Next-gen optometry’s focus on independent practice

May 15, 2024
Preparing optometry students for practice autonomy is an imperative the AOA doesn’t take lightly, doubling down with partnering academic institutions for the profession’s future.
Center for Independent Practice

(Right) Erich Mattei, MBA, president and chief vision officer of Akrinos, a practice management firm for independent eye care providers, speaks to the private practice club at The Ohio State University College of Optometry earlier this spring. In partnership with the AOA Center for Independent Practice, Mattei delivers lectures to students with real-world practice considerations for independent practice.

Optometry’s autonomous tradition is one that next-generation doctors are motivated to keep alive with an AOA-academic partnership delivering the knowledge on independent practice. 

The AOA Center for Independent Practice (CIP) is a distillation of professional expertise aimed at providing doctors with the necessary tools, resources and connections for a thriving independent optometric practice. In partnership with leading academic institutions, the CIP empowers practitioners and helps them grow as the AOA fights for broader scope, recognition and opportunities for optometry. 

Robert C. Layman, O.D., AOA immediate past president, and Jacquie M. Bowen, O.D., AOA vice president, lead CIP’s steering committee, which is comprised of visionary academic leaders alongside doctors who have also built and grown practices based on the determined and relentless exercise of optometry’s hard-won practice independence.  Together, they’re committed to providing the tools and resources needed to overcome system-wide change and challenges—including abusive plan policies, device de-regulation and commoditization, false product claims and lax oversight—that threaten physician autonomy and doctor-patient decision-making. 

“Actively supporting member doctors, including next-gen leaders, to achieve their vision of practice success is the highest priority for the AOA Board of Trustees and this entire organization," Dr. Bowen says. "The AOA, our affiliate associations and leading educational institutions are succeeding in modernizing scope of practice and gaining full recognition of optometry's essential and expanding role in health care. Similarly, CIP mobilization will deliver real results and help ensure that optometry continues to define its role as essential in contemporary health care."

While providing support to practicing doctors of optometry, the CIP pays particular focus to engaging the profession’s future in ways that prepare them for contemporary optometric practice, too—here’s how. 

CIP delivers practice pearls for optometry students 

In partnering with Erich Mattei, MBA, president and chief vision officer of Akrinos, a practice management firm for independent eye care providers, the CIP facilitated a series of discussions with optometry students at partnering schools and colleges of optometry earlier this spring. Mattei spoke to interested students and private practice clubs at Southern College of Optometry (SCO), Northeastern State University Oklahoma College of Optometry (NSUOCO), The Ohio State University College of Optometry (OSU College of Optometry) and University of Pikeville Kentucky College of Optometry (KYCO) about a variety of business topics, including: 

  • Practice valuation 
  • Making a strategic business plan 
  • Cold starting an optometry practice 

Mattei’s presentations provide a thorough deep dive into practice considerations that many optometry students had yet to be exposed to in school with one student at KYCO commenting: “As someone who is going to be a potential private practice owner, these lectures were extremely beneficial. They both taught me what to expect from potential sellers and partners, and red flags to look out for.” 

Josephine Ibironke, O.D., KYCO assistant dean and professor, says it’s common for practicing doctors to reflect on their schooling and wish they had more exposure to the “business side” of optometry. And that’s precisely what CIP presentations help deliver. 

“This is why the vision of the AOA’s CIP, to provide foundational knowledge for the management of independent practice, is so important—now more than ever,” Dr. Ibironke says.  

In detailing Mattei’s visit to KYCO, Dr. Ibironke adds: “Our students learned more about the ins and outs of practice ownership and management. We look forward to our continued partnership with the AOA CIP as we continue to equip our students with the resources they need to thrive in independent practice.” 

James Chung, AOSA trustee at OSU College of Optometry, said Mattei's talk on financial literacy was extremely valuable for future optometrists attending as part of the college's private practice club.

"Mattei's charismatic and engaging approach to finance and optometric accounting really conveyed the joy of private ownership to all of us students," Chung says. "I especially enjoyed his take on the importance of finding the right business partner. As he put it, it's 'like a marriage.'"

It’s the mission of CIP to work with optometry’s educators and other experts to develop educational information and programs for doctors of optometry and students that support the independent practice of contemporary optometry. 

CIP welcomes newest academic partner 

Earlier this April, Western University College of Optometry (WUCO) in California demonstrated its ongoing commitment to independent practice success by officially partnering with the CIP, a move shared by the four other foundational partner programs. As the fifth CIP partner school, WUCO joins the ranks of other visionary programs having 100% AOA membership among faculty (full or part-time) doctors, including: 

  • SCO 
  • OSU College of Optometry 
  • KYCO 

Notably, SCO and NSUOCO have distinguished themselves with the highest rates of AOA membership among graduates (2011-2021), while all five CIP partner schools have the highest rates of faculty membership among all schools and colleges of optometry. 

Elizabeth Hoppe, O.D., Dr.P.H., WUCO founding dean, says since its inception, the school has ardently championed organized optometry at national, state and local levels. Witnessing her students, alumni and faculty assume leadership roles to advance the profession has been profoundly rewarding, Dr. Hoppe adds. 

“Partnering with CIP presents yet another avenue for collaboration toward our collective vision: safeguarding the autonomy of doctors of optometry to practice independently,” Dr. Hoppe says. 

Independent practice spotlight at Optometry’s Meeting® 

Interested in getting connected to other independent practitioners? Join the 2024 CIP Symposium, from 2:30-5 p.m., Thursday, June 20, during Optometry’s Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. The symposium, supported by the Williams Group, will be held in conjunction with AOA+ programming for new doctors and optometry students. These AOA+ Pop-Ups are powered by the CIP with information and opportunities to learn from experts and practicing doctors about getting started and becoming highly successful in independent practice.  

These AOA+ Pop-Ups include:

  • Journey to Independent Practice 
    Thursday, June 20 
    Presented by Bill Nolan, president, Practice Transitions for Williams Group 
  • Money! How to Overcome Debt and Leverage it to Achieve Your Dreams 
    Thursday, June 20 
    Presented by Joe McGrath, business development associate, GradFin team at Laurel Road; and Frank L. Vivians, Jr., assistant vice president, medical business development officer, Bank of America Practice Solutions
  • Things I Wish I Knew: Secrets to Success and Happiness in Independent Practice
    Thursday, June 20 
    Presented by a panel of leading doctors of optometry 

Learn more about the AOA+ opportunities for new doctors and students during Optometry’s Meeting and be sure to register for the profession’s premier meeting and book your housing at a discounted rate before the deadline on Monday, May 20. 

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