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ONE OF THE MOST persistent challenges we hear about from eyecare business owners is how to attract new graduate and associate optometrists to full-time positions. There are a number of economic and cultural factors at play here. A recent white paper by Texas State Optical (TSO), a network of independent optometrists, described a recruitment environment made increasingly difficult by private equity consolidation, the financial power of corporate optometry, geographical imbalances in job availability, and evolving career preferences among new graduates. According to TSO, “A growing percentage of young optometrists are seeking part-time employment versus full-time or private practice ownership. In order for an employer to hire a full-time equivalent, they often need to hire two or three optometrists.” Your average optometry school graduate today wants not just excellent salaries and benefits, but also work-life balance, paid time off, continuing education, and a degree of autonomy right out of the gate. At the same time, they’re likely to be heavily in debt, and corporate optometry is only too happy to help them with that.

In this complicated landscape, it’s not enough to post an ad on Indeed or Zip Recruiter and hope for the best. You need to get in front of prospective ODs early, build relationships and demonstrate the advantages of independent optometry. We spoke to industry experts and business owners about how to reach prospective talent and what future ODs should be hearing from you. Corporate optometry may have deep pockets, but the following pages should serve as a reminder of what you have to offer: clinical autonomy, workplace flexibility, community ties, professional fulfillment, and the promise of making a genuine impact on patients’ lives.

How to Get Yourself In Front of Job Candidates

As with any aspect of this business, it pays to be proactive in recruiting. According to TSO president John Marvin, in addition to traditional job platforms, when it comes to reaching prospective hires, you should be contacting optometry school placement offices, agreeing to be an extern site for fourth-year students, and attending events at local and state societies and associations. ODs on Facebook encourages private practice ODs to advertise in their closed social media group, he adds.

Here’s How Independent Eyecare Can Win the OD Recruitment Game


On campus

Marvin points out that corporate optometry “aggressively” recruits on optometry school campuses. Is there any reason you can’t do the same? Cynthia Sayers, OD, owner of EyeShop Optical in Lewis Center, OH, says living near Ohio State University’s optometry school has helped her find people. “When I was looking for an associate doc most recently, I put out an ad to the optometry school/alumni association — which any OD can do, even if you aren’t in close proximity to the school.” She also talks to her sales reps to see if they know of anyone looking. “They are great resources. I also posted in the Ohio Optometric Association website forum, which is free to do as a member.”

Another example of the recruiting opportunities to be found on campus are recruitment events or career fairs, like the career symposium held by SUNY Optometry’s Career Development Center every year, which includes a job and networking fair where potential employers, including many independent practices, can meet with potential students, according to SUNY Optometry Director of Health Care Development Dr. Richard Soden and Director of Career Development Dr. Deborah Wang, who commented jointly to INVISION via email.

Here’s How Independent Eyecare Can Win the OD Recruitment Game


According to Soden and Wang, the job fair is just one of several ways SUNY Optometry students can become acquainted with independent practices, even before they are matriculated. Another is for students to “shadow” at various practices during the application process. “If students need suggestions for shadowing in their area, we maintain a list of practices who have volunteered to serve as shadow sites,” they add.

Contact a local school and see if you can get yourself on such a list, or offer to host externships (the word combines “experience” and “internship”). These last a day to a few weeks, are unpaid, have no major deliverables and often involve a student shadowing a doctor or simply observing what goes on. Mark Perry, OD, owner of Vision Health Institute in Orlando, FL, recommends starting with your alma mater. He says externs can best be made use of in offices that are accommodating, busy, and use the latest tech. Be prepared to spend a decent amount of time with them, he advises, and get staff to fully embrace and engage with them.



Blake Hutto, OD, owner of Family Vision Care in Alma, GA, takes a different approach, one he thinks is best suited to his small-town location. “We hire from the exam chair,” he says, encouraging young patients to consider OD school. “Our strength is in identifying people with great promise academically — be it local high school or early college — as well as interpersonal skills. From there, we take time during their annual exams to ask the simple, ‘So what’s next for you?’ If anyone mentions medical, we take time to discuss the benefits of more time and the lower cost of living tied to practicing optometry in a small town.” While lecturing at optometry schools over the last eight years has produced “zero docs,” he says, “We currently have three in optometry school from the process we now follow.”

We couldn’t wrap up this particular discussion without the following sage advice from Scott Keating, OD, at Vision Trends by Dr. Scott Keating in Dover, OH. His strategy for locking in future talent? “Grow your own!” How? “Brainwashed my own child at an early age to bring him into the family business…”

Industry associations and professional networks

Organized optometry and state associations are also great resources. With two doctors about to retire, the team at Havre Optometric Clinic in Havre, MT, set up at the state table at a recent Great Western Council of Optometry annual congress to meet and interview students. “We made a photo book about our community, the practice and why you should move to Montana,” says optician Brenda Kadrmas.

Tory Moore, OD, owner of Dumas Vision Source in Dumas, TX, has the advantage of being able to use Vision Source’s Next! recruiting program, which connects doctors with associates and students who are looking for jobs. “They sometimes sponsor practice crawls where students can go around together seeing various offices. There is also a program to help ODs reimburse new ODs for their student loans when they become an associate in their practices as well,” he says.

Moore is himself in the process of looking for an associate but prefers to rely on his own networks. “I have put ads on job boards with various OD schools and on the ODs on Finance Jobs Page. I have been asking lab and sales reps to keep an ear out for someone looking. They have big networks.”

Here’s How Independent Eyecare Can Win the OD Recruitment Game


What You Need to Be Telling Job Candidates

Community engagement and being part of a genuine team

When courting potential hires, showcase your involvement in local events and partnerships, participation in health fairs, sponsorships of local events, and collaborations with nearby businesses. Let them see how all this fosters a sense of community and belonging for you and your team and solidifies your reputation as trusted healthcare providers. Just like patients, prospective employees are drawn to the warm, personalized care that independent practices offer, knowing that they are more than just a number in a system.

Small-town practices in particular should make their specific localities a selling point. “Imagine practicing in a town with virtually no competition, immediate ownership, no vision plans, no traffic and pleasant patients — that’s our reality,” says Hutto of Family Vision Care in Alma, population 3,433.

Christine Clark, optician at Advanced Eye Care Optical Shoppe in Panama City, FL, has a great tip for conveying this sense of community to prospective ODs, with a special emphasis on the staff’s role in creating it: “Show [job candidates] the online reviews that you receive mentioning how they, the patients, love your staff. Many say how the staff was able to make them feel at ease and how knowledgeable the staff is. Then I would make it known to the new OD that education is a priority to making sure they have a great staff that can anticipate their needs. Letting a prospective candidate work a few days in the clinic to get a feel for how much a great staff is so important would also be a plus.”

Mentorship and career development

It’s important that any budding OD that comes your way be made aware that you offer a rich environment for mentorship and career development. Seek out candidates with whom you feel a personal connection and convey to them they will be welcomed with open arms and granted immediate access to hands-on experience that is both diverse and substantial. Show them they’ll be working side-by-side with your practice’s seasoned ODs, acquiring practical skills — and contrast this with corporate optometry’s stifling, structured, one-size-fits-all environment. Says Sayers: “It’s important to me that the OD has a similar personality/work ethic/value system as me so that patients can seamlessly see another OD in the practice without feeling a disconnect between yearly visits.”

Here’s How Independent Eyecare Can Win the OD Recruitment Game

Robert M. Easton, Jr. OD, told INVISION he will soon begin the process of bringing into his solo professional practice in Oakland Park, FL, an OD — and he knows exactly what he’s looking for: “When I bring in the OD to my practice, they have to be like-minded, so my patients feel comfortable staying in the practice when I retire. I have no desire to sell to the corporate world of optometry.

I wish to preserve the private professional practice of optometry for an OD who has that same desire.” Easton credits his professional success to the network of connections he built up in his community by joining, and often leading, a long list of community, faith, educational and industry organizations over the years. “I have not stopped giving back to my community, my faith and my profession,” he says. Such a clear set of values — both personal and professional — is in many ways the antithesis of the corporate experience. Legacies of this sort are a powerful recruiting tool and should be leveraged.

Clinical autonomy and professional fulfillment

According to Marvin, “The independent practitioner is unlikely to be able to compete with a corporate employer’s overall compensation package. Independents must emphasize what they offer that a corporate employer cannot. As an associate working for an independent, they will have more autonomy to practice the level of scope they would like. If they wish to focus on building a specialty contact lens or dry eye practice, they can. A corporate employer is going to be much more production-focused, [prioritizing] refractions and selling glasses and contacts. They are focused on…revenues.”

As Perry of Vision Health Institute points out, “The obvious advantage to private practice is the freedom relating to patient scheduling, hours of operation and the use of specialty testing and procedures.”

Says Sayers, “Once I find a potential candidate, I like to bring the OD into the office and have them meet my team and see my space.” She adds, “Not everyone is fit for a laidback type of office as EyeShop so I like to see how they react to the environment and let them know how a typical day runs.” And make sure all your communication with potential ODs features your branding prominently. This leaves them with a sense of the identity you have worked so hard to build and lets them see how it truly reflects your vision and values. “We are so well-branded they are typically impressed with the look and feel of the office,” Sayers adds.

“Most ODs I have interviewed comment on our website/social media presence, so I do think that investing in that helps us to stand out among potential employees.”


Work-life balance and holistic compensation

As an independent practice you offer a unique value proposition to recent grads and associate ODs that goes beyond a traditional salary. According to Perry at Vision Health Institute, “Work/life balance is very important to this new generation. Pay is a priority but not an end-all point. Working in an environment that is friendly and appealing is important as well as having the diagnostic equipment and capabilities to treat and monitor patients.”

Soden and Wang at SUNY Optometry echo this idea. In addition to work/life balance, they listed a number of things young ODs are looking for — some of them remarkably specific: being able to finish work “either right on time or earlier”; not having to bring work home, “i.e., if doctors are given admin time at the end of the day”; and autonomy in scheduling. Additionally, they stress, “Provider burnout is a very important topic that has come out in recent years,” and many graduates seek assurances of care for their mental health. “Finally, showing providers they are valued is important…small gifts, bonuses or even free lunches are seen favorably.” You can’t please everyone, of course, but try to come up with a package that includes, at a minimum, continuing education, professional memberships, and wellness programs. [… It bears stating that if you’ve read this far and are scoffing at this list of desired benefits, then we’ve probably solved the mystery of why you’re having trouble finding quality candidates…]

Here’s How Independent Eyecare Can Win the OD Recruitment Game

Additionally, stress any profit-sharing models and equity options that are on the table, aligning the would-be OD’s success with that of the practice. This not only incentivizes performance but also fosters a sense of ownership and belonging. It works for Sayers: “In addition to their normal pay rate I do provide incentives to the doc based on production, which encourages them to see more patients and help to promote sales. I want them to immediately feel like they are a part of the team, not just someone coming in to punch a clock a few days a week.”

One factor working against independents is the growing issue of student debt. According to the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO), the average indebtedness of optometry school graduates in 2021-22 was $187,075. Marvin points out that undergraduate debt can push this as high as $300,000 to $400,000. “To recruit in a tight job market, many corporate employers are offering to pay off the associate’s student debt in exchange for a multiple-year commitment. This is an advantage a corporate employer has when recruiting,” he says.

Independents do have some remedies in this area, though. Those in underserved areas should point out to prospective hires that they can seek debt-repayment options through programs such as VSP’s Student Loan Repayment Program. “One of the things we regularly hear from doctors is the financial pressures they face coming out of school, which can sometimes hinder their ability to work in the modality of their choice, like private practice,” VSP Vision President and CEO Michael Guyette says in a recent press release. “To help address that, we launched the Student Loan Repayment Program with the unique ability for applicants to select their preferred modality — including an independent practice — and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.” Adds 2023 program recipient Dr. Hasnain Nizar: “Through this program I have had the opportunity to not only contribute to the long-term growth of a private practice, but also provide eyecare in an optometrist-scarce area.”

Perry at Vision Health Institute reminds his peers that while student debt loads “can be a large factor” in new optometrists’ early career choices, “most of the time their decision to work in one type of practice over the other is not 100% based on pay. Practice culture and environment can play a large role in their decision making.”




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