Without fail, I was asked this question by all the doctors that I met and shadowed this summer. The truth is, the answer to that question is exactly what I was working to figure out through my hours spent shadowing optometrists the past couple months.
Post-first year summer break was the ideal time to network and shadow a multitude of practices in my home state of Wisconsin.
I was able to meet doctors in private practice, vision therapy, group practice with ophthalmology, and more. Each of the doctors and office types, even contact lens reps and office managers, provided a different perspective on optometric practice and gave me more to think about while I try to find my niche in optometry.
Since I began researching optometry as a possible career, I was highly drawn to private practice, hoping to own my own practice during my career.
My visit to private practices this summer helped solidify this desire.
Dr. Ames, a private practice owner in my hometown of Oshkosh, WI was happy to talk with me about owning a practice, staffing, new equipment, and the optometric consulting work he does to assist other doctors in billing, coding and running a practice.
I had seen a private practice from the perspective of a technician and optician during my work in undergrad, but this visit provided me the business owner’s perspective.
I also visited two different vision therapy practices in Wisconsin this summer.
As there are few vision therapy clinics and doctors in the state, Dr. Dejmek of Appleton and Dr. Wonderling of La Crosse know each other personally and have the highest respect for each other.
Even though they practice somewhat differently, many of their goals are the same; therefore, it was very interesting to see how each doctor got to her end result through different methods.
I loved the bright colors, modern feel and kid friendly environment of Dr. Wonderling’s office, and liked that each vision therapist on her staff brought something unique to the practice, such as a previous nurse and a recent college graduate.
Upon meeting Dr. Dejmek, one can tell she is very well-versed in vision therapy, focusing on brain injury, and is open to unique diagnosis and treatment methods. While talking with Dr. Dejmek, she shared with me that she attends a wide variety of optometric conferences and lectures, from NORA to COVD to ARVO and others. She then takes what she learns from each conference and picks out what will work best for her patients.
While I have always been highly interested in private practice and vision therapy, some of the other practices I visited were modes that I had not personally considered as a good option for me.
I spent days with Dr. Rodriguez at Valley Eye Associates, an optometry and ophthalmology group practice, and with Dr. LaCount at her Shopko Optical location.
I realized through these visits that I could also be happy and successful practicing primary care optometry in either of these settings. Each provides opportunities that may or may not be present in private practice.
An ophthalmology practice may allow me to specialize in surgery co-management or specialty contact lens fittings, and have support from both ophthalmologists and other optometrists.
On the other hand, the population of patients seen at the Shopko Optical practice provides a great opportunity to educate the public on eye and health care. I am very thankful for the opportunities I had this summer to visit these practices and expand my knowledge of the field of optometry.
To wrap up my summer I visited Dr. Radke, who is one of four doctors at the practice I worked at during undergrad. Not only was I very excited to see the office again and catch up with my old co-workers, but I came to a great realization while shadowing a doctor with whom I was familiar: I have begun to think less like a student and more like a doctor!
This is very exciting to me, and I believe it is the first step toward becoming a competent and confident optometrist.
Watching Dr. Radke, I realized that I was focusing much less on what she was doing and much more on what she was saying. I could watch a million optometrists refract patients and tell me what they see in the slit lamp, but the most beneficial part of my shadowing was listening to how the doctors interact with their patients. A student worries about perfecting the binocular balance and holding the stereo test at 40 cm, but a doctor concerns herself with asking the right questions and communicating effectively to treat, diagnose and educate patients.
This experience was eye-opening, and will be a great reminder not to get too stressed about the little things during my upcoming second year.
My shadowing experiences taught me more about the field of optometry, allowed me to make new connections with successful doctors, and most importantly, reminded me why I’m spending countless hours studying for exams at SCO.