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Cowboys & Cataracts

By Amber Belaustegui, OD February 12, 2020

I never planned to own a practice—especially not in rural Nevada. With a background in ophthalmology ocular disease, I always pictured myself in an MD/OD setting. But those opportunities weren’t coming my way, and I got tired of waiting. I decided to create my own opportunity and purchased a medical-based practice in Fallon, Nevada. It was a scary leap of faith, but one I do not regret.

My early career was spent working first in a private practice and then at a large retail chain. I felt like I was investing in other people’s practices and I was never going to see that return on investment. When I learned about the practice for sale in Fallon, I decided it was time to invest in myself, and I bought it.

At first, it was scary being on my own. As the only practitioner, I ran the whole show, which was a big change for me. Fortunately, my mom was a dentist with her own practice, so I had some sort of model to follow.

I quickly embraced the freedom of owning my practice and being able to run things how I wanted. And, I fell in love with my new home. In a rural community like this one, many of my patients haven’t been to a doctor in many years and come to me because their vision is changing. A lot are older cowboys—these big tough guys are leery of doctors but somehow, they put their trust in me. I’ll see them for cataract surgery, and before you know it, they’re in here with their ingrown toenail or a bump on their ear that they want me to look at. I’ll say, “Bill, it’s time you go to the dermatologist.” And they trust me enough to take my advice.

My favorite patient story is a little girl who used to come in. She was probably eight years old—very farsighted with gangly, stringy hair that barely made it into her pony tail. She desperately wanted to be on the cheer team but couldn’t with glasses. We were able to get her contacts, and about a week later she came in wearing her cheer outfit, so proud to show me she made the team. That always stuck with me—how getting contacts might have been life-changing for her, helping her get the opportunity to do something she was passionate about that she may not have otherwise been able to do.

As Doctors of Optometry we have so many options for where and how we practice. With a medical background and a drive to control my destiny, I never would have pictured myself in a small rural town. But I ended up with my own practice, providing my community with not only vision care, but access to healthcare as well. A couple of years ago, I partnered with another practice and together we serve patients in six locations across the state.  We recently partnered with VSP Ventures, who will handle the day-to-day management of the business so we can focus on what we love most—seeing patients. As I see it, private practice optometry has allowed me to pursue my passion and achieve my goals in an unexpected but fulfilling way.

 

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