How to Start Networking Today: 4 ODs Discuss Building Professional Connections
Everyone has heard that networking is important. But for many, especially students or those early in their career, it can be difficult to know exactly what to expect and how to get started. AOAExcel talked with four doctors of optometry from various career stages and backgrounds—Drs. Gabby Marshall, Chris Wroten, Bibin Cherian, and Samuel Pierce—to discuss the value of networking and seek advice on building professional connections.
One clear benefit of networking is finding new opportunities and filling open positions. “Networking helped me land my first optometric job,” says Dr. Cherian. “I connected with a doctor at a local meeting and wasn't even applying for jobs at the time.” He describes career placement, lectureships, and volunteer opportunities as benefits of networking. Similarly, Dr. Wroten uses his network to match colleagues with opportunities and patients with care: “If I ever have a resident or student looking for a position somewhere, or have a patient in need of care who is moving or traveling, I have a network of colleagues I can reach out to who can either personally assist or point me in the direction of a colleague in their state who can.”
Even if you aren’t currently looking for a job, it's always useful to build relationships. Networking is a great way to learn new things, stay in tune with industry trends, and gather advice. “I’ve made friends from all over the country by volunteering in organized optometry,” says Dr. Wroten, “I’ve been able to confer with colleagues on their experiences with various cases, treatments and ophthalmic equipment to enhance the care I provide.” Dr. Cherian reports a similar experience: “I've had the opportunity to meet colleagues across the country—some are more seasoned doctors who provide clinical advice and career suggestions. Others are new grads like me who provide fresh perspectives on similar challenges that I face.” Dr. Marshall explains that her network provides valuable insight and ideas. “I’ve learned a lot of what I know about optometry in the hallway,” she says, “it’s like tribal knowledge. I have optometrists that I hang out with on a weekly basis, and we talk about what we’re doing and brainstorm together.”
As for how to begin building your professional network, the doctors all agree that attending society meetings and gatherings is a perfect place to start. “It’s a great idea to ‘see and be seen’ as much as possible, from local society meetings to state and regional meetings and, of course, Optometry’s Meeting,” says Dr. Pierce. “Attending meetings is a great way to get involved in optometry and introduce yourself to optometry’s leaders,” adds Dr. Wroten. Dr. Marshall describes an example of a state association networking event:
"Oregon’s state association, OOPA, holds a networking meeting every February called Best Practices. It’s moderated by a member in a leadership position, we invite panel members from across the state and from different roles—including ODs, opticians, and office managers—and we have participants from individual and group practices, private and corporate. We discuss a list of topics and open the floor for questions and ideas. We’ve had some really great discussions."
Try seeking out similar meetings and events in your area. And when you’re at a meeting, don’t be afraid to start conversations. “Go out of the way to introduce yourself,” advises Dr. Cherian, “most of the people I’ve encountered are kind and willing to chat or connect you with others.”
If you don’t live close to a group event, or if you’re interested in connecting with others across the country between meetings, reaching out to doctors of optometry via email, phone, or even social media are all good options—just make sure to be polite and check how others prefer to communicate. “Be genuine and concise when reaching out,” advises Dr. Cherian. “Keep in mind that people are often busy with work and family—if you don’t connect, don’t take it as personal. Most people in the profession are willing to help!” Before reaching out, consider reviewing your online presence. Does your public social media presence reflect the image you want to project? Remember to update your LinkedIn or professional website, too.
Be sure to take advantage of industry tools, as well. The AOAExcel Career Center is a great place to see various opportunities and find the contact information of doctors of optometry across the country. Dr. Pierce recommends seeking out listings posted by peers, particularly those in the practice environments you’re interested in working in: “If you want to buy a practice, then talk to a doctor that has bought a practice. If you want to work in a co-management surgical practice, then talk to a doctor that works in or owns a co-management practice.”
Overall, while it may seem intimidating, networking should be a positive and rewarding experience. The doctors we spoke with offered this closing advice to students and young ODs looking to join optometry communities and form connections:
- “Don’t be afraid to seek counsel from people you respect.” –Dr. Pierce
- “We are social beings—nobody likes to practice on an island. We’ve chosen optometry for a reason— we’re seeking to interact with and help others.” –Dr. Marshall
- “Just like in other areas of life, connecting with others whom you may be able to help and who may be able to help you is critical to success. Bouncing ideas off one another, sharing best practices, and encouraging one another through challenges can make all the difference.” –Dr. Wroten
- “There is always the fear of rejection or no response. Keep moving forward and reaching out—create authentic relationships and be willing to help mentor others, too! As the proverb goes, ‘Travel alone if you want to travel fast; travel together if you want to travel far.’” –Dr. Cherian
Visit the AOAExcel Career Center for more information and resources about networking, professional development, and more. Job seekers can view verified optometry openings across the country for free. Employers and recruiters can share open positions with our extensive network of qualified ODs and make use of our resume database. AOA members receive a discount on listings.
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