Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in December 2020. As of December 2021, Dr. Ramos is still happily practicing optometry at South Florida Regional Eye Associates, LLC.
I was drawn to residency training from day one of optometry school. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to dive into the medical model of optometry and work side-by-side with ophthalmologists to diagnose and treat disease without having to do surgery.
Today, I’m a residency-trained optometrist at South Florida Regional Eye Associates, LLC. I work inside an America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses, where I use my medical training every day to treat patients with conditions ranging from the simple to the severe. Many of them do not have access to ophthalmic care, and it’s my responsibility to diagnose and treat their pain or discomfort.
Why pursue optometry residency?
Generally, the reasons for choosing an optometry residency include:
- Acquiring hands-on experience with complex eye disorders
- Gaining proficiency in and focusing on a particular disease or specialty
- Becoming generally more desirable and hireable
- Being eligible to work in certain settings (VA hospitals, medical-based practices, educational institutions) that prefer ODs with advanced training
- Gaining clinical skills leading to becoming a more confident doctor with greater aptitude
What to expect in optometry residency
My journey in optometry began in 2015 at Nova Southeastern University. My grandmother was my biggest reason for success. She brought me to the United States from Cuba and instilled in me the values of hard work and dedication.
In 2019, I graduated with highest honors from NSU College of Optometry, published an article in Optometric Management magazine titled “Trends in Prescription Medications: Take a greater part in medical eye care,” and went on to complete residency training in ocular disease at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, the number one eye hospital in the United States.
Post-residency, I had plans to work at a private practice with a friend, who is also an optometrist. Unfortunately, COVID-19 changed these plans. As businesses shut down during the lockdowns, the opportunity to work with my friend was no longer there.
During this time, I was working part-time every Saturday in a Walmart Vision Center in Clewiston, Florida (also part of the National Vision Doctor of Optometry network). At the Walmart Vision Center, I would see two patients every hour. The drive was long, but my time was well-compensated—I made more in four days at Walmart Vision Center than in 30 days a month as a resident at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, but COVID-19 caused me to lose my Saturday job.
I felt very stressed since I had recently purchased a home and had a baby on the way. This economic strife drove me to explore opportunities outside of my original plan, and led me to a full-time career opportunity in the National Vision network.
As an employee of South Florida Regional Eye Associates LLC, I work within the retail stores of America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses, which is a brand of National Vision, Inc. My practice provides me with great benefits such as a stable salary, PTO, medical and dental insurance, liability insurance, CE credits, and a retirement savings account.
Additionally, I don’t have to worry about billing and coding or pay for prescription pads and topical ophthalmic drops—these are additional benefits. I also had the invaluable peace of mind that came from having a steady job during a lockdown. In fact, all the doctors within our network were compensated by their practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What has surprised me the most so far is the ease at which I am able to communicate with my area doctor, store manager, and district manager. Everyone listens and replies to emails within a reasonable time.
My team tries to accommodate everyone as best as possible, although sometimes the task may not be easy. Teamwork is very important to me, and I feel my practice strives to achieve this.
Finally, I believe there are tremendous benefits to being residency-trained and practicing under these settings. Residency training provides an extra boost of confidence for ODs and better care for patients. Below are just a few interesting cases I’ve managed recently that benefited from my additional training.
A 45-year-old female presented with a red right eye and a history of herpes simplex epithelial keratitis. The patient was in pain and did not have the means to see an ophthalmologist. The cornea stained with sodium fluorescein dye, and was indicative of a dendritic lesion .
The patient was started on Viroptic ophthalmic solution every two hours, while awake, for up to nine times per day and was followed until the lesion had healed.
A 29-year-old female presented with a painful, red right eye, history of contact lens use, and a white lesion on the center of both her corneas. Upon examination, the patient was found to have one peripheral infiltrate in each of her corneas. The infiltrate in the right eye was partially stained with sodium fluorescein, while the one in the left eye did not. In addition, the patient’s conjunctivae were injected.
The patient was started on Ofloxacin ophthalmic solution, one drop in each eye every 30 minutes while awake for two days. On follow up, the patient felt a lot better and was pain-free. Ofloxacin was tapered to QID for the next five days.
A 55-year-old male presented with a red left eye and a history of contact lens use. The patient was in pain and reported mild discharge.
The patient was started on Polytrim ophthalmic solution four times a day and had a follow-up one week later. The patient returned for his follow-up and was very happy with the treatment. He now passes by every so often to say hello and sometimes bring sweets for me and the rest of the staff.
What opportunities are available as a residency-trained OD?
Working for a practice affiliated with the National Vision Doctor of Optometry network provides great opportunities for ODs who want better work-life balance, as they do not have to worry about dealing with insurances and billing or have to take work home.
I have been fortunate to work within the retail stores of America’s Best and Walmart Vision Center, both part of the National Vision Doctor of Optometry network. The biggest difference for me between these two settings was the independent contractor versus employee setting. Both offer unique value. In the Walmart Vision Center, I was an independent contractor working for the sublease-holder doctor. I received a stable salary per day that was not dependent on patient volume. In addition, I did not have to worry about insurance.
Independent Practices affiliated with the National Vision-operated Walmart Vision Centers also offer full-time positions that provide support, competitive benefits, and a variety of perks for doctors of optometry.
As for career opportunities, my practice has a hierarchy of growth, which I hope to be a part of. These roles include area doctor, mentor, ambassador, and more. I look forward to continuing to move up the ladder with my practice.
According to information obtained for the Eyes on Eyecare 2021 Optometrist Report:
26.3% of respondents completed optometry residency and 96.3% feel their residencies were worth it.
The highest salaries according to 2021 data were achieved in multi-disciplinary practices ($155,306) and in hospitals and HMOs ($152,558).
National Vision Doctor of Optometry Network Career Hour
On December 8, 2020, I joined several of my colleagues with National Vision for a career hour. If you missed our discussion about the career options and opportunities with National Vision, you can watch the replay below!