Pick a path: Students’ varying options in career directions

When confronted with a fork in life's road, Robert Frost chose the path less traveled. If only it were so easy for graduating optometry students to pick between merely two divergent paths. Numerous career tracks after academia mean graduation becomes more of a gateway to the profession rather than a simple fork in the road.

Keep working toward your goal and look at every position as how it can help you get there.


Whether seeking practice in a rural community, a multidisciplinary setting in the city or looking to stay in the academic world, graduating optometrists have abundant options.  

Hit the trail—several paths ODs trek

  • Residencies. About 20 percent of optometric grads take advantage of the 388 residency slots available nationwide, but that percentage is on the rise, according to the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO). Residences offer additional clinical experience, and are a basic qualification for many new clinical faculty positions. But they aren't always critical to landing a position in private practice, says Chad Fleming, O.D., AOAExcelTM Business and Career Coach. Although a proponent for residencies, Dr. Fleming says: "The biggest advantage you have in getting into private practice as an associate is the network you have within the community, as well as your interview skills, which equals your ability to connect with people."

  • Community Health Centers (CHCs). America's metropolitan centers offer new ODs a taste of the cultural melting pot of diverse populations, as well as diverse practice options. CHCs answer the health needs of underserved, urban communities, but only about 10 percent of CHCs offer any on-site vision care at all. Matthew Bauer, O.D., of Open Cities Health Center in Saint Paul, Minn., often wears many hats, but finds the work rewarding: "The community runs it, so if the community needs eye care or if the community needs a certain thing based on their patients' religious needs, then we adapt as part of our mission."

  • Multidisciplinary practices. Opportunities can arise in a myriad of areas, including multidisciplinary practices. Angelique Sawyer, O.D., member of the AOA Student and New Graduates Committee was hesitant as she joined such a practice out of school but found the chance to bolster her clinical and practical experiences from both ODs and MDs alike. The experience put her in a position to ultimately move into private practice in New Hampshire. Dr. Sawyer: "Your first position is most likely not going to be your forever position. Keep working toward your goal and look at every position as how it can help you get there."

  • Urban vs. rural. Post-graduates can branch outside their notions of rural practice and find innumerable benefits as compared to an urban setting. Dr. Fleming explains rural practice can be a dollars-and-cents type move. Typically, overhead costs in smaller towns are less than in bigger cities and net margins are about 5 to 10 percent more than in urban areas. Dr. Fleming: "There is gold in rural optometry practice."

AOA helps graduates chart success  

Graduates should take pride in their new doctor of optometry degree; however, there's still much post-graduates need to accomplish to enter the professional world, and the AOA is there to help.  

Stay active with AOA membership following graduation to receive member-exclusive benefits tailored specifically for post-graduates, such as loan consolidation services and discounts on insurance. New practitioners can find everything they need to know about the post-graduation phase at AOA Compass, an online interactive tool that provides members with a step-by-step approach to career readiness. Use AOA Compass to track important tasks, such as:

  1. Registration/completion of NBEO board examinations
  2. Meeting state and federal requirements, including licensure, identification, registration and Medicare enrollment
  3. Finding necessary insurance coverage

With the interactive tools available at AOA Compass, new practitioners can develop a personalized plan for the completion of these essential steps and also find assistance in searching for practice opportunities.  

Read more about student pathways in the April edition of AOA Focus.

April 30, 2014

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