Roya Attar, OD, is Assistant Professor and Director of Professional Relations at the Kentucky College of Optometry. In an interview with Matt Geller, OD, she shares her top optometry career advice for students and shares tips on how they can launch their careers in clinical practice or in non-clinical roles.
One of the most important things is to find your passion, set goals, and define what success means to you.
“I think what all optometry students should have is an open mind,” says Attar. It’s important to keep an open mind about what you want to do: this will allow you to spot the opportunities that will allow you to find your specialty or your niche, and will allow you to differentiate yourself from your fellow students. It will also allow you to spot possibilities for your career beyond the traditional path.
“You can go into industry, academia, research—there’s so many avenues,” Attar urges. “See where your interest is, and ultimately where your passion is.” Finding your passion in your career will set you up for success. “Everyone has a different measuring stick for [success]. Usually it’s attached to a number,” jokes Attar. But identifying your values is key to finding your personal definition of success.
Attar tries to encourage independent thinking in her students, particularly when it comes to considering future careers.
“There’s roles for optometrists as thought leaders, as people who drive education and research—there’s so much more in industry than what we think of in sales and marketing,” she says. “That’s why I highly encourage students to go out and learn about these things,” particularly at industry events like SECO, where many attendees are optometrists who don’t practice in a private setting.
Being aware of all the opportunities in the profession also helps fight off the “doom and gloom” mentality that’s so prevalent among optometry publications, Attar says. Whenever you differentiate yourself in the industry, she says, you’ll be successful. The most important thing is to advocate for yourself, your patients, and your profession. “Any time you advocate for your patients, you’re going to be successful in your practice,” she says. “So my goal in life is to make sure that it’s ingrained in every American’s mind that you have to get your annual eye exam! That is what I hope to accomplish in my career.”
“There’s a great reason to be an optometrist today, and everyone needs great eyecare, and you can do that for your patients,” she urges.
In general, successful young ODs are dedicated to their careers. Attar says that she sees this especially in so-called nontraditional students—students who have had other careers and have arrived at optometry. “They’ve made that conscious choice to come back, and they’re very dedicated,” Attar says. She says that the presumption is that nontraditional students are not going to be successful, but that’s just not the case. Additionally, top students tend to be very involved in non-academic activities such as clubs or professional activities.
“It’s a heightened understanding of what they really want,” Attar says. “Like I said, it’s that goals: you envision yourself.” When you can identify what you want, and can envision that goal, you can set yourself up to achieve it. So self-awareness is absolutely integral to success.
“Go out and do something on the frontier. We don’t have to follow the path someone else has placed. Make your own path,” she urges.
The number one thing to do to find these alternative opportunities, Attar says, is to go out and talk to people. Students should absolutely take advantage of meetings and networking opportunities, because building those relationships will show them paths they might not have been aware of.
“I believe a lot in the blue ocean strategy, which means, do something that someone else isn’t doing,” Attar says.