How to Find a Mentor in Optometry

April 12, 2024
AOAExcel asked experienced doctors of optometry for advice on how to find a mentor and how to make the most of mentorship.
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Optometry is a communal profession, and doctors of optometry frequently report that mentorship is an important part of their career. However, it can be intimidating, especially for students and early career doctors, to find and reach out to a potential mentor. AOAExcel asked experienced doctors of optometry for advice on how to find a mentor and how to make the most of mentorship.

Identify Your Goals

A great first step in finding a mentor is to focus on your optometric passions—what topics or specialties are you interested in? Is there any specific technology you’d like to use? Look for doctors, either locally or online, that work in those specialties or use that technology. “Be specific about your goals,” said Dr. Amy Puerto of Kentucky. “Say, ‘I’d like to learn more about X, Y, and Z’ when reaching out to a potential mentor.”

It’s also important to consider your practice philosophy and the sort of personalities you connect best with. “You have to find a mentor who meets your own value system and matches what you want to achieve as a clinician,” said Dr. Puerto.

Don’t Be Intimidated

Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and make a friendly reach out to a colleague. The doctors we spoke with all agreed that young doctors and students might be surprised to learn how helpful doctors of optometry can be. “Experience has shown me that fellow optometrists are always willing to help and to provide mentorship and guidance,” said Dr. Stephen Montaquila of Rhode Island.

This is true even with colleagues you haven’t met yet. “I think every doctor of optometry remembers coming out of school and being in a new situation. When you don’t know people, there’s a hesitancy to get involved, to be intimidated by the credentials of others,” said Dr. Mark Marciano of Florida. “But optometry is a relatively small community. We take care of one another, and the vast majority are more than happy to be a mentor.”

You can try reaching out through an email, a phone call, a text, or social media like LinkedIn or Instagram. Just remember that communication preferences can vary and be sure to be respectful. Ultimately, your fellow doctors of optometry want to see you succeed: “As an industry, we want to see our profession succeed, and we want to help the next generation,” said Dr. Puerto.

Get Involved with Organized Optometry

One surefire way to meet potential mentors is by getting involved with the AOA and local or state organizations. See if any local optometry groups have a mentorship program or could provide recommendations. “Don’t confine yourself to the clinic space,” added Dr. Breanne McGhee of Louisiana. “Participate as a volunteer, get involved in the advocacy process—be a part of moving the profession forward.”

Getting involved is especially important to students and young doctors, explained Dr. Marciano. “I encourage you to go to a local society meeting and engage with the people you meet. They will be your best resource, and you’ll find more support than you might think.”

Dr. Montaquila also emphasized the need to get involved: “The one thing I have learned over my 25 years of volunteer service to the profession is that volunteers are among the absolute best friends you can have. They are always eager to help, to teach you what they know, and to mentor you toward your goals.”

What Should You Ask a Mentor?

When it comes to what sort of questions you should ask a mentor, the doctors we spoke with had one clear response—anything and everything. It’s always a good idea to ask for clinical advice and practice management tips. You can also ask about advocacy and volunteer opportunities, as this can be a great path toward meeting more colleagues and representing your profession. Mentorship also goes beyond questions and answers, as Dr. Puerto explained: “Watch them, shadow them, note the cases you see on rotation and discuss them afterwards.”

Seek out an experienced OD’s perspective on building relationships with patients and prioritizing the patient experience. “Learning how to prioritize the patient is crucial,” said Dr. Marciano. “Optometry is a unique field, one in which we get to make lifelong relationships with patients. Building a special relationship with your patients is the key to a successful practice.”

Overall, don’t hesitate to take advantage of your resources, including your fellow doctors of optometry. Seeking out mentorship, making connections, and getting involved locally and nationally will all further your career and help you grow as a physician.

For more professional advice from doctors of optometry, visit the AOAExcel Career Center. In addition to informative resource updates, the Career Center hosts an optometry-exclusive job board that makes searching for the right opportunities simple.

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