Navigating Raise Negotiations as an Associate OD

August 13, 2021
Take the guesswork out of asking your employer for a raise.
Woman doctor explaining to man in buttoned shirt

There comes a time in every doctor of optometry’s tenure at a practice where they will need to discuss career and salary advancement with their employer. For optometrists who are in the early stages of their careers, negotiating a raise with their employer can feel like uncertain territory, and even a little intimidating. Heading into the conversation with preparation, reasonable expectations, and confidence, however, can help lead to a successful raise negotiation for the associate optometrist and their employer.

Deciding when to ask for a raise

More often than not, your contract will include a raise schedule that your employer would like to follow. Past AOA president, Samuel Pierce, O.D., suggests checking in with your employer 90 days prior to contract renewal to begin discussing an upcoming raise and outlining the value you bring to the practice.

Keeping an open dialogue with your employer is key to get a sense of how the practice is performing overall and to assess your role in the practice’s performance.

If your contract does not include an incentives schedule, Dr. Pierce advises negotiating for one upon contract renewal.

Gathering salary information

When entering into a raise negotiation, you’ll need to have a goal salary in mind. Just like in initial salary negotiations, it helps to come prepared with an idea of the average salary for ODs of your experience level in your area.

According to Dr. Pierce, “The best way to get market information is just to get online and search. There are also income surveys that are often regional.” The AOAExcel Career Center, for example, allows ODs to search posts listed in their area, and reviewing local listings can give a sense of the salary range for ODs in the area.

Rachel Simpson, O.D. of Pennsylvania also suggests reaching out directly to optometrists in your target market, in addition to researching aggregated salary reports. “ODs will give you the information if you network with them – if someone were to reach out on Facebook and ask me about salaries in my area, I’d definitely tell them,” she says.

If you are not comfortable asking about salary information outright, or you sense that the doctor or practice owner you are speaking with wouldn’t be comfortable sharing salary information, Dr. Pierce suggests asking fact-finding questions to get a better sense of the volume of practices in the region, which can help you estimate what a salary in that market might looks like.

“Ask how many patients are typically seen in a week per doctor and how many exams per day. A general rule of thumb is that a practice should be prepared to pay a doctor at least 20% of the professional fees they raise, as well as a percentage of the eyewear and contact lens income generated from the doctor’s patients,” advises Dr. Pierce.

Building your case

When you’ve determined it is time to begin raise negotiations with your employer, coming to the table prepared and in the right mindset can help make the conversation smoother for both yourself and your employer.

Dr. Simpson offers the following tips for facilitating successful raise negotiations:

  • “Put thought into what you’re asking for.”
  • “Know what you want and how much you’re generating for the practice.”
  • “Have an idea of the overall numbers for the practice,” she adds. “You can learn a lot by understanding the pricing within the practice. Every conversation you have with your employer and other staff is a clue.”

Coming from a former practice owner’s perspective, Dr. Pierce has the following advice for ODs when it comes to demonstrating the value they bring to the practice in a raise discussion:

  • “Be prepared with the income you’ve brought into the practice from exams and patient visits, along with the income you’ve brought in from eyewear, lenses, etc. Have a sense of what percentage of your patients purchase eyewear and lenses.”
  • “The amount you ask for needs to make sense and it needs to be justifiable – are you bringing a specialty into the practice? Are you demonstrating the potential for future growth?”
  • “‘I want a raise because I need a raise’ is not a good argument,” he adds. You need to be able to show how you impact the bottom line.

Keeping communication open with your employer and keeping track of whether you are meeting or exceeding the expectations set forth in your contract will keep you more in tune with the impact your performance has on the practice, making you more prepared to negotiate your raise when the time comes.

Don’t forget to review your benefits package

Asking for a raise isn’t necessarily confined to salary dollars. Benefits like health insurance, life insurance, retirement matching, etc., have the potential to provide significant value to a compensation package when well-negotiated. It’s important not to forget that benefits can be negotiated at contract renewal, as well.

Dr. Pierce suggests reviewing your benefit package for the following items:

  • Is your employer covering your malpractice insurance?
  • Do you receive disability insurance?
  • Is a dental plan being offered?

Even if your employer doesn’t cover the costs for disability insurance, etc., if they have a program in place where the premium is deducted from your paycheck, the use of pre-tax dollars for premiums can lead to significant savings.

“Don’t forget to look at the little things – the little things can really add up,” Dr. Pierce advises. 

Handling a denial

Dr. Simpson recalls a time when she came to a raise discussion unprepared, and the negotiation did not go as she had hoped.

“Before I became an OD, I worked for a startup in a low-level position that I didn’t really like. I hadn’t negotiated my salary at all when I started, but I felt I was doing well and wanted to ask for a raise. I googled my job title and discovered that based on my position and market, I was being underpaid by about $20,000. So, I made a list of everything I had done since I started, asked my manager for a meeting, and asked for the full $20,000. Shocked, my manager let me know he’d pass my request up to his boss, who kindly offered to take me to lunch. She let me know that she thought it was great that I’d made this list of all the things I’d done in my role but pointed out that not one of those things actually generated revenue for the business. You have to bring in money to make money.”

Even the most prepared OD, however, still might receive a denial in a raise negotiation with their employer. It may not be the right time for the practice owner, financially, or the practice owner may have goals they need to see met before agreeing to a raise for an associate OD.

Dr. Simpson offers the following advice for handling a raise negotiation that does not go as planned:

  • “Be gracious and humble, even if you’re disappointed.”
  • “Ask to revisit later, let your employer know that you are motivated by saying something like ‘It is important to me that I continue to advance in the practice.’”
  • “Role play the negotiation with a friend or fellow OD until you feel more confident.”
  • “If your feelings about the practice change as a result of a raise denial, that’s okay – even receiving a ‘no’ is an important learning experience, and you may find that your current practice is not the right fit for you.”

Don’t feel discouraged or overwhelmed

Raise negotiations are an essential component of every successful career. Though approaching a raise discussion with your employer may feel intimidating at first, each time you do it will bolster your confidence going forward. Come to the negotiation prepared, and don’t get discouraged if your employer determines that the negotiation needs to be revisited at a later date.

Dr. Simpson’s biggest piece of advice?

“Do it, even if you’re scared. No one is going to give it to you if you don’t ask for it.”

Discover the salary ranges and benefits packages in your area by searching AOAExcel Career Center listings.

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