How to Take Risks Like a Successful Optometrist

“You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” — Wayne Gretzky

Generally, optometrists are not a group of people with a penchant for taking risks.

Perhaps optometry is a great profession for those of us who are risk averse – there are plenty of opportunities to refract and go home, but for those of us who hope to build a practice, or even make decisions that impact our climb up the corporate ladder, you will need to take some risks.

Your career, no matter what path you choose, will involve decision making and some of those decisions will involve more risk than others. Let’s take a look at some of the risks we as optometrists are sometimes compelled to take to advance our careers.

Optometric Debt Risk

I find it ironic that students willingly take on 5 or 6 figures of debt, but freeze when it comes time to take on business debt.

Your student debt is nothing more than a business expense – you are investing in yourself, which is a necessary first step for a career as a successful optometrist.

When you incur business debt (financing a piece of equipment, taking on a lease etc) it is no different. Financing is a tool the savvy business person should use to advance their career.  Risky, yes, but calculated risk. The value proposition works when you can determine that you will see enough patients to cover (and hopefully profit from) the piece of equipment you finance.

taking risks as an optometrist

Two years ago I became the first optometrist in the world, outside of the clinical trial, to purchase the Lipiflow Thermal  Pulsation Unit. The cost of the unit was $100,000 that I didn’t have, but was more than willing to finance. Why? The 5 year lease would be covered if I performed just 2 procedures a month. I calculated, accurately, that I had at least 8 patients a month who were in dire need of the technology. If my calculations were accurate, I would see a profit that would allow me to pay off the machine in less than 2 years on a 5 year lease.

In my mind, this was  a calculated risk where the upside was much higher than the downside. I go through this type of equation with every piece of revenue generating equipment I purchase, when I expand my operations, and hire on a new employee.

When you look at it from this perspective, the risk isn’t as great as it seems.

Optometric Start-Up Risk

I recently spoke at an optometry school’s private practice club meeting. A student told me she considered practicing in a busy suburb of Washington, D.C., but was concerned the area was too saturated with other practices.

alan glazier framesWhile the location you choose is key to your success, there is a reason other practices are concentrated in a particular area – it’s where the eyeballs are! You don’t necessarily want to be pushed too far to the periphery. It’s a better idea to practice in the same area because it is a good indicator of where the business is. At the same time, you must be better than the other practices.

Do something to stand out. If you are better, the patients will come and local competition shouldn’t be a factor in deciding where to open your practice.

The equation works – just ask one of optometry’s premier practice consultants, Dr. Gary Gerber http://www.powerpractice.com about his practice on a third floor of an office building in a town with a crazy amount of retail opticals on every corner. He made it work because he provided an amazing customer experience, and you will too.

Optometric Career Risk

What about risk taking for those who will not own a practice, but work their way up the corporate ladder or find some other mode of practice?

While working for someone else generally entails less risk, the path up can be fraught with decisions that affect your advancement.  Unfortunately, politics play an important role in this type of environment, and a concept called social capital is an important part of the political process. Social capital is the value you bring to the workplace by building your reputation and solidifying relationships.

There’s the brilliant, nerdy introvert who might be the smartest person in the company, but doesn’t have the social skills to gain social capital from those responsible for elevating their career. Then there’s the savvy, smooth talking, schmoozy well-dressed person with enough social smarts to build social capital and advance up the corporate ladder.

Just a few of the things you can do to gain “social capital”. Gaining social capital will be crucial for your climb up the corporate ladder.

  • Align yourself with the right people
  • Keep opinions on controversial topics to yourself
  • Keepopinions on other co-workers to yourself
  • Resist becoming involved in interpersonal relationships in the work place

For these types of careers – other risks include having to relocate in order to continue up the ladder and the risk that your opportunity to advance might stagnate at some point. While it’s important to “tow the line” in the corporate environment, don’t be so careful that you miss out on the opportunity to “show your stuff”.

Another risk you take in hopes of advancing your career is attempting to disrupt the status quo with new ideas on how to make the company better. Just towing the line and being careful will get you to middle-management. It’s those who show they are innovative and can consistently generate new, profitable ideas that will rise to the top. That’s what it takes to be a successful optometrist.

An idea that looks good to you might not look good to someone above you or may even make them feel threatened, so this path requires both boldness tempered by smart actions and a little bit of being in the right place at the right time. It’s a balancing act in that environment.

Taking risks in summary

Remember, risk is a part of doing business on almost every level. Don’t be afraid of failure.  The successes of some of the greatest minds, like Edison and Hemingway, were paved by failures that no one remembers. Learn from your mistakes and use them to make your next step in business a success.

I remember reading another quote which read something like “people who take great risks fail on average twice a year, and people who have great successes fail on average twice a year”.

Your colleagues on “ODs on facebook” group are here to help as well.  Join the vibrant conversation with over 8,500 eye care professionals and read their advice, engage them and ask questions.  We are there to help each other.

Dr. Glazier is the owner and founder of Shady Grove Eye & Vision Care in Rockville, MD, a large medical model 4 doctor optometry practice.  Dr. Glazier holds a B.S. from the University of Maryland and a Doctorate from the New England College of Optometry. He is a fellow in the American Academy of Optometry and a Diplomate of the American Board of Optometry. In both 2011 and 2012 Dr. Glazier was selected as one of the most influential optometrists in the country by the VisionMonday organization.  He is the recipient of many awards and honors related to his cutting edge use of the internet to market  his practice, including a DARE award, and Optometric Business Innovator awards.  He is VP of Internet Marketing at VisionCareInventing.com and on the board of EyePosts.com.  He is co-founder of the industries first virtual conference, CEingIsBelieving and founder of the industries most influential social media group, ODs on Facebook, with over 8,800 members. 

About Matt Geller

Matthew Geller
Dr. Matt Geller is a technology entrepreneur with a track record of developing successful online platforms to solve problems in the healthcare space. Matt is an optometrist in San Diego and is the founder of OptometryStudents.com, NewGradOptometry.com and the co-founder of CovalentCareers.com!

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