Published in Non-Clinical

How To Start a Non Clinical Optometry Career

This is editorially independent content
14 min read
Starting a non clinical optometry career can be scary. However, it can also be the most rewarding experience of your life. At VisionExpo West, five ODs sat down to discuss exactly how they've found happiness outside the clinic. Below you'll find their helpful hints!

First, meet our panelists

Dr. Matt Geller: founder of NewGradOptometry and CovalentCareers. He focuses on career development, online publications, content and tech, business development, and bringing knowledge and insight to fellow healthcare providers through his many ventures.
Dr. Will To: a traveling OD who spends his time working with students and new grads to help them transition from student to doctor. He does patient care 1-2 days per week.
Dr. Arian Fartesh: the GlamOptometrist; her Instagram page is super successful with 39,000 followers. She posts about eyecare, eye fashion, and is dedicated to educating the public about the importance of eye health.
Dr. Cory Hakanen: spent some time in corporate optometry, then decided to go back to school for his MBA. Now he does consulting for eyecare companies.
Dr. Aaron Lech: has a 4 doctor group practice; there, in addition to patient care, he spends time testing various companies’ products for consulting and research purposes. His passions are his family, expanding the consciousness of what eyecare should look like, and reaching underserved populations through eye and healthcare missions.

Most ODs won’t leave patient care to start a non-clinical optometry career because they think it’s taboo not to see patients. Is that the case, and how did our panelists overcome it?

Unfortunately, there is a guilt in optometry associated with not being in the exam room, but the good news is that there doesn't have to be. Optometry, like any other degree, is a set of keys that unlocks certain doors. Using the realization of the uniqueness of the keys you have and being creative with those keys will open doors that others can’t open, and allow you to do things that make sense to you and fulfill you.
For example, Dr. Lech has used his optometry degree to mobilize resources across the healthcare field in order to create a successful and large mission trip that not only encompasses eyecare but primary care as well. He is able to care for masses of underserved people in foreign countries by simply recognizing what in optometry makes him happy and using his “keys” to pursue that passion.
One of the most important aspects of deciding which area of optometry fits you best is to begin by understanding yourself. What do you like to do? What makes you happy? What do you want your future to look like? Answering these questions will allow you to design your optometric career around achieving those goals. We are in the experience business, and whether you are influencing that experience in the exam room or through other ways, you are still contributing to the overall eyecare experience.

How do I get started?

If you want to get your ideas started and make an impact, understand your end goal. You can't just pursue a career outside the exam room just to do it, you must first understand where you’re trying to end up. What does that mean for you, your team, your family, your money goals, etc? Answering those questions will allow you to craft something that fits your personality and goals.
Once you've established your end goal, look at your personal strengths, the market needs, and where people are frustrated and use that information to decide how you should proceed. Find a way to satisfy the unmet needs in our profession by amplifying your own strengths. Gauge the people involved in the eye care space — in other words, talk with healthcare people. See where the gaps are. Then you will start to see where you’re going and what you need to do.

How do you create value? What is value?

Value can be found in everything. It's not just in the end result; it can be found in the process. For example, when Dr. Lech started in practice, he made a business plan. 90% of that plan turned out to be wrong, but the value was in the process of doing it. It let him know how to valuate things, how to plan, how to do a SWAT analysis, etc. Those lessons then translated into his future business planning as well as into his life, providing significant value.
Another way to look at value is by considering what you’re bringing to the market. When you branch out outside of the exam room, look at skills you don’t have. Pick out the skills you don’t know that would help you get to the goals you've set and learn them- then you can bring missing elements to the market.
The key is to remember, as previously stated, to center your plans around where you want to be in 10, 15, 20 years. Place value in taking steps that lead you to achieving those lifetime goals, but don't be afraid to adjust those goals as your journey progresses. Set goals, reach them, then set the bar higher. Remaining stagnant will decrease your value and prevent future doors from opening! Don't close yourself off by becoming complacent!

How do you define what your limits are (your nos) so that you know what you want to be involved in (your yeses)? What role does sacrifice play?

At first, you say yes to everything to establish yourself. As you grow, your nos are more important. What do you want to define yourself as? What are you willing to not be scaled into to define your mission, your end goal, your brand? Nos should be defined by your life and business goals. Sacrifices will be made, but they pay off in growth. As you gain momentum, you can sacrifice less.
No matter what, taking risks will be a necessary part of your path if you choose to step outside the exam room. Sometimes, those risks won't work out, but keep in mind that your failures can be as important as your successes if you choose to use them as learning moments.
If you're serious about pursuing your goals, you’ll have to reach a place where you're willing to put the majority of yourself into your new idea and grow from there. You must be willing to sacrifice time if you want to succeed.
Finally, know your worth, then add tax. Don’t sacrifice what’s important to you. And if you're feeling a little nervous, keep in mind that we have a great back up plan- we can always get back to patient care.

How do you structure what to charge for your product or service?

Charge scales depend on what you are delivering: goods vs services. Goods will have hard costs involved such as production cost, raw materials, etc. that will allow you to gauge your expenses and price accordingly. They are easier to value. Services are harder; they are related more to time.
As you calculate what your time is worth, you will need to remember that it is a sliding scale and depends on what area you’re working in. You have to understand what the cost of your time is if you were in clinical practice fully and make sure you're valuing yourself at at least that rate. Don't just look at your “chair” cost; remember to factor in your full worth with partnership opportunities and practice equity. Don’t sell yourself short, but don't worry if you have to start slightly lower and work your way up to your full value as you grow.
If you’re bringing a product or service that's brand new, you have nothing to compare to. In this case, you should look to other industries and find something similar to your product to compare to and on which to base your value. However, if it’s something that does exist, find the benchmark and go off that — where are you different, where are you better, what do you have that the existing competitors don't, what do you lack? Then value accordingly. Just make sure you do your research before you assign a value to your goods.
Tip: remember that value doesn’t always have to be defined in monetary terms. Sometimes the value of a business relationship comes with the mutually beneficial connections you and the other party establish.

How do you communicate your value?

First and foremost: keep it simple! Investing in you should be simple.
Now . . . how to present your value: Go above and beyond. Don't just present your client with a “this is what my business costs and this is what you’ll get from us, the end” type of pitch. Put effort into it and bring a true formal proposal with designed graphics. Additionally, you should look at your spoken word — your voice tone, your excitement level — and consider how much of a social contract is there with this person. How transparent will you need to be with them? How much blood, sweat, and tears will they see you put in?
The way you present to potential clients will be determined by who you’re talking to. Are they the type of client that will love that you’re a one man show and that they’ll be your only client or will they see that as a weakness and not who they want to be involved with? If it’s the latter, make yourself larger than life during the presentation. If they like the smaller aspect of your business, keep the conversation very candid and personal. Understand the company’s pain-points and what they need and see if you can address that need. If so, make sure they know why are you different from others who have or will approach them.
Tip: Once you know how much your time/knowledge is worth, don’t negotiate it down just because you’re new. Stand by what you are worth. If you need to justify the number, fine, but don’t negotiate down because you haven’t taken the time to discern what you’re really worth.

Why don’t people start?

The first and most common reason is fear: fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of not knowing how to move forward when challenged. When you’re in the exam room, you’re in control. To be able to step away from that safe space is hard and scary, but it pays off tremendously in the end. As humans, we are creatures of habit that tend to go back to what we know when things get hard. That often results in us hitting a wall and stopping instead of breaking right through it. You will hit pitfalls, you will fail, but don’t be discouraged. Keep moving forward and be consistent. You’ll reach something great if you do.
Another roadblock many face when trying to branch out is that they don't understand the importance of creating a minimum viable product. People don’t want to launch a product that isn't perfect product. You can't wait for that! No one cares if your goods or services are perfect at first — start with a small group of reliable test subjects and get real feedback on your rough product. Then, you'll have the opportunity to clean it up. Too many people wait for something to be perfect before they launch and end up waiting forever.
Once you have a product that you're ready to launch (remember, it WON’T be a perfect product), find someone who says yes and buys into your idea. Then build upon that through word of mouth. Start with one win, and go from there.
Remember: When you’re out of your comfort zone, adrenaline goes up and you think more clearly and grow because you’re hungry. Faith is spelled R I S K. If you have faith in yourself, you have to take risks.

What books would our panelists recommend to those thinking about branching out of clinical care?

  1. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves
  2. Lean Start Up by Eric Ries
  3. Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore
  4. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
  5. As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
Tip: YouTube videos and online blogs are great too.

Top Tips for a non clinical optometry career

  1. Understand that you don’t have to follow the template of what you’re supposed to do. There’s a ton of different avenues in optometry.
  2. We are a relatively small profession, so we have to work together and get to know each other. 100% of your staff and patients are people. You have to understand people to understand optometry. Build mutually beneficial relationships.
  3. Press start button right away and keep moving, break down the walls.
  4. Know your worth, then add tax.
  5. Keep it positive and nice. Remember that relationships can make or break you.
  6. Keep learning. Doesn’t have to be optometry related to spark great ideas.
  7. Get to know great people. Be transparent and real. They’ll do so back, and it will foster the pieces you need.
  8. Don’t be entitled just because you have an idea. Be ready to hustle if you’re going to dive into this, and be willing to work tons of hours 7 days a week in the beginning. Pick yourself back up when you fall. Tremendous gratification will come from hard work.
  9. Pursue wholeness: this means you may not have balance, but the pieces of the puzzle make a great whole.
  10. Find what it is in your life that keeps your fuel tank full. Focus on those things and allow your career path to center around or build off of them.
Patricia Fulmer, OD, FAAO
About Patricia Fulmer, OD, FAAO

Dr. Fulmer is the sole owner of Legacy Vision Center, a cold start, medically focused practice in Huntsville, AL, which launched at the end of 2020. A graduate of the UAB School of Optometry, she completed an ocular disease and primary care residency at the Thomas E. Creek VA Medical Center before returning to Alabama to serve as the Center Director and consultative optometrist for a referral-based, tertiary care facility and then as an associate at a multi-doctor family practice. Her clinical interests include disease management, particularly glaucoma, uveitis, dry eye, and neurology-related cases, as well as educating students and colleagues through lecturing and writing. She is an active member in the American Academy of Optometry and American Optometric Association and currently serves her profession as a member of the Board of Directors of the Alabama Optometric Association and as President of the North Alabama Optometric Association. In her free time, Dr. Fulmer enjoys spending time with her husband and family, spoiling their fur-babies, traveling, attending concerts, and exploring the outdoors while kayaking and hiking. She also loves giving back through volunteering, including serving on the Board for HEALS, Inc, an organization that focuses on providing healthcare to local in-need youth.

Patricia Fulmer, OD, FAAO
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