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12 Things New Graduates Want Optometry Students to Know

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20 min read

Life in school can create a myopic view of the real world of optometry. Here are 12 important tips that new graduates want optometry students to know.

12 Things New Graduates Want Optometry Students to Know

1. Beware of following the advice – “Live like a student.”

By: Matt Geller O.D.
I think this is shortsighted advice. The majority of students graduate in their mid to late twenties, perhaps the “best years” of their entire lives. Why would you continue to live on ramen noodles and drive a beat up Oldsmobile? Why would you save cash in order to retire and have free time when you are 65, and be unable to enjoy it?
“I’d rather see the world with less cash in my bank and without cataracts, than to have a ton of cash in the bank and grade 3 nuclear sclerosis.”
There are two sides to my argument. One is to learn financial management, and the other is to spend money like a bat out of hell on things that will make you grow both professionally and personally.
I have traveled to more than 10 foreign countries in the last six years, and these travels have expanded my mind, my life, and my entrepreneurial spirit more than anything I have ever done. Without those experiences, I wouldn’t be writing this article today. Sure, my bank account isn’t stacked, but I prefer to live life now because I am not promised tomorrow.
Fortunately, this state-of-mind has helped me grow my disposable income to more than that of my friends and peers. The people I have met, networks I have built, and opportunities that have come my way are thanks to my travels and smart spending.
When it comes to financial management, you must take care of your necessities prior to spending for fun and activities. If you can ensure your debts are paid, expenses are covered, and student loans are being paid down quickly, then you have earned the right to start spending for fun.

Here are the websites that I use to manage my finances.

This is an excellent financial tracker, it is free, and in my opinion, it is better than I use this to manage my spending, my budget, and ensure that I have a great snapshot of my finances 24/7. The key here is to not only monitor your spending, but to learn where you can improve positive spending habits and remove negative tendencies.
Forget loan trackers and all that jazz, is the BEST way to see how compounding interest works on your student loans. This tool will show you exactly what it means when you pay off your loans via the AVALANCHE or SNOWBALL method. The order of which loans are paid off first is either highest-to-lowest interest rate (Avalanche), or lowest-to-highest remaining principle (Snowball).
Forget and all that junk, this is by far the BEST website for user-driven advice on personal finance. It is responsive, easy to use, and comprised of a smart community of people just like you, who have the experience to answer your finance questions. I learned more about emergency accounts, investing, and smart spending from this website than I have from any finance website I have ever been on.

2. Start writing for a healthcare publication.

By: Matt Geller O.D.
Yes, I created and, so my opinion is biased. Yet every single person I have met who is successful in optometry is a journalist for a health care publication.
Andrea Thau O.D., Mile Brujic O.D., Dave Kading O.D., Justin Bazan O.D., Evan Kestenbaum, Ben Gaddie O.D., Paul Karpecki O.D. – all of these ladies and fellas started their consulting, speaking, and “careers outside of seeing patients” through journalism opportunities. Sure, writing wasn’t the catalyst that got them all started, but it is what helped them to perpetuate success.
  • Do you write?
  • Do you have an opinion?
  • Do you value your own voice and have the confidence to put it out there to the world?
Well if you do, then perhaps journalism is your best bet to get started into life outside of seeing patients. So many people don’t realize that it is not income from writing that creates your future, it’s that you are with the ‘in-crowd,” and are included in a network of like-minded individuals. In my experience, the top-dogs only do business with those who have been vetted and are “in a network” of prestigious individuals.
Writing for a publication today can mean you are building your own start-up company tomorrow. Podcasting or shooting a video interview today, can mean capital investment by outside investors in your idea tomorrow.
“Sure it takes work, but nothing worthwhile ever came to someone who didn’t sacrifice.”
Where can you write for optometry?
Anyway, the point is, stop sitting around. Take a B- in microbiology and those optometry school courses and start working on something else that will be more productive, in this case, journalism!

3. Do not get stuck in a rut.

By: Antonio Chirumbolo O.D.
One of the best tidbits of advice I have ever received, was in college, from a professor who always preached (yes, preached, he was a priest) that people typically get stuck in ruts.
“Never get stuck in a rut, it is one of the worst things you can do.”
He insisted and enforced, we all change seats every week to get to know different people in the classroom. He wanted us to listen to him lecture from a different seat, to look out of a different window in the classroom when we wanted to daydream. His point was, we tend to be creatures of habit. We drive the same route every single day during our commute, we listen to the same radio stations every day, and we find ourselves going through the same motions day in and day out. When you fall into this trap, you miss so much of the world, you simply let it all pass by.
How does this apply to optometry? Chances are, your first job will not be your last job. Often times, we get complacent, satisfied with the predictability of routine. If you find yourself unhappy with the job you are working, with the office you are working in, with the people you are working with and for, do not get stuck in that rut. Always be on the look out for new opportunities, whether you are satisfied or not with your current career. There is a lot out there optometry can offer, and you should keep your eyes open to those opportunities when they arise, and consider a change in scenery if possible.

4. Be ready to do homework.

By: Antonio Chirumbolo O.D.
You’ve graduated, no more homework, no more studying! Well, actually, the studying has just begun. After graduation, the real homework begins. As new graduates, you need to be prepared to do your homework. Out in the real world of optometry, it is critical to continue studying, and keep up-to-date with the latest advancements in the profession.
You will get questions from your patients regarding procedures they read on the internet, or new research or studies they have seen on the news. In order to answer these questions, it is critical you continue your studies after graduation and well into your career. Equally as important, if you do not know the answer to their questions, you should know where to look for answers.
It is almost a certainty that you will see a patient with a condition you have never seen before, and you may not know the proper diagnosis or treatment. Do not panic, this is a new graduate right of passage! The important thing, is to know what you do not know, and if you cannot find an answer, you need to direct that patient to someone who does.
Some great resources to help you stay current with the latest advancements in eye care, and keep your academic and clinical acumen proficient include:
  • Vision Monday – a great source of news and current events
  • Review of Optometry – news, current events, case studies, research and clinical advancements, and continuing education
  • Optometry Times – a great publication with news, latest studies, treatments, and clinical advancements
  • Optometric Retina Society – stay up-to-date with retina
  • Optometric Glaucoma Society – stay up-to-date with glaucoma
  • The Wills Eye Manual – I purchased a copy for school, and every so often I will read it cover to cover to refresh my memory on diagnoses and treatments. It is amazing how quickly you can forget things after graduating!

5. Understand that optometry and all of medicine is a business

By: Courtney Dryer O.D.
Yes, you went to school to be a doctor, but medicine is a business. With changes in insurance and government mandates, your role as a doctor has evolved dramatically. Whether you are an associate, independent contractor or owner, your income, to some degree, depends on the number of patients you see, the average fee collected per patient, and the way in which you code exams.
To be successful, you must think beyond “1 or 2.”
This is true not only in optometry, but in general medicine. See this recent article for physicians as an example, in which the author states:
“As big box stores move into your communities, are other small businesses surviving? Often the answer is no. The ones that do thrive are those that embrace change and find innovative ways to stay relevant in the lives of their customers. So too is this true as hospitals buy up smaller practices and consolidate care into larger practice models.”
As a future doctor, you must understand the environment you are graduating into!
For resources on the business side of optometry:

6. The optometric community is extremely small

By: Courtney Dryer O.D.
In every job decision you make, and every encounter you have, consider the size of the community. Although there are increasing numbers of ODs, the number of opticians, pharmaceutical reps, and optical representatives are increasingly small. Never burn bridges. Reps switch companies or products, but they will still be involved in your local community. ODs switch buying groups and jobs, but you will likely see the same core group at every important meeting. We all know “people talk.” You never know where your next job will be or who knows who…never close doors.

7. Choose your housing intelligently

By: Ryan Corte O.D.
Your monthly rent is often one of the largest fixed expenses you’ll find on your personal budget. Unlike the amount you’ll owe on student loans, this is often an expense you have control over. While a giant spike in your income will make it very tempting to rent a new, fancy place, I’m advising you to think twice before doing so!
Why? Keeping your rent as low as possible will help save you a lot of money! Now I’m not saying that you have to live with your folks – which is honestly not a bad idea – I’m simply asking you to review all your options.
Things to consider:
If you’re smart about the excess money you save, you’ll slowly see your student loan balance decrease while your bank accounts and investments increase. Even better, you’ll improve your future opportunities to purchase a house or a practice!
Side note: If you are fortunate enough to build equity in real estate early on, doing so often pays off best in the long run.

8. Meet the neighbors

By: Ryan Corte O.D.
Take the time to reach out and introduce yourself to others in your community. More specifically, set up lunches or meet and greets with other healthcare providers.
As the new optometrist in town, it’s important that other providers can put a face to a name (and vice versa). Taking the time to introduce yourself and genuinely show that you care about who you are sending your patients to will resonate positively with others.
If you want to go above and beyond, stop by their offices and meet their staff! Oftentimes they are the gatekeepers to patient referrals. Let them know what you are trained to manage – you’ll be surprised what they don’t know!

9. Get involved in your local and state organizations

By: Patricia Fulmer, OD
Typically, once new grads get out of school, the last thing they want to think about is getting involved in state or local optometry clubs or organizations. They’re focused on landing a job, getting settled in their new, non-student life, and finally enjoying the hard work they put in to get through those last four years. I completely understand, but I’m here to encourage you to find a way to incorporate that involvement into your new life as a doctor.
There are a few reasons I suggest this…
  • To meet other local docs – you may already know some of the local optometrists from your years in school. However, it’s likely that you don’t know all of them. By joining your local organization, you can connect with many OD’s you’ve never met and establish lasting connections. You never know when you’ll need someone to be on-call for you when you’re out of town or when you’ll need to pick someone’s brain about that patient they mentioned at the last meeting.
  • To further optometry in your state – as we all are aware, optometry laws differ greatly between states. Some are fortunate to practice in a state where they can perform laser and minor procedures and do injections, while others have a more limited scope. State organizations are responsible for being the driving force behind those positive changes, and if the new generation of optometrists don’t get involved in state optometry PACs, we will never move forward. In fact, we may even lose privileges. It’s our responsibility to be a voice for our profession and continue to broaden the services we can adequately provide for our patients.
  • To support the optometry schools – while not every state has a school of optometry, many do, and I’m fairly certain none of us would be where we are now without our alma maters. Even those states that don’t have a school themselves typically support one or more of the institutions through contract seats and financial backing. By becoming involved in your state and local associations, you can have a voice in how these schools progress over the coming years and can help make sure the quality of education provided only increases.
  • For leadership opportunities – for those that would like to be a part of our profession in a leadership sense, local and state organizations are wonderful places to start. You can work yourself up from running you local chapter to your state, and the connections you make through those roles will undoubtedly help open doors for other roles within the optometry world. Take advantage! We need young, motivated doctors to take us into the future!

10. Become an active volunteer in your community

By: Patricia Fulmer, OD
We all work incredibly hard to be a part of this profession, and in doing so, we tend to focus most of our time on managing practices, signing charts, gaining new patients, and wrangling staff. During our free time, relaxing and decompressing is often the number one priority. I want to suggest using some of that free time to volunteer in your community. There are countless ways to do so, and the rewards are endless. In addition to making a difference, you’ll expand your professional network, take your mind off work for awhile, and likely increase your friend and patient base. Definitely a win-win.
Every city and town offers different ways to get involved, but there are some common threads I’d like to mention. If you’re having trouble coming up with a cause or organization to join, consider looking into these:
Regardless of how you choose to give back, I urge you to find something you’re passionate about and jump in! I can promise you it’ll be one of the best experiences of your life!

11. Know your worth & trust your “gut”

By: Miki Lyn D’Angelo, OD
Once you get out of school, the first thing on your mind is getting a job. Although you want to start making money, don’t forget your morals at the door. You’ll come across every type of business in your first year: commercial opticals, “mom and pop” opticals, private practices, etc.. and each one will do business a little bit differently. I think it is great to experience all of these different types of places to help figure out where you want to ultimately end up, but if something doesn’t feel ‘right’ it is probably not. You must remember, that you have just worked eight years or so to earn this degree. Do you really want to risk it because of the way someone else does business? I think the resounding answer is NO!
The great thing within optometry is that in most parts of the country, job opportunities are plentiful. Remember that you are valuable, that you are a new graduate with a wealth of new information and an eagerness to give your patients the best care you can. Use this to your advantage and actively pursue jobs until you find the right fit for you.
One of my favorite teachers in optometry school told me, "Your first job will probably not be your last.” Keep this in mind as you begin your journey as a new optometrist!

12. Write down your goals

By: Miki Lyn D’Angelo, OD
This might seem obvious right? Well, I can guarantee that most grads one year out of school, still haven’t written down what they really want to be doing. Often we get so caught up in wanting to make money, we jump on the first opportunity that presents itself. It is easy to stick with a job that pays well, but maybe doesn’t make you 100% happy. I might sound a bit ‘yogi-esque’ but work shouldn’t be your life; rather, work should be the fuel to live the life you want.
The path to success starts with a pen and paper: write down your goals for 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, 10 years and then 30 years. Make these goals as detailed as you can, addressing your personal and professional life. Put these in a place that you can revisit often, (for awhile I had my short term goals as the background on my iPhone!) and help keep you on track to obtain what you want. Keep in mind that as life unfolds, your goals may change. That is okay! Re-evaluate as needed, but always remember that “failing to plan, is a plan to fail!”
Matt Geller, OD
About Matt Geller, OD

Matt Geller, OD is the co-founder and CEO of Eyes On Eyecare—the #1 provider of clinical and career education for the next generation of optometrists and ophthalmologists through our all-in-one digital content platform.

Matt Geller, OD
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