The Business: So Far, So Good

A young doctor shares the ups and downs — but mostly ups — of his first two years as an OD


Published in the March/April 2014 issue

I still remember my first patient as a new doctor. I walked into the exam room, shook his hand with the doc-like authority Southern California College of Optometry granted me and said with a strong, stern voice, “Hi, I’m Dr. Mai. Great to meet you.”

He looked at me, sizing me up in an instant, and replied back, “Nice to meet you too.” And that was it. He believed that I — a skinny, goofy looking guy in a white coat — was actually a real doctor. Score! So far, so good.

Flash forward 2,500 exams later and now I can look back on how my first year turned out. Ten percent of patients just flat out ask me to my face, “Nice to meet you ... wait ... how old are you?!” Another 1 to 3 percent of patients are flatout nuts. I don’t know how they even made it into the exam room. I once had a guy stop me in the middle of the exam and run out because he thought the “feds” were coming to get him. (He also had a weird infatuation with raccoons.) At least 60 percent of my patients were female and 70 percent of our frames in optical were geared toward them. And 100 percent of patients would prefer, if possible, to have everything for free. But if they decided to stick around and pay, 100 percent of them got quality eyecare. So far, so good.

One patient told all her friends that I saved her life. Maybe I did. A 36-year-old African-American female came into the office for a routine eye exam. Everything was hohum until I looked at her fundus and saw huge swollen optic nerves. The patient had scattered visual field loss as well. I sent her to see a neurologist urgently for an MRI with her retinal photos. The neurologist was a sweet guy who told my patient that her optometrist was awesome. She is doing fine now and gave me the biggest hug of my career. Score more points for the “we recommend eye examinations even if you see fine” team. So far, so good.

Now, in my second year as a full-fledged doctor, I can refract with one arm tied behind my back. Frequently, I even know my final prescription just looking at the patient’s age, chief complaint and entering visual acuities.

But the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. I went to an orthokeratology meeting in Chicago and it blew my mind. There are people in countries who are doing orthokeratology on keratoconus patients to recenter the cone centrally. They are doing orthokeratology on -12.00 myopes and getting 20/20. Amazing.

All in all, practicing optometry has been fantastic. Growing up, I just thought optometry was refractions all day long. But having experienced everything from doing vision therapy with a child to managing a case of angle closure glaucoma in a 72-year-old patient, I am pleasantly surprised at the amount of interesting work. Sure, things aren’t perfect — but when is life perfect? Every profession has its problems and optometry is no different. With a little luck, plus enthusiasm to tackle challenges ahead with the patient’s best interests in the mind, the future is exciting. I believe in controlling the things that I can control and not stressing about things outside of my control because — well, aren’t they outside my control?

Definitely so far, so good

DR. THANH MAI is a recent graduate who practices in Southern California and maintains an optometry blog at