I might be biased, but I think that Blount County, Tennessee, is the greatest place in America to live, and I truly mean it. I’m the founder of LOVE Eye Care and CEO of Blount County Eye Center, and I’m proud to have built a practice focused on patient-centered care.
Our practice has been a part of the community for over sixty years, but all of the changes we’ve made in the last five years have been driven by our ability to look around and say, “What’s our ideal mode of practice? How do we dream of practicing optometry, and how can we make that dream a reality?”
The history of Blount County Eye Center
Founded in 1965 by Dr. Chuck Burns, the original owner, Blount County Eye Center has been a staple in the community for over sixty years. In 1999, Dr. Lloyd Tantum (my dad) took over the practice. We built our new location in 2015, and we’ve been here ever since.
With 10,000 square feet to work with, we knew that we could pack in as many exam rooms as we wanted, but stuck with nine in the construction of our new location. We built this state-of-the-art practice with patients in mind, and it’s clear from the minute you step through the doors: the ceilings are high, the windows are tall, and the snack bar is fully stocked with everything a patient could want while waiting for their appointment—or browsing the Optical Shoppe.
The building is a huge part of what makes us unique. It’s won all the industry awards, the design contests, because it’s a very clean, open space for a clinic. We could have fit another exam room in every suite, but we made them larger and more comfortable and stuck with three. We put windows in every exam room so people didn’t feel like they’re in the dungeon!
The building was designed with people in mind, and this is just as true for doctors as it is for patients—optometrists at Blount County Eye Center are encouraged to take their time with people and treat their patients with care.
That doesn’t mean that BCEC doesn’t have big goals, of course. Depending on our doctor numbers, we can see as many as 80 patients per day. And with an office open six days a week—Monday through Friday, with a short day on Sunday—that means hundreds of patients walking through the doors every week. A lot of places are a lot higher than that, because they push—they want to see the most people possible, make the most money possible, but we kind of slow it down, and try to take time with people.
There are always multiple practitioners at Blount County Eye Center working together. As an optometrist, you’re never alone—if you need help, there’s another OD or even a surgeon right down the hall. We have a pretty unique relationship with our ophthalmology partners, where they actually come here to see patients, so our patients don’t leave our office. At Blount County Eye Center, ODs have the opportunity to provide a wide variety of optometric care, from surgical co-management to pediatric care to vision therapy. (And yes—this means we’ve got all the tech in-office!)
Of course, it helps that with the exception of Louisiana and Kentucky, Tennessee has one of the largest scopes of practice in optometry. So you’re able to do pretty much anything you want to do except lasers (which we’re working on).
What makes BCEC unique
We’re a well-established practice: we’re known in the community, and a large part of that is due to our philanthropic efforts and community engagement efforts. This is a huge part of what makes our practice special.
The philanthropy of Blount County Eye Center is inextricable from the practice. I founded LOVE Eye Care in 2013 as a program to provide eye healthcare and eyewear to underserved patients around the world. In 2017, I wanted to bring the program back home to Tennessee, and now we offer no-cost eye exams to the local school system. There’s a really big need in this community for eyecare. People have barriers to care, whether they’re financial or physical, and it’s really important to me to make sure that our community has access to care, particularly kids.
Philanthropy is vital to this practice. At this point, I can’t become the guy who’s advertising all the time—we don’t spend any money on marketing because I would rather give it to the local baseball team. I don’t want to put up a billboard. Patients know that this is the kind of company we are.
Blount County is a fast-growing community. It’s a suburb of Knoxville, which means you get to access everything that’s going on there—and Knoxville is a great, hip city—without the stress or expense of living in the middle of a city. The entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in Blount County, so you’ve got the best of the best outdoor activities, from hiking trails to lakes and more.
The people here in Blount County rally around everything. It’s one of those communities where everybody cares. And for professionals, like doctors, that’s really important: to be a part of a community where people value what you do and what you bring. People know who the eye doctors are in town, and they care.
What draws optometrists to Blount County Eye Center?
Beyond the great community in our county, Blount County Eye Center has grown because of the great personalities of the people who work here. We’re always looking to grow and add new doctors to our practice, and it’s really important to us to keep the culture of the company a place where everyone—patients, staff, and doctors—feel welcomed and appreciated.
We have a brand that’s very patient-friendly and patient-focused, and that’s what makes people want to come here and makes them want to come back, because it’s not what they’re getting when they go to other places. At the same time, there’s a lot of flexibility for doctors, because Tennessee offers so much practice freedom. It’s a market where there’s a lot of opportunity for doctors to grow their clinical skills.
When it comes to hiring associate optometrists, I’m not looking for top academic accomplishments. I don’t care if they were first in their class or last. I want the person who wants to work and who can communicate with their patients, and who wants to be involved in this community. These are the real markers of a great optometrist.
Part of what makes an optometrist a great communicator is respect: respecting each other and respecting our patients. This is what I try to bring to my management philosophy: I’m always willing to listen, and I’m always willing to change, and respect that somebody who does the job probably has better insight on it than I might at any particular time.
My advice for new optometrists
When you’re considering a job offer, make sure that you’re happy with the culture that you get yourself into. And make sure that the values of the practice align with your values as an optometrist.
It’s great if you can talk to other people in the industry, whether it’s doctors who currently work there or did in the past, or reps who are familiar with offices. Being able to get an actual assessment from somebody is invaluable.
Will you be respected by the people that you work for? Is there room for growth for you? Is there an opportunity to become a partner in the practice if you want to? These are the crucial questions to ask when you consider a new job offer.