How to earn an MBA while practicing

December 6, 2022
Thinking about getting your MBA? AOA members weigh the pros and cons.
Master of Business Administration

Excerpted from page 14 of the November/December 2022 edition of AOA Focus.

While optometry schools provide education on what it takes to run a practice, some doctors of optometry are determined to take their business acumen to the next level.

Douglas Totten, O.D., MBA, and Bradley Lane, O.D., MBA, MEd, are those doctors. Dr. Totten, chair of the AOA’s Ethics and Values Committee, and Dr. Lane, co-chair of the AOA’s Education Center Committee, share their experiences.

Why pursue an MBA?

When Dr. Totten graduated from the Michigan College of Optometry at Ferris State University in 1985, it seemed a new doctor just needed to open a practice or join a group and the growth would happen. Over time, though, the complexities of running a practice became clearer and grew, including managing human resources, marketing, technology and gaining competitive advantages. “It just seemed we needed help and some courses in business would be beneficial,” he says.

Four years after Dr. Lane earned an MBA, he got his master’s degree in education. “I’ve been given the privilege of taking care of peoples’ eyes, and I was educated and trained to do so,” he says. “True professional development includes our clinical requirements as well as educating ourselves on business and financial matters. I’ve been blessed with two offices and over two dozen staff. I want to obtain education and training to ensure I am taking care of our businesses and employees.”

How long did it take to earn your MBA?

“It took me a little over three years, and I took a semester off when I needed a break because of life and activities at home taking precedence,” says Dr. Totten. Dr. Lane says it took about two and a half years through a self-paced program at American Public University to complete his MBA. Both doctors continued to practice during that time.

What were the biggest challenges you faced?

Dr. Lane’s MBA program was self-paced. He studied at night and one day a weekend. “The classroom material wasn’t that challenging,” he says. “The biggest challenge was finding the time in my schedule for extra work.” For Dr. Totten, earning his MBA took a lot of work, but the program allowed him to use real-life scenarios and situations at his practice for the exercises and assignments. He estimates that he put in 15-20 hours a week on coursework and assignments. The timing was right: He was becoming an empty nester at home and some of his patients were transferred to a new associate. Some personal activities took a back seat and sleep was sometimes sacrificed. “A fairly well-organized person can plan for the work involved and balance it with other obligations,” Dr. Totten says.

Were the sacrifices worth it?

Absolutely, they say. “It was fun to learn and to apply proven business principles to the practice,” Dr. Totten says. “We refined customer service processes, worked to reduce costs and developed systems for increased efficiency. The practice grew exponentially, and staff was very receptive to improving our systems.” Staff even came up with a catchy but meaningful acronym they still use: BAH—“Bottlenecks Are Horrible.” “We try to identify whatever step in a process that is tedious or difficult and try to eliminate it.”

An MBA is “a huge asset to our practices,” Dr. Lane says. “It helped to shift my thought process when it comes to business matters. I have a better understanding of accounting principles and staff management. I learned that ‘working smarter, not harder’ brings joy in the workplace and busier doesn’t always mean better. Our revenue per patient has grown exponentially by slowing our schedule. With six optometrists on staff, we are starting the process of opening a new office.”

Would you recommend earning an MBA to other doctors?

“I realize that not every doctor of optometry has the time or desire to complete an MBA, and they don’t have to,” says Dr. Lane. “I’d recommend attending OD-specific financial literacy courses through the AOA. Meet with your accountant regularly. Maybe take a night class in accounting, marketing or finance at a local community college or university. There are plenty of opportunities to participate in personal and professional development.”

Dr. Totten: “I absolutely recommend pursuing an MBA if a doctor of optometry wants to grow their practice and business. It costs time and money, but I have such a greater confidence running the practice and I trust it shows and is a benefit for our patients and staff.”

The Hub

AOA’s member-exclusive centralized education portal, EyeLearn Professional Development Hub, offers an expanding online catalog of educational modules, webinars and resources to help advance clinical proficiencies, the practice of contemporary optometry, and practice management for doctors of optometry, future doctors of optometry and paraoptometric staff.

Related News

Build your practice and protect the planet

Every day is Earth Day at these optometric practices. Considerations for an environmentally friendly practice.

Does your practice do in-house billing? Here’s something to know

Save 10 hours, see 11 more patients each week—that’s how much time doctors say they recapture weekly by delegating nonphysician tasks to well-trained or certified staff.

Protecting patient privacy when a clinical observer visits

An optometry student is shadowing you at your practice. Does your patient need to give their consent?