Real Deal: The Case of the Overwhelmed Optician

Overwhelmed optician battles forces

illustration by karla durangprang

A skilled optician faces an uphill battle
in a new office. Is he being treated fairly?

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 edition of INVISION.

Shawn, an optician with 15 years’ experience, a two-year degree in opticianry and licenses in two states, recently relocated his family to a bustling city in Colorado. He was quickly hired by a busy practice, and on his first day, the doctor-owner sat down to discuss Shawn’s role at the company.

“As you know, Shawn, Colorado allows opticians to work without certifications or licenses,” said Dr. Bynes, leaning forward over his desk. “Our opticians have a variety of work experience, but none match your training and tenure.”

“So you’re looking to have me train the staff?” Shawn asked.

“Not exactly. I’m looking for you to function as a super-optician. I’m going to reorganize the department so the current opticians will function as salespeople, and they will rely on your technical and optical expertise.”


Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual eyecare businesses and people.


Natalie Taylor is an experienced optometry practice manager for Advanced Care Vision Network and a consultant with Taylor Vision. Learn more at

Shawn bit his lip apprehensively. “So what exactly will I be doing?” he asked.

“Well, as we discussed at your second interview, you’ll be doing all the lens ordering. This will prevent errors and ensure we are cost-effective,” Dr. Bynes said. “I also want to see you doing lensometry on rechecks, and dispensing to first-time progressive wearers.”

“Oh,” began Shawn, looking at his hands, but Dr. Bynes wasn’t done.

“We are also finding a lot of errors when we submit to vision insurances, so at least for a while I need you spot-auditing the staff so we can catch errors,” he said, finishing with a smile. “Most of our patients have vision discount plans, so we need to maximize reimbursements.”

Shawn felt a bit overwhelmed at what Dr. Bynes had outlined but also honored to be seen as such an important resource on his first day. At his last job he was on a team of three. Here, he would have the opportunity to develop and lead a team of seven.

A few days into his new job, reality swiftly began to set in. Instead of an environment of learning and development, Shawn found that optical staff members were only too eager to wash their hands of as many tasks as they could. Some of his team respected Shawn’s advanced understanding of products, optics and sales technique, but others regarded the department’s reorganization as both a demotion and an insult, and they isolated Shawn.

In addition, Shawn was struggling with the intense pace and made several embarrassing data entry errors. Never having trained a co-worker before, he fell short of his own expectations. Shawn was being pulled in a million directions and working harder than he ever had before. After two weeks, Shawn requested a meeting with Dr. Bynes to discuss his concerns.

“I enjoy working for your practice,” Shawn began. “However, this is quite a bit more work than what we discussed during my interviews. I want to revisit my compensation package or reduce the scope of my work,” he said.

“You’re already making two times more per hour than your coworkers. I’ve already made you my best offer, Shawn,” said Dr. Bynes.

Shawn was surprised by the pay disparity. “We’re so busy,” he said. “I would have thought the staff could be paid more.”

“Over 70 percent of our patients use vision discount plans. The department is not as profitable as you may think. I can only justify your salary by increasing your responsibilities,” explained Dr. Bynes. “Unfortunately, I can’t raise your pay, and if I were to lessen your duties, I’d actually have to reduce it. Is that what you really want?”


1. How should an optician like Shawn assess his or her value in a new state, and in a new office?

2. Is there a compromise to be found between Shawn and Dr. Bynes? What might it be?

3. In a low-reimbursement environment, is Dr. Bynes’ model the best solution? Why or why not?




That’s an office just waiting to implode. Instead of asking for more money right away, Shawn should have sat down with the doctor to discuss how they should have weekly meetings to get everyone on the same page for production and how they all need to share and help one another. Those that isolate Shawn should be told straighten up to cooperate or go elsewhere. You can’t have an efficient office without being a cohesive group.



Both parties probably need a little more time together. A new start for both of them leads to expectations not quite understood from either, so they could benefit from giving it more time and allowing Shawn to start to manage the staff better and allow the doctor to be more proactive in promoting Shawn’s authority. These two need to get on the same page in getting a managerial role set up for Shawn and establishing a hierarchy in the office.


Edina, MN

With Shawn’s credentials and experience, he would have great value to any practice, especially one with less educated and less experienced staff. His real value is as a mentor and educator as opposed to a super-optician. Through training and educating, the whole staff improves and feels empowered as opposed to threatened. Dr. Bynes needs to reset his expectations and use Shawn’s experience and sales approach to the practice’s advantage.



Shawn should be able to assess his worth in a new area by Internet searches for salary averages in the new state. If he feels that his compensation is not commensurate with the average salary in his area for the role he has taken on, he should be able to easily point this out to the doctor. If the doctor really values Shawn’s potential contribution, he will attempt to address Shawn’s concerns.



Shawn was clear from the beginning on his skills and experience and should not have to accept a lesser salary simply because he is in a state that does not require certification. If Dr. Bynes is unable to compensate him more due to the high demand, then he should either hire new staff members who have a team-player attitude or find a second lead that he feels Shawn can train and mold.