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The Business: So Far, So Good

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

BY DR. THANH MAI

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.

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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 blog.drmai.info

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