These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

favorite things
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As the year comes to a close, I often find this to be the perfect time for reflection. What did I learn this year? What did I accomplish? Who did I connect with? Who inspired me? Who have I inspired? I am thankful for the eye care community and the time, energy, and selflessness that many of my peers and colleagues share. In the spirit of reflection, I wanted to share some of the best advice I have received in my career. My hope is that it resonates with you, makes you think differently, and take action.

If you live like a doctor while you’re a student, you’ll live like a student when you are a doctor.  
This advice was shared with me while attending the New England College of Optometry and resonated deeply.  As a student, I took out the minimum in student loans — even giving money back to the financial aid office if we went over. I worked hard during optometry school doing research projects, tutoring, and working in the alumni department to pay as much of my living expenses as I could. When I graduated, I continued to live well below my means, driving a used car, brown bagging my lunch, and taking fill-in jobs to put extra money towards my loans. Being mindful of my spending allowed me to accelerate paying off my loans and then invest in practice ownership.

While many reading this have already graduated, this lesson can still apply. What goals have we set for ourselves personally, professionally, and financially, and is the way we are living reflective of that? Are there changes that we can make in our practice to “live like a student,” and become more lean, efficient, and streamlined? Are we tracking metrics and profitability and making sure we have the product mix that best supports our businesses? This can be a great reminder to spend wisely and watch our bottom line.

You are your best investment.
Investing in ourselves is often one of the most challenging things to do. There is the time away from our offices and families, and the logistics and the cost of attending meetings, conferences, and events. While that is all true, the best time and money I have spent is spending time outside of the office learning and networking.

Optometry can often feel like an isolating environment; we have our practices, staff, and patients, and we try our best to stay up to date on new technologies, treatments, and developments. Attending local, national, and international conferences and meetings opens that world up and really allows us to see what innovations are out there. I also often find the best learning comes from sitting and talking to colleagues at meals and breakout sessions — I’ve made lifelong friendships and learned more about business and practice management than I sometimes learn in a lecture.

Has it been a while since you’ve attended an in-person meeting? Do you go for the CE and the CE only? Take some time to walk through the exhibit hall, talk with vendors, and strike up conversations with new colleagues — you never know what you will learn.

Hire slow, fire fast. 
In this challenging time of recruiting, finding, and hiring staff, it may be tempting to do the opposite, but one of the best pieces of advice I have received is to take your time and be picky when hiring, and be quick to cut ties if it is not working out. We often keep staff to have “warm bodies” in the office and think the worst scenario would be to be understaffed, but a lean, highly effective team is much better than having a rotten apple that makes for a toxic environment.

Know your numbers. (No one cares more about your business than you.)
As a self-proclaimed numbers geek, I have embraced this in practice ownership. I love tracking metrics, seeing the results that changes can make, and being able to set attainable and measurable goals for my team.  

Not your cup of tea? You don’t have to reinvent the wheel here — and you shouldn’t! There are many great partners in the eye care industry who do this and do it well. They don’t only track the metrics, but they can work with you to help you understand what they mean and what steps to take to make improvements.  

Not sure where to start? Pick one metric per quarter to focus on with your team. Trying to do too much overwhelms everyone and can be a recipe for disaster. Have frequent check-ins to see how you are doing and provide feedback and education to guide improvement. Celebrate the wins and successes and move on to the next metric to track!

Who you surround yourself with is who you become.
I am beyond fortunate to have a close-knit group of friends that I know I can call, email, or text day or night with questions about running my practice. This didn’t happen overnight — I met new friends at conferences, meetings, and through social media, and found my tribe that I clicked with. We are similar in many ways — we enjoy the business aspect of running a practice, we are always looking for ways to innovate and improve, we share the same challenges that other colleagues are dealing with. We are also very different — which makes it fun and unique. We practice in different parts of the country, have different demographics, practice models, services, products, practice sizes, and numbers.   

We share each other’s frustrations and failures and offer advice and solutions. We share successes — hiring an associate, buying a new practice, opening another location, or reaching milestones. I’m continuously inspired and energized by my connections, and I hope I have the same effect on them.

What is the best advice you have received? Or, what is your best piece of advice to give? What has stuck with you year after year and helps guide the decisions you make? As we head into the holiday season and new year, this is a great time to reflect and reset.

Yours in success, 
Jennifer L. Stewart, OD

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