I’ve had the unique opportunity to work in both private and corporate optometric practices as both an associate and an owner.
With the financial responsibilities of new practice ownership, two years ago I took a part-time associateship at a national chain. Optometry is a much different profession when you compare being an independent vs. corporate practitioner.
It’s so different that it can feel like two different occupations. Both modes of practice have pros and cons and your ultimate success and satisfaction depends on what is important to you.
At my practice, I spend more time doing administrative work than patient care. There’s always an incorrectly priced invoice or an unpaid claim to follow-up on. If you dislike administrative work, being an independent owner is not for you. While corporate ODs have administrative work, without optical, the burden is far less. In some one-door states, your staff may even do all administration for you.
Scope of Practice
Many doctors have the idea scope of practice is limited in corporate optometry, but scope is dependent on the the lease-holding doctor. While it’s true that many corporations push eyeglass exams, the doctor often has the freedom to purchase additional medical devices and treat conditions they’re comfortable treating.
Some corporate doctors have Optomap and visual fields; many even bill medical insurances plans. The main difference I’ve seen between the two is the patient mind-set. In corporate practice, the emphasis is on refractive care, and patients only visit with the purpose of buying glasses.
Many patients I have seen have their diabetes monitored by an ophthalmologist and “just want glasses.” At my private practice, patients present for both medical and refractive reasons.The patient’s view of an optometrist is different.
The flexibility of schedule and the scheduling of patients may vary between different corporate entities and by state. I find corporate scheduling extremely frustrating. However, some doctors like traditional retail hours; it may allow them to take children to school or work while the other parent is home on the weekends. Other doctors, like myself, prefer a set 8-5 schedule and no weekends.
Additionally, the number of patients scheduled per hour can also differ between modalities. Because the corporate doctor only receives exam and contact lens fees, there is a bigger push on numbers. The corporation often interferes and puts pressure on docs for extended and holiday hours. Again, this varies by management.
The most compelling element of corporate optometry is the earning potential immediately out of school and for leaseholders, almost all of it goes directly in your pocket.
The salary allows you to start paying on school loans quickly and make big purchases like housing or a car. Your salary is also more predictable and sustainable in corporate optometry. You will always have immediate patient volume with corporate as a referral source. In contrast, a private practitioner’s initial earnings are typically significantly lower, but have more potential for growth. In a thriving practice, the practitioner has the opportunity to surpass corporate earnings.
A majority of receipts are optical sales so the ability to capitalize is imperative.
Investment and Sacrifice
For those optometrists who are unsure where they would like to practice or in what modality, corporate optometry allows you to buy time while you figure things out. You will soon know what is best for you, and with little investment.
Walking into a corporate entity and taking a lease, requires little financial or emotional investment.
You can treat conditions you are comfortable with and refer out conditions you aren’t. If you decide you want to move, with 30-90 days notice, you can make the change. With your own independent practice, the investment in yourself and in your future is huge! When you take the step towards ownership, you jump in. With leases and loans, you must make a long-term commitment to 24/7 small business ownership.
Willingness to work hard and sacrifice is rewarded with financial growth and personal satisfaction.
I think staffing difficulties are experienced by both corporate and private optometrists. The difference is often the control you may have.
If a staff member is not working out in your practice, with adequate documentation, you can fire them and find a replacement. In contrast, most corporate practicing doctors have little or no voice when it comes to the staff. Many times the staff is supplied by the corporation, and they are almost impossible to replace. Unsatisfactory staff is a major stress for most corporate optometrists.
For me, I am grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to work several years in corporate optometry to fund my practice and offer a different perspective. Each optometrist is different in personality and drive, which determines the preferred mode of practice.
I strongly feel that the future of optometry as a profession is dependent on independent optometry practices and doctors who are wholeheartedly investing their careers into their profession and patients.