Being Professional Means Truly Caring

By Stephanie Kirschbaum, OD March 21, 2016

Being part of the profession of private practice optometry has always been of ineffable importance to me. Throughout optometry school and my early work years, professional (adj. "highly competent") practice was equated with not only the highest standard of care and clinical acumen, but private practice. We battled corporate optometry in those days.

Therapeutic licensure and continuing education requirements meant we practiced full-scope optometry with a more elevated standard of care. Always on the horizon was a challenge to meet – one to battle vigorously or to incorporate into our profession – and, usually, our ameliorated profession shone brightly. Our colleges of optometry, students and staff have remained resilient and embraced the myriad of changes, as have we.

Back when I was in optometry school and as a new grad, the pressure to work in a private practice was not subliminal, it was real. We had the same options back then, but working in a private practice and meeting school loan obligations were feasible. Armed services, Kaiser, retail/corporate – these were our choices, but corporate doctors were not allowed to join COA or our local societies. A lot of our legislative issues/battles were based on private versus corporate/retail: preserving private practice ideals.

Today, doctors from all modes of practice attend society and educational meetings together. New graduates are no longer ostracized for their decision to practice at a retail setting ... many times their options are fewer and school loan repayment responsibilities higher, and not a lot of private docs are hiring. Before, consumers/patients followed the recommendations from their doctors. Optical (lens designs, coatings, etc.) and frame styles were more limited and were dispensed more as a "necessity" rather than as a fashion statement.

Eyewear is exciting, versatile and at the height of fashion now, and consumers are more often driven to their decisions based on advertising or what is trending. Consumers want their products quicker, cheaper and easier to order (i.e., online). Patients/consumers desire the freedom to make their own decisions rather than following the advice of their doctor.

Today, professional optometry has many shiny new facets and, in order to care for our patients with the utmost care and efficiency, we need to explore and even embrace the new facets. As important as social media is to running a professional practice, I still struggle to embrace this change, this facet, even though I realize it is critical. Patients use it, need it, rely on it! Gone are the days when yellow page ads were our "advertising" (this used to be a bad word in optometry).  We have to be more colorful, creative, accessible and responsive to our patients. I'm getting there ... slowly.

As I see it, being professional means truly caring about my staff and patients: listening, taking care of their individual medical and personal needs, keeping my knowledge and instrumentation of the highest quality. My idea of being a professional is living the Beatitudes and incorporating change – if it helps optometry and our patients.

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