Samantha J. Rao, O.D., F.A.A.O. discusses finding your optometry niche as a new grad OD in this video interview.
I knew as a student that I wanted to pursue residency and advanced training in specialty contact lenses, but not all students or new grads have a specialty in mind that they are passionate about. Many young doctors focus on graduating, getting their first job, and starting to pay down those student loans, but some find themselves wishing years later that they had done a residency to pursue more specialized training within optometry. While I am a huge advocate for residency, you can absolutely still carve out a niche for yourself and your practice without having done one.
When optometrists think of niches within our profession, most think of the common residency programs: ocular disease, contact lenses, pediatrics, vision therapy and rehabilitation, and low vision.
However, you can also focus your practice and advance your learning in more specific areas such as dry eye management, glaucoma, myopia control, orthokeratology, sports vision, brain injury rehab, special needs populations, or geriatric nursing home care.
One of the best ways to grow your knowledge in a certain area is to attend conferences, not only for the great education offered but also to network and make connections with other doctors who share your area of interest.
The Academy of Optometry meeting is a great start, and I would also suggest attending a more specialized meeting if one exists in your area of interest, such as COVD
for vision therapy, GSLS for contact lenses, or ARVO for research.
It’s important for new graduates to find a niche that they are passionate about because ultimately, it can really help practitioners to stand out in the job market and to their patients. Having an area of focus can also keep you motivated throughout your career to continue learning, pursuing advanced qualifications such as fellowships, and work toward becoming an expert in your field. Having an area of expertise can also lead to many new opportunities.
Even as a recent graduate, my specialty contact lens background has enabled me to connect with so many colleagues from across the country with similar interests, and has even enabled me to start lecturing and leading scleral contact lens workshops for students and for ODs who are looking to add specialty contact lens services to their practices.
If you want to find your niche but aren’t sure what field to pursue, think about which types of patient encounters you find the most rewarding.
Finding your niche is all about finding a meaningful connection with your patients and realizing that by expanding your own knowledge base and skillset, you can solve problems for your patients that may not have been adequately solved before. If you help a patient resolve an issue that they’ve been frustrated by for a long time, you’ll often have a loyal patient for life, and your practice and career will only grow from there.