In this article, I hope to shed light on some possible non-clinical careers for Optometrists.
For some, a mix of clinical and non-clinical work may be preferable, for others, a full non-clinical commitment may be ideal. Hopefully, this article may provide some guidance or shed light on possible avenues to achieve one’s objective.
The clinical opportunities for optometrists are very well known. Most graduating students are involved in patient care in one of the many practice modalities and environments. Optometry is a fantastic profession in that it affords other types of career paths, some non-clinical in nature. For many, patient care remains a primary objective; however, other types of non-clinical careers for optometrists may be of interest to others.
Essential Skills for Non-Clinical Careers
Different skill sets can open doors to possible careers outside patient care. While we are optometrists, do not forget that many of us have other degrees as well. Many students complete dual degrees when in optometry school. Some of these degrees include a Ph.D. or M.S. in Vision Science. These additional academic achievements can go a long way in securing non-clinical careers. In addition, many of us are also scientists, who have obtained a degree in some type of environmental science concentration or engineering field. Others have completed undergraduate degrees in concentrations of business or psychology. In other words, look to make use of all of your schooling, even undergraduate work.
Here are some skills or characteristics that can help in securing a non-clinical opportunity:
- Advanced degree in another academic area: Ph.D., M.S., MBA etc.
- Completion of a residency.
- Experience working in a hospital setting.
- Owning a private practice.
- Research experience.
- Extensive networks and relationships with individuals currently working in industry.
- Skills in computer programming, coding, and design.
- Passion for writing and or speaking.
- Flexibility to re-locate, earn less initially, and work in a corporate setting.
While the aforementioned certainly may help your chances of landing a non-clinical career, they are certainly not required. Sure, an MBA can be extremely helpful in obtaining a career involving healthcare administration or financial planning; however, it is not a pre-requisite and can be substituted for by experience or other skill sets and knowledge.
Some non-clinical careers for Optometrists include:
- Healthcare Administration
- Practice Management Consultant
- Freelance Writer
- CE Lecturer
- Medical Science Liaison
- Pharma Consultant
- IT/Tech Consultant
Healthcare Administration involves the management of public health systems including hospitals, healthcare centers, and healthcare professionals. Deal with the inner workings of the delivery of healthcare within institutions. This is a difficult career path to crack as experience working and managing hospitals, medical practices, or other healthcare systems is typically necessary. Experience working in a VA facility, particularly as chief of staff will be beneficial, as will experience in the business aspects of healthcare including finance and accounting.
Practice Management Consultant
Practice management consultants utilize the knowledge they learned building and operating their own successful private practices, to help new practitioners flourish and achieve their own practice goals. Consultants can help new clinicians and practice owners understand the business aspects of optometry and how to run a successful practice. This can include advice in billing and coding, staff training, insurance submissions, optical design and layout, and marketing strategies among other things. This typically takes practice management experience, and a proven track record of success in private practice.
In the age of technology and social media, there are no shortage of online resources including blogs, publications, and academic journals. If you have a passion for writing, this is a great opportunity to share your knowledge and passion with your colleagues. Establishing yourself in a particular niche will go a long way to building credibility. If you have a passion for social media marketing strategies, and have done it successfully in your own practice, you may be able to share that information in one of the many online and or print publications available to optometrists across the country. Have you developed an extensive dry eye management center within your practice? Have you participated in clinical trials in various dry eye treatment modalities? With a proven track record, now may be the time to share your own expertise in the form of written CE lectures or medical management textbooks and journals.
Continuing education is a massive industry and a requirement for licensure renewal. If you have a passion for teaching and lecturing, you may be able to develop presentations and academic lesson plans to share at various continuing education conferences. Obviously, being considered an “expert” in a particular field will go a long way in gaining credibility. More importantly, there are rigorous accreditation requirements that must be met.
Medical Science Liaison
Careers in this particular role often involve working for large companies or corporations. These individuals act as a key intermediate between other health care professionals, and help build and develop relationships with other companies and individuals within industry. These positions often require advanced academic and clinical training and experience, and a passion for speaking and communicating.
Accomplished individuals with years of clinical experience can often find themselves working as consultants to pharmaceutical companies in some sort of capacity. There are marketing opportunities as well as research and development roles. If you have an interest in representing pharmaceutical products and attesting to their success in clinical care, the marketing aspect may be an ideal career for you. A major part of this role entails educating your colleagues and speaking and lecturing on behalf of the pharmaceutical company’s products. Positions in research and development are even more difficult to obtain, as marked experience in clinical trial development and research, and advanced degrees in science are required.
If you have completed an optometric residency (and in some cases even if you have not), working for an optometry school as a professor is a possibility. If you enjoy academia and lecturing, sharing your knowledge with optometry students can provide you with a great opportunity. If your ultimate goal is to relinquish yourself from clinical care however, this may be difficult, as many positions in academia also require some degree of clinical practice/and or instruction as well. Many teaching opportunities for optometrists are limited to optometry schools (which will place geographic restrictions on you); however, there are some institutions (universities, medical centers, and medical schools) that actively seek optometrists to educate students, residents, and staff, primarily in topics of contact lenses and low vision.
Have great insight and skills with talent acquisition? Know where to find strong candidates for job opportunities and openings around the country? Working for a recruiting firm (or starting your own) may be a good non-clinical career for some optometrists. I know a colleague who works as a recruiter for a company placing ODs in nursing homes across several states on the east coast. His particular role is to find ODs to fill open positions, and then educate them on how to succeed in these particular situations. Positions as a recruiter within corporate optometry can sometimes be found as well.
If you have experience and expertise in computer technology, you may want to look into the tech or IT field. There is no question, as healthcare moves toward electronic systems and cloud computing, you may be able to combine your skills with your knowledge and experience in healthcare to help improve these systems. I recently spoke to a pharmacist who works for a large technology company helping develop EHRs used within pharmacies. The same opportunities can be found in the ophthalmic industry as well as EHRs are becoming more of a requirement these days, and this sector is packed with competitors attempting to make the “perfect” system. There are also some technology companies in the ophthalmic realm that seek ODs for consulting purposes.
In summary, there are countless non-clinical careers for optometrists. The challenge is finding these opportunities, and possessing the necessary attributes to secure them. It certainly is not easy to break into the consulting world, nor is it easy to land a job working as a liaison. Often times, these positions require advanced degrees, extensive clinical experience, and perhaps most importantly, strong network connections. It is important to remember, you do not necessarily have to limit yourself to careers within healthcare or optometry. You can always start your own company, be it a restaurant, real estate agency, or even make your ophthalmic equipment. That is the beauty of optometry, it affords many possibilities.