I’ll never forget my first day practicing optometry without a preceptor or resident leaning over my ignorant shoulder. Mostly, I remember how clueless I was. The next thing I know, I’m zipping out to my 40th year in private practice. The question is this: What happened in between?
Let’s break the history of our lives in optometry down to easily digestible bites. Your journey is different than mine, but some things are universal, so I think you’ll see yourself in here somewhere.
The First 10 Years
A lot happens in these initial years of practice. They are marked by an unsteady progression that starts with eating macaroni and fish sticks while counting your last $10 that has to last you and the family for another two weeks until the next pay day. Later, you move up to pizza night when you come home to screaming, starving kids—or at least a screaming, starving you.
Then, one day when you least expect it, you realize you have enough money in the bank to splurge on a night out with friends or your spouse, except you need new tires on the minivan instead.
By now in your practice, you have a patient base of folks who, for the most part, love and support you (a few will never forgive you for that air puff test). Fortunately, you finally have a clue how to take care of them. And yes, it takes that long to figure it out.
The Next 10
Your next years of practice are an amazing blur. You know just what to do to help almost any patient, and you trade your education debt for a new house and car, both of which finally have working air conditioners. If you are blessed with children, they slide into the teen years. The bad news is, they think you are an idiot. The good news is, at the end of the day, you kinda are, especially when it comes to your kids’ teen years.
Your practice has grown and has a life of its own, sort of like Godzilla; both Godzilla and your practice will happily devour you unless you carve out time to make the healthy choice of hiding under your bed from time to time.
30 Years and Counting
Before you know it, you have been in practice for more than 30 years. At CE meetings, young optometrists think you know way more than you do, so they show their respect by only talking smack about you when you are not around.
I am at the 40-year mark in optometry. My 40th class reunion is right around the corner, and while we used to reserve a basketball court and 50 pounds of chicken for everyone who attended, we can now feed everyone who has survived with seven loaves of bread and a few fish.
I have seen just about every advancement that’s come and gone in our profession. I now carry a computer around in my pocket just like you. My office technology is so great that my brain has become a vestigial organ—not necessarily a bad thing, because I have rerouted my brain’s blood flow to my taste buds. This reminds me… despite my cholesterol and triglycerides, I look back fondly on my macaroni-and-cheese and pizza decades.
Time is relentless, but there is only one alternative to birthdays. So learn, smile and enjoy your decades, colleagues.