A Day in the Life of an Optometrist
If you’re considering pursuing a career in optometry, you’ve probably already started researching how to apply to optometry school. That’s a great place to begin, but it’s never too soon to start thinking even further ahead. A key question to ask yourself is what exactly you picture yourself doing once you have your OD degree in hand. We called on two well-established and highly respected doctors of optometry to help you get your wheels turning in that direction. They shared with us what they do during a typical day.
John Warren, OD, is the sole owner of the practice he opened in Racine, Wis., just under five years after graduating from optometry school in 1992. Prior to venturing out on his own, he had been working for an ophthalmic surgeon. “He’s a great guy, and the experience was great,” Dr. Warren said. “He focused on surgery and I took care of everything else that came through the door. But, as I got busier and busier, I realized I wanted to have more control over my earning potential.” Dr. Warren described the experience of getting his own practice up and running as “exciting, fun, and a bit scary.” He devotes about one day a week to a company he co-founded, which provides a cloud-based electronic health record/practice management system.
Andrew Gurwood, OD, FAAO, owns a private practice with his wife. He bought the practice from his father. He sees patients there occasionally, but splits the bulk of his time between his two primary jobs. He is a Professor of Clinical Sciences at The Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) at Salus University and a member of the professional staff at its Eye Institute. He also practices in the Department of Ophthalmology at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. He realized years ago when he coached a soccer team that he “has a knack for simplifying complicated concepts” and that he likes to teach. Dr. Gurwood is also a prolific researcher and author (working in academia mandates research) and he lectures nationally and internationally on a wide range of ocular disease topics. He is a founding member of the Optometric Retina Society. In his spare time, he serves as an instructor with the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy.
Here’s what else Drs. Gurwood and Warren had to say.
What Does Your Typical Day Look Like?
Dr. Warren: “I arrive at the office at about 8:50 a.m. The staff has already prepared for the first patient appointment at 9 a.m., so I take a few minutes to check the computer to see what the day’s caseload looks like. I see patients from 9 until noon and then again from 1:15 until the last appointment at 4:10 p.m. I’m usually leaving the office by around 4:40, unless I stick around longer to talk with the day’s final patient or staff. If possible, between patients, I catch up on e-mails and handle tasks related to running the business. I take a lunch every day, but it’s typically a working lunch. We’re open later on Wednesdays, when the last patient appointment starts at 6:15 p.m. After 4 that day, we see a patient approximately every 10 minutes. On Thursdays, I don’t see patients unless a post-op patient I’m co-managing needs to be examined. That leaves Thursdays for family time and taking care of personal errands, usually mixed with some administrative work. The practice is closed on Saturdays and Sundays.”
Dr. Gurwood: “I see patients at Einstein from 8 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, generally 15-25 cases per four-hour session. I’m at PCO 40 hours each week, where I supervise second- and third-year students as they work with patients at The Eye Institute. I’m able to head home by 5 p.m. on most days.”
What is Your Usual Patient Mix?
Dr. Gurwood: “In my private practice and at Einstein, I see a mix of patients. Some I’ve been seeing long-term, some are new patients who specifically want to see me, and some have been referred to me by primary care physicians. It’s always an interesting mix, at Einstein in particular where I see everything from contact lens overwear to gunshot injuries.”
Dr. Warren: “My mix is 50/50 between pathology and routine vision care. My patients tend to be older, late 50s and early 60s on average, and therefore have more pathology, than for many other ODs (See “Highlights from AOA Research and Information Center Survey Results” and accompanying graphics.)partly because so many of them have been coming to me since I was fresh out of school. Some I’ve been seeing for 20 years. We’ve come to know a lot about each other. Most of them consider me a friend and vice versa.”
What Do You Love about Your Job; What is a Challenge?
Dr. Warren: “I love caring for patients and interacting with people in the office. What I find most challenging is dealing with the policies and processes of insurance companies.”
Dr. Gurwood: “I love the people and the students I work with. The students and I develop a family-like camaraderie that lasts a lifetime. In my teaching role, a challenge is recognizing when students aren’t doing well and figuring out why so I can help them get back on track. In general, the technology demands on a practice, electronic medical records for instance, are challenging, not to mention costly.”
What Advice Would You Give to Someone Pursuing a Career in Optometry?
Dr. Gurwood: “Never buy the car without driving it first. In other words, spend time with as many ODs as you can to see what their days entail. Question them about what they consider to be the upsides and downsides of the profession. Along with learning about the prerequisites for optometry school and what will be expected of you, evaluate your post-education debt to potential-earnings ratio. Also make sure you understand the commitment required to serve your patients well, especially lifelong learning to grow with the standards of care.”
Dr. Warren: “The economic realities of private practice are very different now, much more complex, than they were when I started out, so make sure you understand those things. Also, shadow several doctors to learn about all of the potential practice settings you might be interested in.”
What One Word Would You Choose to Describe Your Typical Day?
Dr. Warren: “Enjoyable.”
Dr. Gurwood: “Interesting.”
Not a Day Goes By That . . .
Dr. Gurwood: “ . . . I’m not amazed by the things I see. No case is mundane; every one has a unique angle.”
Dr. Warren: “ . . . I don’t help somebody. It may sound cheesey, but it’s true. Patients are so appreciative, whether it’s the eighth-grader cracking a smile about his new contact lenses, or the 78-year-old whose glaucoma drops are working.”
Highlights from AOA Research and Information Center Survey Results
■ Optometrists spend an average of 37 hours per week in the office.
■ The majority age group (24%) of patients seen by optometrists is 35 to 54 years.
■ On average, optometrists treat 60 patients per week. The average for owner optometrists is 57, including seven walk-ins/emergencies and 16 new patients. The average for non-owner optometrists is 63, including 20 new patients and nine walk-ins/emergencies.
■ Optometrists provide pre-op evaluation and care for an average of 17 refractive surgery patients per year. They provide post-op care to an average of 23 patients.
■ More than three-fourths of optometrists co-manage, on average, six cataract patients per month.
Sources: The 2012 Survey of Optometric Practice and the 2011 Clinical Practice Survey. Both surveys were conducted by the American Optometric Association Research and Information Center. Respondents to both surveys included ODs in private, corporate and other practice types.
Average Number of Patients Diagnosed and Treated for Anterior Segment Disorders per OD per Year
Average Number of Patients Diagnosed, Treated and Co-Managed for Cataract and Posterior Segment Disorders per OD per Year
Topical Agents Prescribed by ODs per Month
Oral Agents Prescribed by ODs per Month