Kristin O’Brien, OD, is no stranger to starting a practice; she did it once in Denver, Colorado, just after graduating. Afterward, Dr. O’Brien worked with iCare Advisors, consulting other cold-start practices. These experiences helped make her most recent opening of Denver Eye Care in Denver, North Carolina, all the easier.
“I think it was interesting to go through the iCare Advisor program as a consultant,” Dr. O’Brien says on her prior experience, “Going through the program on my own helped me refine the steps our team recommends to clients.” However, this opening still presented new challenges, as Dr. O’Brien and her husband had their first baby only three months after the practice opened on April 1, 2021. Being a new mother and a new business owner proved challenging, but the new parents were able to do some clever scheduling to assure both the business and baby were attended to.
Despite growing her Colorado practice successfully, as time went on, Dr. O’Brien just didn’t feel like Colorado was ‘home’. An opportunity arose when Vision Source Chief Medical Officer Amir Khoshnevis, OD, told her he could use someone with her experience at his practice in Charlotte, North Carolina. After a brief discussion with her husband, the bags were packed and the couple moved. Once they got there, in addition to working for Dr. Khoshnevis, she also began scouting a location for her own practice one day.
“I worked with a company called Xcite Realty, which helped me find a location in a Publix-anchored shopping area. It has fantastic visibility, which helped with getting lots of outside prescriptions.” All these factors combined to get the practice off to a strong start: she has seen triple the growth here in the same time frame, compared to her first cold-start practice.
Immediately, anybody walking in can feel the unique vibe of the practice that Dr. O’Brien designed. “I didn’t want it to feel like you walked into a stuffy medical office.” Patients often ask for links to purchase furniture, light fixtures or wallpapers used in the practice to put in their homes. Two large windows let in plenty of natural light, enhancing the open space, seating area, and modern farmhouse concept.
Dr. O’Brien encourages young ODs to consider starting their own independent practices. “If I can do it while pregnant, working with iCare Advisors, and being an administrator for Vision Source, then anybody can do it.” She provides some general rule-of-thumb advice.
- Use a consultant to help avoid any missteps.
- Do not sign any lease for a space that’s too large.
- Take advantage of tenant improvement clauses to customize the space.
- Watch your personal debt, even if you’re a student or don’t have plans to open a practice any time soon. Having your financial house in order will let you open doors to financing sooner and more easily.
- Pursue your passion but respond to the community’s needs. In other words, don’t spend money on services or areas that don’t bring in revenue. For example, she really wanted a low vision practice in Colorado, but she shifted to specialty contact lenses because that’s what her patients needed. In this practice, dry eye management and contact lenses are a booming business, especially among first-time contact lens-wearing adults who are tired of their eyeglasses fogging.
“Another lesson,” Dr. O’Brien adds, is to “make sure to hire people you like working with. Even if someone is qualified, if you don’t enjoy working with them, it’s not going to work.” Dr. O’Brien applies this to her own practice, with an emphasis on promoting from within over recruiting new talent. For example, she is personally training her newest optician, moved over from the front desk.
The initial success of her first nine months in practice has Dr. O’Brien restructuring her yearly goal for 2022 as smaller monthly goals. “For January, we focused on UV protection education…many patients are still not aware they can get prescription sunglasses.” With this new system, Dr. O’Brien hopes to continue to keep the success of the practice running with her combination of experience, customization and a strong personal bond between the entire staff.