How to Find the Right Practice Environment for You—ODs Offer Advice

February 22, 2024
There are many different career paths a doctor of optometry could take, and there isn’t one perfect fit for everyone. AOAExcel asked five doctors of optometry for advice on how to find the right practice environment.
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Every Optometry Career Is Unique

There are many different practice opportunities and modalities for doctors of optometry, and this wide variety is part of what makes the industry great. “There are so many unique individuals contributing to our profession,” said Dr. Breanne McGhee, who practices in a hospital setting. “It’s amazing when I meet colleagues from different corporate, hospital, and private spaces—how everybody brings a unique aspect to optometry. The biggest winners are the patients we care for.”

Some doctors know what modality they want to work in when they graduate and focus on that pursuit. “Since shadowing and becoming a technician as an undergraduate, I knew that private practice would be the modality to fit my personality,” said Dr. Janet Wilson, owner of a practice in South Carolina. But many doctors spend time in various environments and discover what works best for them along the way. For example, Dr. Amy Puerto, who now works in a private practice, made the decision to attend a residency program toward the end of her time as an optometry student. “When I was at SCO, I had no intention to do a residency. But in my fourth year, I decided I wanted more experience before diving in to practice,” she said. “I looked at residency programs in full-scope states and found one in Louisiana that had the technology I was familiar with as well as the equipment and resources to perform the advanced procedures I was interested in learning.”

Seek Out New Experiences

Trying out different practice environments can be a great way to find out what you’re passionate about. For example, corporate settings can be a great place to improve your practice skills, and there are plenty of associate and partner opportunities if you don’t want to handle human resources and business management aspects of private practice directly. Practice owner Dr. Stephen Montaquila explained: “After I finished my training, I worked several part time jobs, one of which was in the practice that I now own. I worked part time for an ophthalmologist and for a staff model HMO.  All were great experiences and gave me a chance to better understand how patient care was rendered in each environment. Private practice was ultimately the best fit, but it was the vast experience I allowed myself that helped me to make this decision.”

Set Goals, but Be Willing to Adapt

Setting a goal will help you find the right modality, particularly for students and recent graduates. Having an idea of what you want to do 3 to 5 years down the road will help inform your decisions today, said Dr. Mark Marciano, who opened a practice with his wife in 2005. “You have to work toward your passion and be willing to expand on it. Find mentors, work in different settings, but keep that goal in mind. Things may change, but it’s important to have a plan to guide you.”

Even if you do know what kind of environment you want to practice in, it’s important to recognize that this might change as you learn and grow as a doctor. There are always new opportunities, possibilities, and modes of practice. “Your first job may not always be your forever job, and that’s okay,” said Dr. McGhee. “Throughout life you’re going to change—what you wanted 5 years ago may not be what you want now.” It’s normal for passions or plans to change. Remember—even if things don’t go as expected, something positive can still result.

Keep an Open Mind and Look to Others for Support

Overall, the best way to find the right practice environment fit for you is to identify your passions, work toward them, and be willing to evolve and embrace change in your goals. Make sure to reach out to colleagues for advice and inspiration, as well. “Have a growth mindset and look to experienced ODs with an interest in mentoring younger ODs,” said Dr. Wilson. “If you have a fixed attitude, you’ll miss some good opportunities along the way.” And whether you’re just starting out or are well into your optometry career, don’t forget to make the most of your member benefits, including the AOAExcel Career Center—search quality OD-specific job listings, set custom job alerts, and upload your resume so recruiters and hiring practice owners can find you.

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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