Optometry is all in the family: The Flippins

Optometry is all in the family: The Flippins

Patricia Flippin Bell, O.D., and her father, Howard Flippin, O.D., of Arkansas.

Patricia Flippin Bell, O.D., has followed in the footsteps of her father, Howard Flippin, O.D.

Both graduated from Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tennessee, albeit 40 years apart. Dr. Flippin retired eight years ago, after practicing for nearly 50 years, and is currently executive director of the Arkansas State Board of Optometry. His Searcy, Arkansas, practice is now owned by his daughter.

When Dr. Flippin Bell went on maternity leave in October 2011 and gave birth to a baby boy, Dane, now 4 years old, her father filled in.

"It is always good to know that I can rely on having a back-up doctor if need be," she says.

Who inspired you to become an optometrist?

Dr. Flippin Bell: Being raised by an optometrist, and working in the practice while going to high school and college, I guess becoming an optometrist was always in the back of my mind. I started working with my father right after I graduated from Southern College of Optometry and passed my boards in 1999.

Dr. Flippin: I was inspired by a good friend of mine who was an optometrist. Also, being a patient of an optometrist in Missouri, I liked what I saw and formed an interest in the profession.

What was it like working together?

Dr. Flippin Bell: I feel I had the best of both worlds—working with my dad and learning from an experienced doctor and being allowed to bring change and new ideas to the practice.

Dr. Flippin: Because we worked with other associates over the years, I treated Tricia as any other doctor so she could learn and make her own way.

Were you expected to join the family business?

Dr. Flippin Bell: I was always encouraged to follow my dreams and to pursue the field of my choice. After moving out of state and not finding employment in my field as an accountant, I took a job in a medical clinic, and that is when I realized I wanted to work with people and missed the patient contact I had when working part-time for my father. I moved back to my hometown of Searcy, Arkansas, and enrolled in optometry school.

What are the advantages—and challenges—of working with family?

Dr. Flippin Bell: The best thing about working in a family practice, with my father, was knowing that my father-mentor had my best interest at heart, and that I could always rely on his honesty with me. The greatest challenge was living up to the name of Dr. Howard Flippin, who was known throughout the state as a leader in optometry.

Dr. Flippin: The best thing about working in a family practice is having someone to back you up that you know you can trust with your practice. My daughter brought an accounting degree to the practice that helped us with financial decisions that must be made in a practice. It is always a challenge to not show favoritism toward a family-member employee when you have staff that has been with you for years.

Can you offer any tips for having a successful family business?

Dr. Flippin Bell: Understanding that just because you are family doesn't give you the right to walk in and own the place. You have to earn the trust of the staff and patients. You also have to put in the hours and work hard.

Dr. Flippin: Sharing different opinions and being able to respect each other's ideas so the practice could grow, and also knowing that the integrity and care of your patients is the most important accomplishment you can have for a successful practice.

June 17, 2016

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