Which Non-Clinical Optometry Career is Right for You?

May 30, 2019
33 min read

Most optometrists spend the majority (or entirety) of their career in clinical practice. Of course, we are trained in optometry school for clinical practice, so this is a natural career path for most of us. But have you found yourself thinking that you want to transition away from clinical practice? Or perhaps you simply want to add another career to your existing clinical practice?

There are many non-clinical career alternatives available to optometrists. The best part is that you can utilize your experience, education, and interests to tailor your non-clinical career to your passion to create a new stream of income! And remember, your alternative career does not have to be directly related to optometry. Take advantage of your entire educational background, whether it’s your undergraduate degree, your master’s degree, or any other specific training you might have! Take our quiz here, or read on for several non-clinical career alternatives to get you started!

Learn about how Dr. Holly Swain's non-clinical endeavors helped her to grow in the optometry field!

Medical/Health Freelance Writer

As an optometrist, you have many options to choose from when it comes to what to write about and who you can write for! It all depends on what your strengths and interests are, but a good place to start is to figure out what subjects you’re interested in. Do you want to write about practice management and marketing? Maybe you’re passionate about natural eye care and nutrition. Or perhaps you are experienced in managing glaucoma and want to educate other optometrists! Make a list of different areas of optometry you’re interested in, then see if you can come up with some topics to write about. This will help when you market your writing services as a way to target a specific type of publication or website.

Your niche doesn’t have to be related to optometry, either. I encourage you to think outside the optometry box! If you studied nutrition in college, you might consider writing for a health blog. If you did research as an undergraduate or optometry student, put your skills to use and write for a scientific publication or academic journal. If you are passionate about skin care products and have a background in chemistry, you can search for cosmetic companies that hire writers for their websites. If you found a way to pay off your optometry school debt quickly, you can offer an interesting perspective writing for personal finance blogs. There are so many possibilities!

Looking for more advice to get your non-clinical career started? Check out our panel with five ODs who found happiness outside of the clinic.

The most important part is to start writing and practice as much as you can. Write a couple of articles you may want to pitch later and create a website to showcase your writing portfolio and services. Don’t worry if you aren’t published yet and have nothing to put in your portfolio. You can just post a few samples of your writing on your website until you get some published articles under your belt.

Once you feel ready, you can get in touch with publications, blogs, or other companies and pitch your ideas. This can be the most daunting part for many people. But just remember, you have the credentials, education and skills, so don’t be shy about letting people know you’re a great writer. You may need to send many pitches before you hear a positive response, but don’t give up. Just view it as practice for the next time you pitch. Be confident and put yourself out there!

There's no time like the present! Interested in writing for CovalentCareers? Let us know!


Blogging is not just a hobby you do in your spare time anymore. There are real ways to monetize blogs! Before you get to that point though, you must first decide on a niche to write about.

There are so many niches available in the blogging community; there’s a place for everybody. Optometry is a great niche because you can cover medicine, fashion, and many other topics in between. You can appeal to a wide variety of audiences this way. If you like the medicine route, you can educate your audience about eye health or discuss the latest contact lens technologies. If you love fashion, you can showcase the latest frame styles and suggest outfit pairings to match, or teach your audience which eye makeup and creams are better to use.

Once you figure out a niche, you can get your blog set up and start creating posts. There are many free tutorials you can find online, and the cost to set up a self-hosted blog is pretty low. You will want to set up a self-hosted blog as opposed to using a free blog host because it’s not only more professional, but you won’t be able to monetize a free blog in the same way.

Then, you can read about how to monetize your blog using affiliate links, sponsored posts, advertising (like Google AdSense), email marketing, and many other ways. Again, there is a myriad of free information you can find online about this. Blogging is definitely not a quick way to make money since it will take a long time before you see much of a return, but if you keep at it, it’s possible to make a very significant income! If anything, there is very little risk involved in starting a blog, so give it a try and see if you enjoy it!

Social Media Influencer

Many of you might associate social media with those influencers we see lounging on a tropical island or a fancy penthouse rooftop and seem to have thousands of other influencers trying to copy them. Don’t let that turn you off from social media! There is a place for your unique perspective. Think of something fresh you can offer, whether it’s sharing unique optometric cases you come across or documenting your travels when you go on fun continuing education trips. (Isn’t there that one conference in the Caribbean?!)

Next, figure out what platform you want to focus on. Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter are all popular options and will allow you to grow a following. However, many social media influencers might argue that Instagram takes the cake on this. Just keep in mind that Instagram is very visual and you will need to have an eye for aesthetics. Having strong photography skills is a plus, unless you plan to have some help with the images you post!

Having a clear message or topic will help keep you focused. If your social media posts are all over the place, your followers won’t have a clear idea of what you’re about. So if you want to grow your following, focus on attracting specific types of followers, as opposed to trying to attract every single person that visits your account. Once you figure out who you want to attract, focus on building a relationship with your audience. Add personal details to your posts so they can relate to you. Give them helpful advice so they will want to come back for more. The most important part is to figure out what your audience wants, so you can provide that to them!

There are tons of fantastic people in the community who you can use for inspiration! Here are a few we'd suggest checking out:

  1. Harbir Sian, OD (@harbirsian.od)
  2. Jennifer Tsai, OD (@drjenandjuice)
  3. Jennifer Lyerly, OD (@eye.dolatry)
  4. Emilie Seitz, OD (@eyeseitz)
  5. Arian Fartash, OD (@glamoptometrist)

After you start to accumulate followers, you can reach out to relevant brands and other companies to see if they would like to work with you and have you promote their products. You can get paid for sponsored posts, affiliate marketing, becoming a brand ambassador, and a number of other ways. Don’t forget to network with other influencers to get your name out there! Collaborating with others is a great way to increase your audience and your chances of success. There are many influencer networks you can look for that are communities in which you can meet other like-minded people in your niche.

Who knows, your blogging may lead to more career opportunities! Maybe you’ll discover you’re a social media pro and want to start your own business helping other optometrists promote their own social media presence. Or maybe you’ll get hired by a company or brand you promoted and get consistent work from them. There’s only one way to find out!

Product Creator

If you enjoy thinking of new ways of doing something or dreaming up prototypes for new inventions, consider creating your own product to sell. First, think of a problem you want to solve or a need you want to fulfill. You can start with your optometry practice. Think of concerns that come up during patient care, or issues you often discuss with your colleagues.

Then go online and do some research to see if there is a demand for your product idea. This part is very important. Don’t just assume people will want your product. Do some market research to find out for sure! Otherwise you may end up with something no one wants to buy.

Who better to learn from than other product creators? Drs. Matt Geller and Brett Kestenbaum, founders of CovalentCareers, share their tips for starting up your business!

Maybe you want to design a product to make sitting at the slit lamp more comfortable for heavyset patients, but first make sure that your product will have a market. Check out online forums, Facebook groups, relevant websites or blogs, basically anywhere your target customer may be hanging out virtually. Don’t be afraid to ask people for their opinion!

If you’re ready to move forward and start developing your product prototype, it’s good to do some research and get an idea of all the upfront costs you will need to invest. Seems like too much money? Well, your product doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical product.

Creating an online course, app, or e-book may require less time and money up front. If you love to cook and want to help your diabetic patients take care of their health, you might compile an e-book of healthy recipes. If you are tech savvy, perhaps you can create an app for patients to schedule appointments and communicate with your office more easily.

If these ideas sound appealing but you have no idea where to start, consider taking an online course first. Udemy, for example, offers many low-priced courses where you can learn how to become an app creator, an online course creator, and just about everything in between. Just get creative and have fun!


Consulting encompasses a wide variety of career options that you can tailor depending on your strengths and educational background. Something to keep in mind is that this career option will typically require you to have more experience than the others mentioned above. It will be difficult to get hired as a practice management consultant if you are a new grad and haven’t owned a practice yourself!

If you run a successful private practice and have the business savvy to help others, you might consider starting a practice management consulting business. If you want to step outside the box a little bit more, think of other marketable skills you have that people may desire. If you have digital marketing skills, you can consult with practices to help improve their online presence such as websites and social media accounts.

Follow along with Dr. Alan Glazier as he reveals what you need to know about finding optometry consulting opportunities!

If you are tech savvy, you can market yourself as a consultant for companies who develop electronic medical record systems and need input from optometrists. If you are skilled at managing personal finances, you can consult with other optometrists on how to manage their student loans and other debt.

You may be wondering how to get a consulting business off the ground if you are brand new. Sharing your knowledge is a great place to start. Start your own website and write a few articles on your area of expertise. You can then promote your services on your website so visitors will see what you offer. Or, you can reach out to other businesses and publications to create content and share your knowledge on their platform, which is a great way to get your name out there!

You will also want to have accounts on platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook where you can network with others in your field and join communities where your potential customers may be hanging out. If you offer helpful advice to people, they will see that you have something valuable to bring to the table. So when you actually start to market to them, they already trust you and will be willing to pay for your consulting services!


If you enjoy teaching others, academia, and are comfortable with public speaking, you might consider applying to be a professor at an optometry school. This can be a very fulfilling role as you will be working directly with optometry students and helping them build a foundation to succeed as an optometrist. If you become a professor, you may also become eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. This is an attractive benefit if you owe a lot of student loans!

To get hired as a professor, residency training may be required but not in all cases. Don’t be discouraged if you didn’t do a residency! Teaching experience, clinical experience, and research experience are other factors that will be considered when you apply for this position. As an optometry professor, you may not only be lecturing. You may also be required to instruct students in clinical practice, so keep this in mind if you are looking for a career that does not involve clinical practice!

If you are interested, a good place to start is to check an optometry school’s website to see if there are job openings for professors. You may see jobs listed as “assistant professor” or “associate professor” or “lecturer”. You can also check ASCO’s website for job openings. If you don’t live near an optometry school and are not interested in relocating, you aren’t limited to just optometry schools. Try searching for other universities and medical schools as they sometimes hire optometrists to teach students and staff on optometric topics.

Even if you do not see any job openings, it won’t hurt to contact the school and ask if they are interested in hiring guest lecturers in the future. It may not lead to a full-time gig, but guest lecturing can be a great way to go if you want to balance teaching with clinical practice. You might also end up finding a job as a guest lecturer who travels and speaks at various continuing education classes, conferences, schools, etc. You never know what doors may open up if you work in academia!

Medical Science Liaison

Optometrists in this role often work for a company that works in pharmaceuticals, medical devices, biotechnologies, or other related fields. They help bridge the gap between clinicians and healthcare companies by building relationships with fellow doctors and ensure they are using the company’s products effectively. This career can be very fulfilling as you are on the forefront of the latest technology and you are able to see the positive effects of the products on patient care.

Companies hiring medical science liaisons often look for optometrists with several years of experience, especially in a medical model practice. You do not necessarily need any additional degrees other than your optometry degree. However, companies desire a candidate with a strong knowledge base and who may be key opinion leaders in the industry.

You will also have an advantage if you specialize in a specific area of optometry. For example, if you have expertise in dry eye management, this will give you an advantage if you are applying to a pharmaceutical company that manufactures dry eye products. Some companies that hire optometric medical science liaisons include Alcon, Novartis, Bausch Health, Johnson & Johnson, Alimera Sciences, Sun Pharmaceutical, and Shire.

Strong communication and presentation skills are also a necessity in this field. You will not only be communicating closely with other clinicians, but also interacting with other departments within your company such as sales and marketing. You will probably be speaking in front of an audience from time to time as well, so you should be comfortable with public speaking. Another aspect to be aware of is that medical science liaisons often need to travel frequently. If you don’t like flying, this may not be the job for you!

Finding a job as a medical science liaison may not be easy. These positions are often not posted online and are spread by word of mouth through company employees. That’s why networking is very important if you want to get the job! Getting in touch with your pharmaceutical rep is a great place to start. Build your relationship with your rep, then let them know you are interested in this position. Also try to attend conferences as frequently as possible in order to network with more companies and other medical science liaisons!

About Melody Huang, OD

Melody Huang, O.D. is a freelance optometrist and health writer practicing in Los Angeles, CA. She enjoys writing for a variety of recognized health and scientific publications. In her spare time, she also loves reviewing skin care and beauty products. …

Free CE