you want to learn from, share your business card, and share how you would love to get involved with the group or organization. Tell them what you have done and maybe share how you are going to share the experience you had.

9) Stay consistent and keep showing up.

It is easy to get discouraged if your leadership journey doesn’t take off the minute you start putting in effort. But you are not a one-hit wonder. This journey is going to take a little bit of time. So if your first Instagram post only got liked by your mom and best friend, that is a fantastic start. Maybe you got a TON of edits on your first article, you are getting to fine tune your writing style.
The biggest key though, is continually showing up as a part of the process. You may want to try a different style or a new filter for your photos or rearrange your presentation. But the important thing is that you are focusing on the same topic, your same goals, and continually be authentically yourself. You can tweak the little things of how you may share your passion, but it is important to keep your focus on your passion.

10) Have fun!

The best part about getting involved with the world of eyecare, is the incredible experiences you get to have. Personally, I have had the most incredible experiences and made some of my dear friends while being a KOL.

This experience is supposed to be fun and should reenergize you to do great things in our profession.

If you ever hit a moment when it is not fun, take a second and recenter. Getting involved in the profession you love is so rewarding. Make sure you don’t miss out on the fun; start your leadership journey now!
Kate Hamm, OD
About Kate Hamm, OD

After graduating from UMSL College of Optometry in 2019, Dr. Kate Hamm, OD began practicing at a private practice in Wichita, KS. Optometry and women’s equality are Kate’s passions. She volunteers with the Kansas Optometric Association, co-hosts a podcast on Defocus media: Lunch Date with Rachel and Kate, is the co-founder of the Optometric Compensation Research Group, and she recently completed an internship with Essilor.

Kate loves to connect with her community, and is involved with her local Lean-In and League of Women Voters chapter. Even though she seems busy, you can usually find her goofing around on her Instagram @dr.instahamm with her cat and husband.

Kate Hamm, OD
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