If you’re thinking about starting your own private optometry practice, you probably know that the real work is just beginning. Building and maintaining a successful private optometry practice takes effort, dedication, creativity, and going the extra mile to ensure the highest quality care for your patients. How to build a strong, supportive community, how to make patients feel welcome and valued, and how to keep your team educated and up-to-date on the latest technologies and treatments are a few of the core skills that will help you excel in this model of practice.
Before committing to starting your own private practice though, there are some alternatives to consider, including starting or joining a group practice and joining a corporate or commercial practice. In this article, we will cover some of the essential skills you’ll need in order to run a successful private practice and then explore alternative models of practice to help you make the decision that’s best for you. No matter which route you decide to take, we’re here to help you get started and on the right track to achieve your goals!
Build Your Private Practice Optometry Community
If you decide to establish your own private optometry practice, you need to put time and effort into building a sense of community. You should actively network in the community where your practice will be based and introduce yourself to other local medical professionals.
You may also want to consider joining local community groups to engage and meet other small business owners in the area. In time, these neighborly relationships can transform into a robust referral network of other professionals and businesses who can send new patients your way.
A strong community can also provide opportunities to learn from others and feel more supported during challenging times. Additionally, national networking communities like PECAA can be a great way to supplement your local relationship-building efforts.
Prioritize Your Practice’s Patient Care
A little extra effort goes a long way in making patients feel comfortable and welcome at your practice. This should start the moment a patient walks through your doors; simple gestures like being welcomed immediately or being offered a beverage while they wait in a comfortable chair will help make your clients feel more relaxed and at ease. Next, try to bond and converse with the patients when you bring them in for their appointment.
Perhaps most importantly, aim to educate patients as you work with them (tell them about things they can do to prevent further problems, inform them of new research, share an interesting fact, etc.) This will show that you are well-informed, but also that you want to work together with the patient and involve them in their own care.
Keep Learning and Training Your Team
It’s crucial that you never view your education as complete in this field; no matter how successful your practice appears on the surface, there is always more to learn, and you must stay on the cusp of it all in order to maintain the highest quality patient care.
PECAA understands the importance of education in your practice and offers an enhanced education platform that provides endless opportunities for you and your team to earn Continuing Education credits and stay up-to-date on the industry’s newest technologies and medical treatments.
Alternatives to Optometry Private Practice
Before committing to starting an independent private practice, it’s a good idea to thoroughly explore other avenues to practicing optometry and determine what is best for you and your individual goals.
Instead of starting your own practice from scratch, you can buy into an existing practice, join or start a group practice, or join a corporate/commercial practice. Additionally, some optometrists practice under ophthalmology practices, and others still practice in government or other institutional settings. Each of these different ways of practicing optometry comes with unique benefits and challenges, and what is best for one optometrist may not be best for another.
Although the majority of optometrists still choose to run solo private practices, studies by the American Optometric Association (AOA) have found that other optometry practice models like these have started to gain popularity in recent years. This trend has been seen in other medical professions as well.
Now, let’s explore a few of these alternative optometry practice models and their benefits in more detail…
Optometry Private Practice vs. Group Practice
A group practice can be defined as a group of several optometrists that work together to provide primary care to a specific subset of the population. In recent years, more and more optometrists are choosing group practice over private practice. The sizes of the optometry practice groups are growing as well.
Why are group practices growing in popularity? Data shows that group practices are often more profitable, with a lower bottom line and lower operating costs compared to solo practices.
Larger groups are also able to pool resources and afford new technology and equipment that they can share. Similarly, groups can often afford to spend more on their marketing, which is an essential part of establishing and growing any optometry practice. They can also pool resources to hire a dedicated office manager to help with daily operations, staff supervision, and other duties that can be a distraction/challenge for practice partners.
For some optometrists, another benefit of group practice is a more pleasant working environment, including more opportunities for shared learning, collaboration, peer review, and mutual support.
Joining or starting a group practice doesn’t come without challenges though. With more partners involved, some optometrists find that decision-making becomes more complicated and difficult. It can also be hard to supervise employees and manage daily operations with so many different people and personalities involved.
If you are thinking about joining or starting a group practice, there are some things you can do to prepare for these challenges and protect yourself. It may be a good idea to get your own lawyer to protect your individual interests. Regardless, you’ll definitely want to do your due diligence and draw up a legal document detailing practice ownership and responsibilities.
Once you open your group practice, hiring a dedicated office manager can help ensure things run smoothly. Communication will also be essential, so set up whatever systems, policies, and procedures around this that you can from the start.
Optometry Private Practice vs. Commercial Optometry
Another option is to join the field of corporate or commercial optometry. Corporate optometry comes with some great benefits, but also some downfalls.
While owning your own private practice comes with the potential for the highest possible earnings and more growth over time, corporate optometry can provide greater financial stability right out of the gate. Corporate optometrists tend to have attractive starting salaries and steady, predictable paychecks. In contrast, starting your own private practice means more upfront investments and less immediate earning potential. With this in mind, many optometrists choose to start out in corporate settings in order to pay off their student loans more quickly.
Corporate optometry comes with other benefits too. Working with a corporation means less administrative work and business management on your shoulders, which is attractive for some ODs who just want to focus on seeing patients. Also, when you go the corporate route, you don’t have to invest as much or commit to anything in the long run, so you can buy yourself some time if you’re still unsure about opening your own practice or just don’t feel ready yet. This can give you time to learn the business before setting off on your own.
On the other hand, working in a corporate setting offers less flexibility than running your own practice and being your own boss. Your schedule will probably be less flexible and more confined to traditional retail hours. In a corporate environment, you will probably have less control over your staff and who you’re working alongside.
Another potential downside of corporate optometry is its narrow scope of practice. Generally speaking, corporate optometry is more focused on refractive care than medical care, and patients will mainly be looking for eyewear. This can mean less variety in your day-to-day and fewer opportunities to continue learning and developing your medical skills in the long run.
Mastering Private Practice Optometry
Overall, starting an independent optometry practice comes with more potential risks, but also more potential rewards. For the right person, the work and commitment required to get your private practice up and running will be well worth it. And even if you decide to build your own practice from scratch, that doesn’t mean you have to go on the journey alone. There are many other ways to lower your costs and get support along the way, such as joining PECAA!
If you develop a strong community, always put the patient first, and continually strive to learn and train your team, you will be well on your way towards running a successful, well-respected, and high-quality practice. Of course, there are many more things to learn, and that’s why joining an optometry group community like ours can help make it all feel more manageable and exciting!