Journey to Independence

Hello, Independent Strong readers! I am so honored to introduce myself as the new Professional Editor. I’ve always been supportive and passionate about independence in private practice, so I look forward to putting out great content to help you on your journey. Independent practice has always been my goal. I am an entrepreneur at heart and enjoy creating, running, and owning successful businesses. The freedom, flexibility, autonomy, and financial benefits are what make independent practicing so special and rewarding. While there are challenges in independent eye care, I can’t imagine practicing any other way.

One of my favorite quotes is, “If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you are going.” My inspiration for entering the field of optometry stemmed from a chance encounter with my next-door neighbor that completely changed my career path and life!

Growing up, I was an equestrian. I had two horses, and I competed in all things horses — show jumping, team penning (with cattle), and barrel racing. I had a dream of becoming an equine vet and combine my love of horses with a great career. While in my junior year of college, I shadowed a very successful equine vet, and while she was fantastic, I quickly realized that lifestyle was not for me. But now what? My whole life had been geared toward becoming a large animal vet. I shadowed other health professionals, but I didn’t feel a pull toward physical therapy, pediatrics, or athletic training.

My neighbor growing up was a successful optometrist (and my OD!), and I happened to run into him while I was home from college. He asked the dreaded question, “What are you doing after college?” I replied, “I honestly have no idea.” He offered for me to come observe him at his office, which I agreed to (politely — I didn’t want to be rude). I had no interest in becoming an optometrist. How boring would it be to sit in a dark room with people all day?  

I arrived at his office for my first day of shadowing, planning that I would do my two hours, thank him, and leave. I expected it to be boring and I could check it off my list of “careers tried.”  

While I was waiting for him in the waiting room, I looked around to pass the time, and I noticed things I hadn’t seen before. His entire office was covered with beautiful photographs of him and his family — on vacation, at home, playing sports, and candid shots. He was an amazing photographer, so I thought it was a clever way to decorate the office.

He asked his first patient if it was okay that I sat in on the exam, and away we went. I settled in and waited to be bored in the dark. However, he didn’t start off the exam asking about their health or their vision, or anything to do with medicine at all. He asked about their family, their vacations, their work, and it sounded like two friends catching up versus a doctor-patient relationship. The patient then asked him about his family, noticing that there were new pictures on the walls from recent trips. This was not at all what I expected — I was enjoying the exam! He then went through a very comprehensive examination, presented his findings and recommendations to the patient, and then we walked the patient out to the optical. Before my neighbor left for his next exam, he gave the patient a big hug. This was repeated over and over for the whole afternoon, and the time flew!

At the end of the afternoon, he asked what I thought of optometry. I was blown away by the connection he had with his patients — they seemed more like friends and family than a typical doctor-patient relationship.  He genuinely seemed to enjoy his exams, and no interaction was the same. It was at this moment that I knew optometry was the career for me. I wanted to not only help people see and perform better, but I wanted to have that relationship with my patients.

Fast forward 15 years, and I can honestly say that private practice optometry has given me the relationships, connections, lifestyle, and career that I envisioned on that day in 2001. I can’t imagine a career that is more engaging, rewarding, and continuously adapting and changing than optometry. Being an independent business owner has allowed me to create the life that I want, support my family, and have complete autonomy. Whenever I speak to undergraduate students, I share my story and career path, and I hope that I, too, can inspire them to practice optometry (even though we do spend most of our days in a dark room).

I am excited to share the journey of independence in eye care with you. The future is bright, and I look forward to great content and discussions.

Yours in success,

Jennifer L. Stewart, OD 

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