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The 6 Secrets of a Great Optometrist

Do you remember your first patient encounter as a student? I sure do.

Quy NguyenShe was a middle-aged Hispanic woman with a longstanding history of adult-onset diabetes.

Even more vividly, I remember it was in the 7th floor  SUNY Optometry exam room and my exam took over an hour and a half! Most importantly, I remember how nervous I was.

Fast forward a couple of years and a few thousand patient encounters, I am a more experienced version of my old self. Along the way, I’ve learned a few secrets that have really helped me to become a better optometrist.

1. Make eye contact (a lot of it) with all of your patients

Prior to optometry school, I worked at an incredible office in California that really inspired me to pursue a career in optometry. In particular, one of the doctors, Dr. Scott Yokoi, whom virtually every patient loved, really taught me a lot along the way. I remember emailing him when I first started clinic as a student.

This was his only advice for me:

dr. yokoi 2

This was probably one of the best “secrets” I’ve ever received  about patient care.

I try to do this as much as I can everyday. Many of us new graduates look very young for a doctor when we first start working. But it’s  easy to show your patients that you’re confident and that you care by simply by looking at them when you’re talking to them. In this day and age where many of us are using EMR, it’s easy to forget about the patient in front of us!

To quote the great Jay-Z in his song “New Day”

Look a man dead in his eyes so he know you talk truth when you speak it, give your word, keep it…

2. Going above and beyond

going above and beyond

One of the best parts of being an optometrist is the amount of face time that we have with our patients. Even with healthcare reform underway, I still believe we have opportunities to make a substantial difference in our patients’ lives, whether it is co-managing their glaucoma or seeing them yearly for routine exams.

I’ve also heard of some super optometrists for example, doctors sending their patients a birthday card every year. A doctor I worked for, personally drove a patient to the ER and literally saved his life from a stroke. Heck, I even know of a friend that brought his instruments to do an exam at a patient’s home because the patient was immobile.

These actions are not part of the job description, but it really makes a difference and it’s great for building a practice!

3. Competency and life-long learning

Lifelong learning has always been considered an ethical obligation of doctors. It goes without saying that we did not know everything when we graduate optometry school and to be competent, we need to learn, learn, and learn some more. 

I personally follow patient cases that are difficult and sometimes I print out my charts to read on my train ride home. That way, the cases are fresh in my mind and I am constantly staying up to date.

Aside from Continuing Education, which we all have to do, I highly recommend the Review of Optometry Archives. Their editor, Paul Karpecki O.D. does a great job! Did you know you have access to this wonderful resource digitally? You could put these on a tablet, your computer, or even your phone so you could access the latest up to date information on clinical care. Also, AOA News is a really good site to stay fresh on optometry news.

There was an article published in 1999 titled, Are we providing doctors with the training and tools for lifelong training?” that poses an interesting paradox I feel is even truer today in 2014. With access to so much information and no traditional “lecture and test” method in our day-to-day professional lives, how are we dealing with the issue?

What do you guys think about this, and what do you find are the best ways to stay up-to-date?

4. Staying calm

keep calm

Regardless of your practice setting, it’s inevitable that you will run into a situation where it is hard to stay calm.

Recently for me, it was a patient with a pressure of (1 mmHg) following cataract extraction with a positive Seidel’s sign and a dislocated PCIOL. I was sitting at the slit lamp, wondering what I was going to do next. I proceeded to double check myself with a Tonopen only to find that there wasn’t really any pressure to be checked. Being a new graduate that I am, I was a little bit less than calm to say the least. After the issue was resolved, the more experienced doctor pulled me aside to discuss the importance of staying calm regardless of the situation.

[Tweet “I doubled checked myself with a Tonopen only to find that there wasn’t any pressure to be checked.”]

Relative to other health fields, optometrists are rarely in situations that require life or death care. Yet when it does happen, it is important for us to keep calm so that we can collect our thoughts, reassure our patient that he/she will be taken care of, and proceed to do so.

5. Knowing what you don’t know

don't know

Just like secret#3 on staying competent with life-long learning, knowing what you DON’T KNOW is equally as important.

As a new graduate, there are times when I would see something that I would contemplate referring out, or asking another doctor. It is very easy to be over-confident and mismanage a case, or worse, worry that you should know how to treat something and not get a second opinion.

I’m fortunate to be in a setting where I have other colleagues that I can get a second-opinion from. I have gotten over being shy about asking just about anything. So, the secret is, don’t be shy to ask or refer out!  You’ll be glad you did.

6. Being good to yourself


You may have heard of this saying:

If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

This adage is so true, particularly in health care. Our work can sometimes get stressful and if we are not taking care of ourselves, how are we going to take care of other people? So, remember – get a lot of sleep, exercise, smile, and be nice to yourselves, whatever that may mean for you. There’s a lot of people depending on you! If you haven’t already, read this post: 30 Things to Start Doing for Yourself.

Going back to my first encounter of a student, I remember treating the patient like she was a “46 yo HF  with longstanding hx of DM2…” The way that we are taught to think as a clinician sometimes makes us forget that patients are real people with real fears and insecurities.  So what do you say? Let’s show our patients that they have a super optometrist and they will surely be your patient for life.

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About Quy Nguyen, O.D.

Quy Nguyen, O.D.

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