Developing Leadership Skills as an Associate OD Sets You Up for Success

Associate doctors serve important roles in their practices, and strengthening leadership skills builds trust and respect among all staff members.
leadership skills

As an associate OD in a private practice for the last three years, and a Career Consultant for ODs on Finance, I make a concerted effort to develop and hone my leadership skills. In my role with ODs on Finance, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with our colleagues in all stages of career trajectories across the country. I’ve found that a lot of private practice owners are looking for associates and are curious about how to find the right fit for their office. 

I think there’s a misconception that leadership has to come from the top personnel in an organization. While leadership certainly should be demonstrated from those in influential positions, I don’t think we appreciate or recognize that this character trait can be illustrated by non-executives in a practice. Leading as an associate is incredibly important because we (associate ODs) have the opportunity to improve the lives of people we interact with on a daily basis, including our family members and the patients we care for. If we view the act of taking on a more impactful role in the practice as one that only comes from the top, I don’t think we are going about our jobs the right way. 

A lot of practitioners talk about leadership, but talk is cheap. Implementation and execution are what matters. For me, it’s made a big difference in how I perceive my work and the satisfaction I get from what I do. Consider how taking action with this guiding principle in mind through your daily activities can influence those around you. Be an educator to staff members. Implement better technician training to empower team members to take on higher-level responsibilities. Walk through your spectacle lens prescribing and recommendation process with opticians. Moreover, the bulk of your actions should speak to the “why” of patient care. It’s one thing to simply learn how to perform a task. It’s an entirely different idea to actually understand why the actions performed matter and how they contribute to practice growth, staff empowerment, and improving patients’ lives.

Importantly, take time to not just serve as a reservoir for information but to be taught as well. Focus time and energy asking staff to teach you about their role in the practice and the tasks that they perform. It can be enlightening. In other words, be a teacher AND a student. Make the most of the daily opportunities to positively impact those around you. Leadership is about having the appropriate mindset and taking action. 

Strengthening Your Leadership Skills
As an associate doctor looking to sharpen your leadership skills, reading is paramount. All influential people in leadership positions allocate time to read. As eye care professionals, we can often get caught up in being “too busy” to add another thing to our calendars, but we can always make time for things that are important. 

In addition to reading, another skill that is absolutely essential to strong leadership is self-awareness. The ability to take a step back and peripherally assess yourself, what you do, and how you respond to any given situation allows for proper self-analysis. This self observation opens the door for opportunities to become a more effective leader. 

Along with reading and self-awareness, associate optometrists should make a concerted effort to seek out great mentors. Young ODs crave knowledge, especially topics that we don’t learn enough about in school. Optometry institutions are fantastic at educating students on the latest and greatest in diagnostics and the treatment and management of ocular disease. Unfortunately, not enough time is dedicated to proper billing, coding, lens technology, revenue generation, or patient communication — all of which are vital for success. A strong mentor can offer guidance on all of these items, and more. Furthermore, offering mentorship is a key method for practice owners to attract and retain the best staff and associate doctors. 

Transitioning to Practice Ownership
For associates considering a transition to practice ownership, cultivating your leadership skills in this stage of your career will set a foundation for future career success. Develop these traits now so that by the time you purchase a practice, you’ll have the ability to earn the respect and trust from staff members. Your success will largely be based on the strength of the relationship you have with your team members. Jack Welch said, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” Learn to appreciate this attitude sooner rather than later. 

Growing into Leadership
Not everyone is a natural born leader — I certainly wouldn’t put myself in that category. I’m an introverted person. Speaking on stage is still terrifying for me. It’s uncomfortable for me to strike up a conversation with someone new. However, the opportunity for growth and improvement is ever present as long as you are open to it. Take steps towards your goals. George Addair is credited with saying, “Everything you’ve ever wanted is sitting on the other side of fear.” Leadership is a journey without a finish line. You never fully reach it, but you can do your best to model principles to make a positive impact on those around you. Associate ODs have every opportunity to do just that. So do it.

  • Christopher Lopez, OD

    Dr. Christopher Lopez graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Houston College of Optometry. Clinically, Dr. Lopez practices with an emphasis on ocular disease and specialty contact lenses. In addition to clinical duties, Dr. Lopez publishes articles for different optometry journals and travels the country providing COPE-approved CE lectures. He is passionate about helping optometry students and young ODs navigate their job search journey. Dr. Lopez is the Director of Career Services for ODs on Finance (, optometry's largest and most influential financially focused platform consisting of over 25,500 ODs and students.

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