Congratulations! You have just graduated and are eager to make a difference in your chosen profession of optometry and to embark on the road to a rewarding career.

Congratulations! You have built a successful optometric practice and are enjoying the fruits of your labor – but the time is right to prepare to pass the baton.

Which of the above scenarios best describes your situation?

Well, consider this: for the purposes of implementing a successful approach it really doesn’t matter. Whether you are looking to secure a position as an associate and future partner or searching for just the right individual to carry on your legacy (and, of course, buy out your equity,) it is important that you have a clear view and understanding from both sides.

The process of finding the right position or hiring the right person is a broad and complex one. Discussion of how to conduct a search, what to look for, and formulas for contracts and buy-ins are deserving of separate time and space. My goal in this article is to outline key features critical to forging a long and successful relationship – it is advantageous to know these BEFORE you embark.

I am extremely fortunate to have navigated a career path which commenced when I was accepted by a well-established and very prominent practice as an employed associate. (OK: it didn’t hurt that I was also a patient.) I then diligently dedicated myself to working (probably twice as hard so as not to take advantage of my “privileged” status) up through “junior” partner and eventually to my current position as majority shareholder and managing partner. From this unique dual vantage point, below I share five practical takeaways with the hopes that you will find them helpful in your personal journey.

Ask not what the practice can do for you…but what you can do for the practice.

Whether you are the senior doc or the new kid on the block, you have an equal stake in outlining and prioritizing both short term and long term professional and personal goals. Practice growth and transition should not and cannot be left to chance; time flies much too quickly and if you are not ahead, you are behind. Think about and communicate how you see your role in the practice over the next five years and then the next ten years; do the same regarding your personal desires and expectations for work life balance. Most importantly, be specific in defining actionable ideas. For example, as a potential associate aspiring for partnership, name 2 new things you see yourself bringing to the established practice; one clinical and one managerial. As the practice owner, what 2 old or current tasks, practices, or areas of responsibility would you like to immediately change, add or relinquish?

Be a chameleon…not a leopard

Chameleons change rapidly to ensure their survival; leopards’ spots are unique. Each of us has strengths and weaknesses, unique abilities and personalities. In the context of developing and perpetuating a successful relationship, be it professional or personal, it is important that we maintain our individuality. Equally important, however, is our ability to blend in and roll with the punches. As a new member of the practice, expect to be “sized up” and “schooled” by the staff. After all, in their minds you are the new kid on the block and they are still taking their marching orders from Senior Doc. At the same time, however, it is incumbent upon you, Senior Doc, to lead by example in elevating your new associate’s team status. 

Be a sponge: soak, squeeze, repeat

As the new associate, learn everything you can about what made and makes the practice successful. Be a sponge: absorb all you can, but do it in a measured fashion. Then, apply all you have learned by imitation (OK, we’ll call it emulation.) You will gain much more insight into your developing role and areas where you can have the most impact by having a deep understanding of the practice’s culture and dynamic. As the Senior Doc, take the time to demonstrate and explain how and why you do what you do, both clinically and managerially…do not rely upon passive diffusion. Your investment of time in your new protégé will reap you much greater returns.

Push me, pull you

Remember this creature from Doctor Dolittle? Contrary, to the expectation that the two heads could not live harmoniously, indeed it did. And so must Senior Doc and Junior Doc. Complement one another clinically (I, for example, delegate all gonioscopy, among other procedures, to my associates). Co-manage challenging cases. Independently test new products. “Own” separate areas of staff management. For example, in our practice the associate doctors are responsible for keeping the staff up to date on new products and procedures as well as overseeing the training of new technicians. Finally, attend separate professional meetings and report back to one another.

Beware the Danger-field

In the end, nothing matters without sincere and mutual respect. Not only did I admire my former “bosses”, but I had a profound respect for what they had achieved and that which they were seeking to accomplish in their final years of practice. I did everything I could to perpetuate their legacy, introduce fresh ideas, and treat the practice as if it were my own from the very beginning. In turn, they understood and supported me in facing the challenges as a new (and insecure) clinician, the financial stresses of loan repayment, and the daunting goal of balancing parenthood and partnership. They truly molded me into the doctor, mentor, and businesswoman I am today.

With the increasing numbers of baby-boomer ODs nearing retirement age and the growing supply of newly minted graduates, the future for successful collaboration and transition surely seems bright. Let’s adopt a proactive, intelligent, and empathetic approach to create a win-win opportunity for happy career beginnings and endings for all.