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April 2010

On the day of graduation from optometry school, itís hard to think of yourself as stepping into the shoes of experienced ODs. But, for all intents and purposes, day by day you grow into one of those doctors. You may not be aware of this ďexperienceĒ until someone asks you to share it. What? Me? Iím a ďnew OD!Ē What do I have to share that would be of any value?

Step up!
Regardless of how many years (or months) ago you graduated from optometry school, every day you practice is an opportunity to amass skill as a doctor, practice manager, marketer, etc. You may not believe it, but many people find what you have learned to have tremendous value! You donít have to lecture, publish or become a consultant to have something worthy to share.

I remember being out of school for one year and having an optometry student contact me with some questions about licensing, finding a job and making the transition from school. It was funny, although I had just been through all of that, I still felt very new to the profession. Though time in that first year went really quickly, my one year of experience served to assist an upcoming grad. It seemed minor to me at the time, but thinking back over my personal feelings around graduation time made me realize that the advice I gave was of great value to that student.

Contributions to the Profession
I have had many conversations with fellow optometrists regarding their stories about helping newer optometrists. I remember one discussion in particular. I had coffee with a doctor who had been very helpful to me shortly after I was out of school. He was so nice, and I asked him why he took so much extra time to mentor me. He explained that his own hometown optometrist was very aloof and did not help him at all when he was a new graduate. That


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experience made him realize how important peer guidance is. He vowed to always help new optometrists feel comfortable in reaching out to him because he never wanted them to feel as he did. This doctor explained that our profession would only grow and become better than it was if we helped one another.

His personal story struck a note with me. Not unlike the “pay it forward” concept, each time a fellow optometrist asks me for my advice, I think of my mentor. As I opened my new practice and shared my practice management tips via publications, lectures and even at regional meetings, I had many ODs contacting me with questions. Most of the time, a simple email only took minutes to answer. I kept thinking, “If I can help other ODs avoid some of my own mistakes and benefit from what I’ve found to work well, it will not only help that doctor, but the patients they serve.”

How Do I Become a Mentor?
Mentoring doesnít have to be a long-term relationship. I think of mentoring as anytime you influence and/or help a fellow optometrist or aspiring student within the realm of the profession---even if only one time. For instance, invite optometry students to shadow you at your office for a half day. Offer your email as a contact at your closest optometry schools for those students who may move to the area. Volunteer with your regional society to help plan a meeting with fellow ODs. Make an effort to attend a couple of continuing education meetings in your city every year, and at each meeting introduce yourself to a doctor you donít know. You never know where your influence can help, even in the smallest of ways.

The relationship I have developed with many optometrists has been mutually beneficial. I learn as much as I share! In these times where money is tight, your advice and knowledge is something cost-free that is of tremendous value to other optometrists. So, whether you mentor many or just one, donít take for granted the impact you have. Optometrists helping other optometrists will continue to grow our profession in challenging times. If Iíve inspired just one person to reach out, Iíve accomplished my goal.

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