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Banking on Private Practice Optometry

By Kristine Sam, OD October 07, 2020

I originally went to school to study business. After working in the banking industry for several years, I had gained excellent sales, management, and customer service skills, but my heart felt incomplete. I craved something more fulfilling, with more meaningful connections—something like optometry. Having an optometry practice appealed to me because it combined business with helping people. So, with the support of my husband, my parents, and my two small boys, I returned to school to pursue a career in optometry.  

After I graduated from optometry school, I joined a large retail chain, but I still felt like I was searching for something different. That’s when I decided I really wanted the opportunity to build my own practice and work for myself. So, after about six months, my husband and I decided to fulfill our dream of opening a private practice from the ground up. We wanted to have our own “brand” and develop relationships with our patients from the very beginning. My husband would handle the numbers, payroll, and marketing—skills he had fine-tuned since we met in business school—and I would focus on patients, employees, and management. That was three years ago—and today, our practice is thriving. My husband and I work really well together, and patients love coming in to see both of us.    

The way we brand our practice is through our philosophy of “honesty comes first.” It is very important to me to answer all my patients’ questions honestly and educate them about each and every product and procedure I recommend. I want patients to understand that my recommendations are based first and foremost on the health of their eyes, not on any benefit to our practice. Because we treat our patients this way, they trust us and are willing to comply with our recommendations. One of my favorite patient stories is a woman who came in for a routine contact lens exam. Upon examining her optic nerves briefly, I detected severe swelling. I told her to go to the emergency room right away and gave her very specific instructions for the doctor. Because she trusted me, she acted immediately; and as a result, the ER doctor found and successfully removed a brain tumor that was compressing her optic nerve. It saved her life.  

Because of this trust, patients come back to us, and tell their friends and family to come to us—word of mouth is one of the main ways we have grown our practice. Another significant contributor to our growth is our partnership with VSP, including our participation in the Premier Program. The Premier Program banner on the VSP Find a Doctor directory helps us stand out from other nearby practices, and patients choose us because they know they will get more with their benefits by going to a Premier Program location. There are other significant benefits associated with the Premier Program for our practice and our patients, including access to vendors such as CareCredit, which gives patients an additional option for paying for their visit and materials. And, enrolling in the VSP Individual Vision Plans Doctor Program has enabled us to direct patients who don’t have access to vision care insurance through their employer to this resource to help them get the care they need.  

Moving our practice to Unity Lenses a couple of years ago was another way we maximized our relationship with VSP. Aside from the rewards and savings associated with the product, making this move fast-tracked us to Premier Program status, while providing us a high-quality lens option for our patients. Patients not wearing Unity Lenses at the time adapted easily and feedback has consistently been positive. We always recommend the best lens for a patient’s specific needs, and in most cases, that is a Unity lens. In the rare instance that a patient requests an alternate brand after trying Unity, we will certainly accommodate.  

I am very optimistic about the future of our practice and our profession. As I see it, the demand for eye care is growing, and the types of procedures we can do continues to increase. Because of our “honesty comes first” philosophy, our practice is growing more each day. Getting to work side by side with my husband and have experiences like the patient story above fulfills my need to connect, help my patients, and feel complete 

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