The Business of Contact Lenses
A Letter to My Younger Self
BY CLARKE D. NEWMAN, OD, FAAO
As the New Year starts, I have been wondering what to write about this year. I think the first thing I would like to do is write a letter to myself when I was in my first year of practice. I have been in practice now for 28 years, and I think (I hope) that I have gained some wisdom along the way that I wish I could send back in time and impart to that young, skinny guy who used to be me. So, here goes.
First things first—you’ve got to lighten up. Yes, you need to be concerned about (and focused on) your cash flow, but you do not need to worry about it. Certainly, do not lose sleep over it. The crunches are never as bad as you think; and, when you are flush, things aren’t as good as you think. Steady as she goes here. The first time you ever went to Europe was ruined by worrying—knock it off!
Get everything in writing. I don’t care who you are going into practice with, get it in writing. That mistake will cost you almost 10 years of practice ownership and equity. Seriously, try not to be completely naïve, will ya?
Oh, and when a guy named Dr. Irvin Borish gives you advice, shut your mouth and accept it as an article of faith. It should not have taken you 10 years to admit to him, literally on your knees, that, yes indeed, “Everything that happens in your practice is your fault.” He is, was, and always will be right. As a practice owner, everything that happens in your practice is the result of something that you did or did not do, or said or did not say. Why was that so hard to accept?
While we are talking about Dr. Borish, you will keep your promises to him to become a leader and a Diplomate in the American Academy of Optometry (AAO) and to run for the AAO board. It will be one of the things for which you will take great pride.
When you become a Diplomate, you will learn quickly that you are not nearly on the level that you think you are. It will be the most valuable lesson that you will learn in optometry. It is OK to go through your whole career wondering whether you are good enough. It will keep you on your toes; it will keep you learning and yearning. The day that you believe your own hype is the day you are no good to anyone.
You do not need to prescribe every lens that comes along. You want to please all of the vendors—especially when you become a thought leader—but it just is not practical from a practice management standpoint.
You need to start thinking about your exit strategy earlier than you think. Also, protect the practice that you build from predators. Have trusts in place and a buy-out agreement in case of divorce that saves you from giving up half of your retirement savings to buy your practice for the second time. It will set you back big-time—can I get a do-over here?
Finally, don’t wait until you are 40 and wondering why you haven’t made as much money as think you should have before you start valuing what you do as much as your patients value it. Learn how to code and bill sooner than you did. Remember that your services are more valuable than the materials that you sell, and set your price structure accordingly.
I hope this helps.
Genuinely, take care,
Love what you do and take care of your patients, and everything else will follow. CLS
Dr. Newman has been in private practice in Dallas, Texas since 1986 specializing in vision rehabilitation through contact lenses as well as corneal disease management, optometric medicine, and refractive surgery. He is a Diplomate in the AAO and a consultant or advisor to Alcon, Allergan, B+L, EyePrint Pro, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, and TruForm Optics. Contact him at email@example.com.