by Amee and Thomas Lecoq
Knowing what I know now after four decades in the field, while in school, I’d have hung out with the VT instructors and spent as much time as possible learning VT. I would have attended as many VT meetings as I could (as a guest or at student rates) and asked a million questions. I would also have done an externship with a solid VT practitioner and made good friends with accomplished therapists. Therapists are in the trenches daily with patients and know a great deal about the practical realities of VT.
With that in mind, I’d start working, step by step toward a private VT practice. Since banks seldom make loans for doctors during their first year in practice, I’d probably work in a commercial office, probably on a daily rate pay. You have to pay your bills, and there’s that student loan, looming every month.
In the commercial setting, I would have added a couple of simple questions and simple screening steps for near point and binocular function to the pretest routine. Doing that would reveal the need for VT and near prescriptions. I’d recommend multiple pairs whenever it would help the patient, even though the sale wouldn’t directly benefit me. But patients would love the extra help and I’d take time to educate the dispensary people about why I’m recommending it.
Doing that has multiple benefits. First of all, the commercial location’s corporate owner would realize a greater profit when I was doing the exams, which would make it easier to reduce my working days as I started my VT practice. Work 5 days, then when starting the practice, cut that to three days with three days in the private practice. As the VT built up, I’d cut to two days, then a day a week. By then I’d have built the VT practice so it supported me and my family.
While it’s tempting to buy a big house and nice new car, I’d keep my living expenses as low as possible during this start-up period. Your options are squeezed when money is short.
While in the primary care practice, I’d make sure I found out who my patients really were in life. Teachers and others in a position to refer VT patients, I’d ask to join my email list. And I’d start a regular email newsletter. It would cover vision issues of all sorts, including binocular and learning related problems and how to spot them.
When I opened my VT practice, working two days a week, I’d look to this list to find someone to train as a therapist. I’d hire an empty nest mom, ideally someone who had done home schooling. I’d put them through a course of vision therapy, not just teach how to do the activities. I’d want they to understand the why as much as the how of VT.
Remember all those patients you asked to receive your personal newsletter? Share with them all good things about VT. Share stories about patients whose lives were changed. Share what you learned at a meeting, but in language they can grasp. If you use optometric terms, you are not communicating effectively.
When you open your VT practice, you’re going to want to reach out to the community through groups and organizations as a speaker. You can ferret out names and contacts through your newsletter. Ask for help making connections to spread the word about vision and how it makes all the difference for people and especially children, with learning-related vision problems.
Why that message? Because when you’re starting a new practice, it’s best to begin with these problems and issues. You will learn a lot, so will your therapist, and that you work with children makes you a standout in a sea of ordinary optometrists.
In part two, we’re going to go into the dollars and cents, management and other practical matters around starting a VT practice cold, and making it reach break-even in months, not years. Part two will appear next week in the blog and newsletter. If you’re a new grad or a student, keep this article as a guide to having a great life in the most interesting, challenging and rewarding specialty of optometry.
If you’re an established OD, and wish you’d done this, it’s not too late. One of our favorite clients ever was a doctor who was nearing retirement and had always loved vision therapy but had never been able to make it his sole focus. It was always limited to the time he could squeeze in alongside his busy, multi-doctor primary care practice. When he contacted us, you could hear the frustration he’d felt by not pursuing that dream.
As we worked with him, he was always happy to do what we suggested, took coaching like a champ. Now, at an age where most ODs have quit practicing, and spend their time golfing, this doctor has a thriving VT practice. Every day, he and his team are making the difference in the lives of the children and families they work with. Getting to see him live his dream inspires us, and it’s what we want for you as well.
If you're just starting out, or are ready to re-direct your practice, click the link below, and set up a time to talk with us about your ideal, and how to make it real.