OD Insight: How to Survive Your First Weeks at a New Practice

January 9, 2024
AOAExcel asked doctors of optometry for advice on how you can set yourself up for success in your first weeks at a new practice.
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Whether you’ve just graduated from optometry school or are starting a new position, the first weeks at a new practice can be an adjustment. AOAExcel talked with doctors of optometry at various stages in their careers to discuss what to expect in your first weeks at a new practice and to get advice on how you can set yourself up for success.

Adjusting Takes Time

Many of the challenging aspects of the first weeks at a new practice are related to adjusting to a new environment and way of doing things. It can take time to get used to new schedules, workflows, and processes. “Don’t expect everything to click for you on day one,” said Dr. Breanne McGhee of Louisiana. You might have to learn a new electronic health record or scheduling system, and you might face an increased patient load. As Dr. Joe Sugg of Arkansas explained, “It can be hard to finish one patient, put that one entirely behind you, then reset mentally to begin with a new patient.”

And for new ODs practicing for the first time, switching from a student to a doctor mindset can be tricky. “Textbooks are not always reality,” said Dr. Amy Puerto of Louisiana: “Even if you excelled in school, it takes experience—and making some mistakes—to adapt to being a practicing OD.” Learning to balance various clinical and business responsibilities is a process. Dr. Janet Wilson of South Carolina said, “There truly is an art to good communication and practicing—the good news is that it gets better with time.”

Focus on the Big Picture

Mistakes with time management and administrative tasks can happen as you adjust to a new practice. This will improve as you settle in and shouldn’t be a cause for concern. But while focusing on day-to-day responsibilities, it can be easy to overlook the mission and core values of a practice. “There are many intangibles that go into building a practice to the level that an associate doctor can be brought in. Knowing that the owner doctor has put in years of effort shouldn’t be overlooked,” said Dr. Wilson. It’s important to respect the guiding principles of the practice and what makes it successful. Dr. Stephen Montaquila of Rhode Island added: “It’s imperative to learn the ins and outs of how a practice runs. You may not agree with everything, but it will go a long way towards learning what you like or dislike or what you might do differently.”

Perhaps the biggest mistake a doctor of optometry could make is keeping quiet. “If something isn’t going well, don’t be afraid to communicate. We might fear negative repercussions, but it’s OK to open up a healthy dialogue,” said Dr. McGhee. Make sure to ask questions and clarify expectations when necessary.

Set Yourself Up for Success

The doctors AOAExcel spoke with all agreed that learning as much as possible and maintaining a healthy dialogue with your colleagues is key to success in the first weeks at a new practice. “You must be a sponge,” said Dr. Montaquila, “you know how to provide the very best patient care, but perhaps not how to manage employees, pay monthly bills, source supplies, or book patients efficiently.” Observe and ask plenty of questions. Get to know the entire team and learn about the community you are practicing in. “Do your due diligence. See how you can connect with and bring something of value to your new practice and community,” said Dr. McGhee.

Though it can be tempting to put off administrative tasks until the end of the day, make sure to chart as you go to ensure accuracy and save time in the long run. And if you don’t already have one, consider investing in a billing and coding book—“improving your insurance knowledge helps the bottom line for the practice and its staff. Having a good manual to reference has been extremely helpful,” said Dr. Puerto.

Overall, while the first weeks at a new practice can be intimidating, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and remember to keep a growth mindset. As Dr. McGhee said, “If you feel as if you’ve learned it all, you’re doing a disservice to your patients.”

For more professional advice and best practices from doctors of optometry, visit the AOAExcel Career Center. In addition to informative resource updates, the Career Center hosts an optometry-exclusive job board and resume database that makes searching for qualified candidates and exciting opportunities simple.

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