What pearls of success would you share?

June 3, 2013

There I was, early on a beautiful Saturday morning in April, in a University of Houston College of Optometry lecture hall with about 40 eager students who were there – voluntarily – because they wanted to learn from me and others about how they can be successful in their careers as optometrists. What does it take to be successful these days? That is an important question for all of us in practice, but it was important for these future young doctors who get together on Saturday mornings several times a year, on their own, and invite folks in who can share insights into the decision-making they need to do as they progress in their careers. I think these are very smart young student doctors.

What would you tell these future colleagues? I will share my “Practice Pearls” later in this column, but as I prepared by looking through my many old lectures on success in practice it was interesting how some of the keys to being successful had morphed over the years and yet some are as golden today as they were years ago.

For example, the need for each of us to be a sharp-eyed business person is much greater than it was early in my career. Being able to analyze insurance plans, including vision plans, is critical to the financial success of an optometric practice today. As this need has increased, the AOA has expanded the tools available to help our members analyze those plans.

Also, as the nation’s health care system rapidly changes, I think it is even more important today that each of us stay in tune with the legislative and regulatory changes being thrown at us. Additionally, extra income helps the success of our practices as our dollars are stretched tighter. I also know that without the AOA I would not have known about the extra monies available to me, and I would not have known how to qualify for the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), Meaningful Use, e-Rx or Maintenance of Certification bonuses.

Those dollar amounts are becoming very significant for us as optometrists and need to be included in the plan for every successful optometric practice. At this point, through 2011 optometrists have received $3,092,574.12 for PQRS and $2,267,445.60 for e-Rx. But the big number is for the Meaningful Use incentive bonus. When the Meaningful Use incentive program was being written, optometry was not included. However, the AOA did not give up or give in, and through savvy and diligent negotiating succeeded at the last moment to have optometry added to the list of eligible professions. So we received $38,965,329 for 2011; and $57,360,000 has been issued for the 2012 program year. This means optometry has received $96,325,329 total so far for Meaningful Use, and our dollar amount is climbing.

Another difference in keys for success is that today, and certainly going forward, we will each need to be involved with and connected to the health care delivery systems in our communities more than we ever thought about years ago. Fortunately, I know that as our national health care system evolves, the AOA Third Party Center and AOAExcel™ will guide us into the new health care world.

But what keys for success haven’t changed? Which pearls are really essential to remember for success in practice? After input from many, I shared the following list of Top 10 Practice Pearls with the students:

10) Lead your life and practice as if everything will show up on the Internet – your most valuable asset is your reputation.

9) There is no such person as the perfect employee – so use your staff in ways that maximize their strengths.

8) If you can’t change the employee – you must change the employee. Letting someone go can be difficult, but that is always better than keeping someone who isn’t right for the practice.

7) Employees will treat patients as well, or as badly, as the way you treat patients and the way you treat staff.

6) One rotten apple can spoil the barrel. Just one bad employee, or one bad doc, can ruin an office.

5) Always do whatever is the right thing for the patient – you’ll sleep better and your practice will grow.

4) Knowledge really is power. The more you know about the world around you, the better you can adapt to the changes around you. AOA membership is vital for this – so read the information the AOA has available for you.

3) It is impossible to soar like an eagle if you are surrounded by turkeys – surround yourself with negative people if you want to be negative and surround yourself with successful people if you want to be successful.

2) The benefits of your involvement within organized optometry will far exceed the efforts and dues you put forth. The most successful optometrists are the ones who are involved!

And the No. 1 pearl is: 1) Patients don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care.
Certainly there are other significant factors leading to a successful career in optometry, and there are many ways for each of us to define what success means. But, as I shared with these future optometrists, I think at the end of the day, no matter what else goes on in each of our careers, I know I am truly successful, and those young doctors of optometry will know they are truly successful, when a patient comes back and thanks us for changing his or her life. That is the moment we know we are successful doctors of optometry!

Ronald Hopping, O.D., MPH
AOA president

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