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The Sky's the Limit for the Next Generation of Optometry
As a recent graduate and Doctor of Optometry who specializes in low-vision rehabilitation, as well as a current student of law, I am just one example of how much the profession of optometry has evolved since the early days of dispensing glasses. Today, we can own a small-town practice, work in a busy city hospital, teach at a university, lobby on Capitol Hill, or all of the above. We can specialize in pediatrics, geriatrics, neurology, contact lenses, low vision, or whatever we’re passionate about. As the scope of optometry expands, and our role in patients’ overall healthcare continues to grow, the challenge for new graduates is less about what opportunities are available, and more about how to choose from them all.
My passion for optometry and low-vision rehabilitation started in college when I took a summer job working with teens at the local center for the blind and visually impaired. It was incredibly inspiring to watch these kids navigate often devastating prognoses with such optimism, and to witness the impact eye doctors had on their everyday lives. I knew this was a path I wanted to pursue.
Once in optometry school, I joined the Private Practice Club, mainly because it was the largest and most active group at the college. Having an interest in business, it was very informative to learn about that aspect of the profession, and I loved the idea of building something from the ground up. I became very involved in the club, eventually becoming its president and then executive director of the Student Optometric Leadership Network (SOLN), a conglomerate of private practice club leaders.
The Value of Connection
Private practice clubs enable optometry students to learn amongst like-minded individuals the aspects of the profession not covered in class. Whether it’s negotiating an employment contract, landing your first job out of school, navigating billing and coding, or selecting an EHR (electronic health record), the education provided in these clubs is extensive. The most valuable aspect of club membership, however, is the vast network it provides. Experts from all areas of the profession come into the clubs to talk about their specialties, and you can connect with industry leaders, hiring doctors and entities, association members, and peers who become an integral part of your support network throughout your career. SOLN membership builds upon these opportunities, forging lifelong connections with successful, leadership-minded individuals who share your passion.
Support for Students
It was through my private practice club that I first learned about VSP Global. As one of the largest sponsors of private practice clubs and SOLN, VSP sets students up for success with scholarships and grants, numerous education and networking opportunities, and programs like Premier Pathways to help graduates find employment. I attended my first SOLN conference with a travel grant from VSP, and it launched a relationship with SOLN that brought me to my current role as executive director.
Now I’m able to partner with organizations like VSP Global and the Association of Practice Management Educators (APME) to support optometry students in the way I was supported. In collaboration with SOLN and APME, the VSP Global Premier Program just launched a scholarship opportunity for optometry students interested in a path to private practice ownership. The VSP Premier Program Student Business Challenge asks applicants to submit a business plan describing their unique pathway to owning a private practice, with the chance to win financial scholarships and grants to attend the SOLN annual conference. It’s a great way to recognize these students who have given so much to the profession and to support their journey to private practice.
My ultimate goal is to own a practice and spend a couple of days a week doing low vision rehabilitation in an academic setting. I also plan to use my law degree to advocate for patients and the profession overall. “As Eye See It,” there is so much we all can do with optometry today, and I plan to do as much of it as I can!