By Polly Hendricks, OD, Indianapolis, Indiana
When I sold my three LensCrafters leases in 2015, I found myself at loose ends. I had been so active in the Indiana Optometric Association and the American Optometric Association; my staff was my family. I had thrown my heart, soul and life into the practices, and I felt a little lost with so much free time. I began to think of what in my professional life gave me pleasure, and I remembered the words and action of Linda Casser, OD, my mentor and friend. At her encouragement some years ago, I took optometry students to a home exam for an older woman who lived in downtown Indianapolis. She lived in poverty, cooked with a toaster oven and had practically nothing. I thought it was good for students to see that this situation isn’t entirely uncommon.
Even though this was 20 years ago, I came back to that image. Who were my patients that most tugged at my heartstrings? For me, it was children (and I was active in a Communities in Schools program where we screened all 2,500 first-graders in Clark County each year) and the old folks, especially the shut-ins. That helped me find my passion now that I’ve retired. I have connected with Meals on Wheels and the local Lion’s Club, which distributes about 100 large food baskets to elderly shut-ins on Christmas Eve. This year, I was ready, with my pickup truck and one of my dogs. I was at the Borden Community Church at 8:30 a.m., where as a volunteer for the Lions Club I delivered nine large food baskets to three elderly couples. As a group, we delivered 76 bags of fruit and nuts to every widow and widower in the township regardless of need. Everyone was so appreciative! I will do it every year from now on!
I’m grateful that I have the time to give back to the communities that supported my professional career. I encourage all of you to begin identifying those groups and patients whom you can support at some point. Maybe you’re ready now—with a few hours a week. Or maybe you’ll be ready later in your career. But begin by identifying those patients you gravitate toward. For me, it’s the folks of my father’s generation; I adored my father, and I love being able to spend time with these patients talking about their lives, their spouses, their children.
I’ve also been deeply touched by the children I’ve worked with , both those whom I see only a short time during a free exam and those I’ve spent much more time with through programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters. For some of you, it might be working with children or pet rescue organizations.
Cultivate these relationships now with service organizations. When you retire or otherwise find yourself with some extra time on your hands, you’re going to want to tap into those networks. These organizations won’t be your referral networks anymore, but they might well help you find your passion for a different kind of service.