About a year after her 2003 graduation from Pacific University College of Optometry, Tania Sobchuk, OD, was offered an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. “I was working for an ophthalmologist in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, who had a satellite office with a focus on primary eye care and an optical dispensary. He offered me the opportunity to buy the satellite, I was just a year out of school, so it was kind of a crazy idea,” she says. But she bought the practice in 2004 and worked hard as the solo doctor for three years. “I hired my first associate, Brooke Vetter, OD, in 2007 and then I hired another, Breanna Ruesch, OD, in the summer of 2015. One of my earlier technicians has gone on to optometry school, and she wants to come back and join us, too,” Dr. Sobchuk says.
Dr. Sobchuk considered expanding earlier, but due to some shakeups in her personal life, she went a different route. “I took a sabbatical for five months and traveled. My associates and staff kept the practice afloat, and during that time, I realized I really do love it here and want to return to Havasu,” she recalls. Then one day, almost two years ago, a realtor came up to her during a Rotary meeting and said, “’I found your building.’ I had no intention of renovating but it was a perfect building,” she says. On Aug. 31, 2015, she signed the paperwork and demolition and reconstruction began on an 8,000-square-foot building. On Aug. 1, 2016, the new building opened to patients. It’s less than a mile from the former practice location, and we have continued to use that old facility for the retinal consultants who fly up from Phoenix two days a week.”
Although Dr. Sobchuk purchased the entire building, a dentist who had been leasing a 1,500-square-foot suite decided he wanted to stay. By the time her renovation was done, people were surprised to hear the building had been there for years. “It was a nondescript building with four separate offices and a garage that took up half of the front. Now it’s this beautiful building that draws people in. We replaced the roof and removed the old stucco and added windows. The outside is nearly unrecognizable,” she says.
The contractors completely gutted her 6,500 square feet, taking it down to one support beam and cement floors so she could redesign it as a single office that flowed well. The space has nine exam lanes, and each of the three doctors has a pod area of three exam lanes. “Each pod has its own tech station, and we have a lot of ancillary help with 19 employees plus the three doctors. In our old place, we were constantly running into each other. Now, we have our own little cluster of three rooms, so we’re not cramped,” she says.
There are two pretesting rooms, and they flank a third room with pocket doors. In the middle of the room are four stations for topography, retinal imaging, diabetic screening and macular pigment screening. “We have a separate area for the OCT, visual field analyzer and another room for retinal and anterior segment cameras. These testing areas are in a central island, a concept that I thought would work with the workflow. It’s perfect. There are no backups,” she says.
That means that the practice is able to see more patients. In the old space, with five exam lanes, they tried to schedule all three doctors two days each week, but it was crammed. Two doctors each worked two exam lanes while the newer associate had one exam lane and one tech.
“Lake Havasu has a year-round population of 60,000, but in the winter, that swells to 90,000. We are only one of three private practices in town, so our ratio is great. We are booked out solid and now even our new associate is booked a week in advance,” Dr. Sobchuk says.
The new location also has a fabulous, nearly 1,000-square-foot optical. Dr. Sobchuk traveled to Eye Designs headquarters in Pennsylvania to view the optical displays. “I’ve never built a house or thought I had an eye for decorating, but it worked really well,” she says. The practice displays between 1,000 and 1,100 frames and has a section carrying about 200 sunglasses. “We have four optician stations and we have a great, high-top dispensing bar with bar lights overhead. Behind that is a swinging door, like a saloon door, into the lab. People really enjoy that.”
Dr. Sobchuk says that she hasn’t really increased her frame inventory, “but we had a lot of understock before. Now we can display it. I hear people say all the time, ‘I didn’t know you carry Tiffany or Coach.’ We always have, but it wasn’t displayed as well.”
Dr. Sobchuk says the space allowed her to add new features, not just for patients but also for the doctors and staff. One of her favorite space is what she calls “a doctor’s library. It’s where the doctors hang out and can chat when not seeing patients. Being able to go to work and talk about patients or life or share funny stories has really renewed my passion for the work,” she says. She’s also added a zen room, where a massage chair, spa music and an aromatherapy diffuser help her team members relax. “It has sound proof walls, so if a staff member is really struggling, it’s a great place to get away for a few minutes, collect yourself and even scream, if you have to,” she says, laughing. The old office had a tiny kitchen, but the new one is very large with tables, a full kitchen and lockers.
During her sabbatical travels, Dr. Sobchuk determined that a calm, supportive work environment was at the top of her list of demands for her future. If she can make it that much better for her associates and staff, that’s important, too. “I had a lot of help on my journey; that’s something I want to provide to others, too.”
Dr. Tania Sobchuk is also a partner in another business, a spa and wellness center dedicated to helping people look and feel their best. “I want to get more into that. I think that looking at the skin around the eyes is an element of optometry that’s missing. We really should know everything about a person’s vision, including what kinds of products they’re using near their eyes,” she says. It’s a natural fit to have evenings dedicated to beauty in her practice.