Optometry: Good Work, Good Life

November 24, 2015

When it comes to being a great career choice, optometry always makes the list. Literally. A variety of outlets, including the Washington Post, Kiplinger and CNNMoney, routinely rank optometry with other vocations they deem, for example, “top industries for women entrepreneurs” or “best careers.” A big reason optometry gets noticed in this way is the satisfying work/life balance it can provide relative to other professions.

Stephen Anderson, OD, can vouch for this. A 2014 graduate of the Southern California College of Optometry at Marshall B. Ketchum University (SCCOMBKU), Dr. Anderson now works with First Eye Care, a group practice in Plano, Texas. Like most optometrists, he works regular hours and rarely is called in after hours for emergencies. His personal office schedule ranges from 2.5 to 8.5 hours five days a week, for a total of 28.5 hours; Tuesdays and Sundays are his days off. He and his wife, Stephanie, have two young kids, Parker and Lyla.

As an undergraduate, Dr. Anderson shadowed many different professionals in health care and made a point to ask them about their work/life balance. “The more I interacted with non-optometrists, the more I knew which direction I should go,” he says. “I’m quite fortunate to work for a private practice that also values a positive work/life balance. Knowing that was an important part of my decision to join them. I really enjoy working, but I REALLY enjoy playing. Having the freedom to spend time with my family and doing the things I love is critical.”

Dr. Anderson enjoys running, cycling, rock climbing, woodworking, church service, playing with his kids, and spending as much time with his wife as possible. “My schedule is pretty set,” he adds. “When I’m at work, I’m at work. When I’m at home, I’m at home.”

Laura Dowd, OD, FAAO, a 2009 graduate of New England College of Optometry who’s now a staff optometrist and optometry student program coordinator in the VA Maine health system, also appreciates that her career allows her to have dedicated time for family — she has a 2-year-old daughter, Iris, and another baby on the way — as well as the flexibility to take care of the responsibilities of managing a family and home, do a lot of reading and spend time outdoors. “Optometry allows you to practice in several different settings, such as private practice,hospital-based, education and research, and the options carry varying levels of flexibility,” she explains. “Being able to choose the type of setting that best matches your career and personal goals is one of the many benefits of practicing optometry. As your life path changes, you can change your mode of practice along with it.”

Dr. Dowd currently works four 10-hour days, 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday. “My VA work/life balance works for me at this stage in my career,” she says. Also, because she’s not required to work weekends, she works two Saturdays a month at a private practice. “This opportunity not only supplements my income, but also allows me to see children and stay current with contact lenses and insurance policies,” she notes.

Brian Park, OD, a 2014 graduate of SCCOMBKU, is single and hasn’t started his own family yet, but the opportunity for a good work/life balance played a role in his decision to become an optometrist. “I believe it offers a good balance because it gives an individual the opportunity to pursue many different paths,” he says. “It also offers very stable hours of work. There are very rarely ‘on-call’ situations or emergencies to deal with. This allows ODs to have and raise a family.”

Dr. Park currently works six days a week in three different settings: as an associate optometrist in two private practices in Sacramento, Calif., and as an independent optometrist with JC Penney/US Vision. He also is a member of the board of directors of the Sacramento Valley Optometric Society. “As a recent graduate of optometry school, I do work a lot and I don’t have as much free time as I would like, but I know I’ll have more free time in the future,” he says. “I can take time off if I request it in advance. With my current jobs I have great flexibility in my schedule because my bosses and I have very similar thoughts about the profession and work/life balance. I enjoy a bunch of hobbies — golf, tennis, road cycling, photography — and having a stable work environment does allow me to enjoy them. I’m also lucky to have great friends, family and colleagues who have similar hobbies and interests, which makes the balance of work/life easier.”

Dr. Park would like to open his own practice at some point in the future, but for now is taking advantage of a key opportunity his current positions provide, which is to see patients while learning more about the business side of optometry.

Benjamin M. Arthur, OD, MS, is another good example of how optometrists can choose their own paths from a variety of options. Although his life philosophy and faith dictate that balance in human endeavors is important, he doesn’t believe any career automatically provides it. Rather, he says, “I think work/life balance depends on an individual and his or her goals as they relate to professional and personal life.” And, as it turns out, Dr. Arthur’s goals recently changed. After he graduated from State University of New York College of Optometry in 2013, he worked in a couple of different practice settings. But about six months ago, he opened his own practice in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn: Perspective Family Eye Care. He spends eight hours a day four days a week working there and two days a week working at another private practice in Brooklyn.

“I wanted to have a family and saw optometry as a good profession that would allow me to do that,” he says. “However, as time has passed, goals, objectives and circumstances have changed. When I was deciding to go to school, I didn’t have the student loans I have now, and so though a good work/life balance played a significant role in the decision-making back then, it is certainly prioritized a little differently now.” Dr. Arthur says he worked fewer days when he worked for others, but enjoys working the hours he does now and still has a balanced life. He explains, “I invest a lot of time on community and building strong connections with people. I spend time with friends and family by way of both planned and spontaneous activities. I like to volunteer, though I don’t get to do it as often as I would like. I engage in physical exercise as often as possible to stay fit. I try to rest and enjoy nature and also enjoy culturally diverse activities and the arts.” Dr. Arthur also says he strives to “use the calendar effectively so work and play are all scheduled and adhered to as much as possible.”

Rachelle Lin, OD, MS, FAAO, too, says, there are times when she’s extremely busy working, but it’s perfectly fine with her because “there is just so much that I want to do in optometry.” Dr. Lin graduated in 2013 from SCCOMBKU and is now a member of the college’s faculty as an assistant professor. Her teaching areas include low vision rehabilitation and acquired brain injury. She works on campus Monday through Friday, and her hours vary slightly depending on her clinic and didactic teaching schedule.

As she sees it, “I feel that optometry offers the opportunity for a good work/life balance. However, I don’t feel that is the principle question to ask when picking a career. I believe the more important question to ask is whether or not you are passionate about optometry and about building it into the career you will love.” Dr. Lin says she’s had an interest in teaching for many years, so finding a job where she could be both an optometrist and a teacher was ideal. She also says she’s always been the type of person to juggle a large number of varied activities in order to do everything she’s wanted to do. That’s true today as well, as she takes care of her work on campus, her roles in optometry off campus, which include serving as secretary-treasurer of the California Optometric Association’s Low Vision Rehabilitation Section, and her personal activities, such as learning about different cultures through art, language, music or food. “I also make time to travel, even if it’s for short weekend trips,” she says, “and I feel extremely fortunate to be working in a field that I am passionate about.”