By Guest Author, Dr. Claudia Montana-Collins
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Whether you are in your last year of optometry school, or already practicing, opening your own optometry practice may be on your mind. Graduating from Optometry School can incite a mix of emotions. You are probably excited to be finished with school and ready to start your career, but you may also be confused or nervous about where to start. You might be considering the option of opening your own practice as opposed to joining with an existing office. Currently practicing ODs may also be toying with the idea of becoming independent.
After more than 10 years of working at a private practice, I recently decided to take the plunge and build an independent practice from scratch. I’d like to share a bit of wisdom about what needs to be considered before making this decision.
Benefits of Having Your Own Practice
The major reason I decided to open my own practice is because as an independent practitioner I have the ability to manage my own schedule, give more individualized attention to my patients and manage the operations of a business.
Requirements for Opening a Practice
While you do not need a business degree to run a business, it is necessary to learn the essentials before you jump in. Now that I have my own practice, my role has changed quite a bit. I am not only examining patients, but also managing every detail of my business; I have to interview employees, manage relationships with vendors, organize all my patients' medical records, coordinate claims with insurance companies, set budgets and organize all the paperwork for tax purposes.
Some decisions seem trivial but they have a big impact in the way in which my business' brand is perceived. For example, the type of carpet that I buy for my practice, the color of the walls, the quality of the shelves and my business furniture have little to do with optometry but they are very important from a business point of view. Your patients will judge your professionalism not only by your medical experience and your demeanor, but also by everything they see once they step into your practice.
As a practice owner, you are essentially an entrepreneur. You need to take care of managing and marketing your business in addition to practicing optometry and maintaining good relationships with your patients. Today that means you need a website, a solid web marketing strategy and offline advertisements. There is a lot to balance and a lot of decisions to be made.
The Reality of Opening a Practice
Opening and managing your own practice is a lot of work. When you have your own practice, you are supposedly in charge of your own schedule, but the reality is that even if you manage your own schedule, you end up devoting more than 40 hours per week taking care of all your responsibilities. Having so many chores can keep you awake at night and restrict the time that you are supposed to spend with your family.
Nevertheless, if you are serious about opening your own practice, I think you should go ahead and do it. There will always be financial uncertainties, but you should try to take one step at a time and solve each problem as it comes. My second piece of advice is to be perseverant and work towards your goals. Launching your business takes time so you should make an effort to take one small step every day. Don't expect to do much progress in the short term; instead focus on taking small steps for several months. My third and last bit of advice is to have friends and family members who support you. There will be challenging days ahead and it is important to have people who can encourage you along the way.
Dr. Claudia Montana-Collins has a long career in the field of primary eye care. She studied her undergraduate degree in optometry at the Universidad de la Salle in Colombia, and completed an O.D. and a Master's degree in clinical optometry from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in Philadelphia. Dr. Montana-Collins has done research in prosthetic contact lenses and is a fellow of the American Academy of Optometry since 1999. Most recently, Dr. Montana-Collins opened an optometry practice in Orange County, CA.