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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
If you’d like to work in a profession where no two days are exactly the same and you have the opportunity to impact lives in a positive way, then optometry is the profession for you. Those were just two of the insights shared by Jennifer Smythe, OD, President of the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO), during her recent appearance on the LocalJobNetwork.com radio show “I Want to Be a […]”. Dr. Smythe spoke with the show’s host about why she loves optometry as a career. Hear the whole interview at http://www.localjobnetwork.com/radio/play?rp_id=564, and discover some of the many things you might find appealing about being an optometrist:
- I made a real difference today, can’t wait ‘til tomorrow! Optometrists diagnose and treat sight-threatening ocular diseases and conditions, but they also help their patients to maintain healthy eyes for a lifetime of clear vision — and it’s hard to overestimate the value people place on vision. According to a survey of more than 11,000 people in 11 countries commissioned by Bausch + Lomb in 2012, if forced to choose, 68% of people would rather lose one of their limbs and 67% would rather lose 10 years of their life than lose their eyesight. Three quarters of the people interviewed said they would rather have their salary cut in half than experience a permanent 50% decline in their vision. For some real-life examples of how optometrists change lives through vision every day, take a look at ASCO’s new publication “True Stories – What Do Doctors of Optometry Do?” at http://info.opted.org/optometry-truestories.
- Wow, I can do that, too? The settings in which you can practice optometry are almost too numerous to list. You can choose to be self-employed or an employee and work in a rural community, suburban area or large city. You can provide general or “family” eye care, seeing patients at all stages of their lives, or you can narrow your focus to an area such as contact lenses, geriatrics, low vision, occupational vision, pediatrics, sports vision or vision therapy. You can practice alone, with a partner or partners, or with other healthcare professionals. Still other opportunities can be found in optometric education, scientific research, the military, public health or other government service, hospitals, clinics, teaching institutions, community health centers and the ophthalmic industry.
- Yes, I’ll be home for dinner. In most if not all of the settings where you can work as an optometrist, you can establish a flexible full-time or part-time schedule and expect to receive relatively few emergency calls, both of which go a long way toward your ability to have both a respected professional career and a satisfying personal life.
- Comfortable compensation and a future I can bank on. Optometrist is frequently cited in the mainstream media among the “Best Jobs in America,” “Best Paying Jobs of the Future” and “Best Careers” by such entities as CNNMoney, Kiplinger’s and 24/7 Wall St.
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition produced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of optometrists is expected to grow 24% percent from 2012 to 2022. This compares favorably with the average growth rate for all occupations, which is projected to be 11%. The growth in optometry will result in approximately 8,100 new jobs over the 10-year period, the BLS notes. The compensation is attractive, too. The latest numbers from the American Optometric Association (AOA) show the average net income for optometrists is $129,385. That jumps to $203,230 for owners of group practices.
“As in any field, compensation in optometry is generally tied to your specific job responsibilities and experience,” says Bill Rabourn, founder and managing principal of Medical Consulting Group in Springfield, Mo. “But I am so pro everything in the business of eye care right now. If you look at all the statistics on the Baby Boomer generation, the aging of the population, the increase in life expectancy and growing awareness about eye health, the opportunity is tremendous. There will continue to be a huge need for vision services.”
Furthermore, Rabourn says, optometry can provide a “really nice” lifestyle in the medical arena. “As long as you are doing what you love in the setting that is right for you, you can hardly go wrong. I would encourage anyone thinking about a career in optometry to pursue it.”
Welcome to Eye on Optometry, a new blog from the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO)! The main goal of the blog is to provide timely and useful information to anyone who is interested in applying to optometry school. It’s all part of one of ASCO’s many strategic objectives, which is to help the schools and colleges of optometry develop a large, diverse and highly qualified national applicant pool while getting the word out about the attractiveness of a career in the profession.
At least twice each month, we’ll bring you answers to questions that are common among potential applicants to optometry school. You’ll benefit from the insights of people in the know, such as optometry school admissions officials. You’ll also read about the firsthand experiences of those who have traveled the road from applicant to student to optometrist. Stay tuned for future posts such as “A Day in the Life of an Optometry Student,” as well as tips for preparing for the Optometry Admission Test (OAT), and a heads-up to register for the ASCO Optometry Virtual Fair this spring. The fair is an innovative and convenient opportunity for you to interact, from the comfort of your computer, with representatives from the admissions departments of the schools and colleges of optometry.
We hope you’ll visit Eye on Optometry often for helpful information. If you have a question you’d like to see answered in the blog, e-mail it to Paige Pence, ASCO’s Director for Student and Residency Affairs, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, don’t forget to take advantage of ASCO’s Web site, www.opted.org, which also contains resources you’ll want to check out. The site is where you’ll find the official guide to the Optometry Admission Test, a profile of each school’s most recent entering class, and key information about OptomCAS, the centralized application service that allows you to file one application and send it to multiple optometry programs. You’ll also find a new booklet produced by ASCO, (“What Do Doctors of Optometry Do?”) that is filled with inspiring examples of how optometrists make a real difference in the lives of their patients every day — and more!
Let us know below what you would like to hear about!