The evening before Samantha Vavricek, OD, graduated from Midwestern University, Arizona College of Optometry, she received the Excellence in Primary Care award. Every student crossed the stage to shake hands with their instructors, and Dr. Vavricek’s then 9-year-old daughter Melanie went with her, joyfully shaking every hand herself. It was a very memorable moment for the pair.
At one time or another, Melanie sat in on every class and lab that Dr. Vavricek took. “I was 18 when I had my daughter. Her father died a month after she was born. I knew I needed to get an education to support us,” Dr. Vavricek recalls. She graduated
early from high school and earned her B.S. at University of California, Davis. Soon after, she and her young daughter moved to Arizona for school. “I was the first single mom student at the optometry school,” she says. The school made a few accommodations
for her, such as granting an exception to the “no-outsiders rule” for some classes and labs. “If I had a lab from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.,
she had to come with me. If there was a mandatory Saturday class or a sudden switch in schedules, I couldn’t always find a babysitter,” she says. “It wasn’t easy.”
Dr. Vavricek is now the solo owner of Visually Sound Optometry in Folsom, California. After her graduation, she worked in an ophthalmology practice for a year before meeting an OD who was looking to retire. The retiring doctor had made a fortuitous decision to move to a new shopping center with more walk-by and drive-by appeal. “His patient base had been aging with him, but this new location was drawing in patients all the time. I’m at about 50 percent legacy patients and 50 percent new patients,” she says.
He had made another smart move, too, by choosing to participate in the VSP Global® Premier Program some years ago. Dr. Vavricek was able to keep the connection and maintain her practice’s Premier Program status. “It has a lot of advantages. The Premier Program provides me with valuable resources and data points for market research and practice solutions. I can gain more with VSP® products, and patients love the value that they get,” she says.
Dr. Vavricek has a huge optical selection with 3,000 frames—down from what she inherited when she acquired the practice. While she is looking to streamline a little, she also says that her optical experience goes against the trend of online purchasing. “Every day, people come in and say that they come here because they know I carry so many frames and they want to try them on in person.”
These aren’t just “try here, buy there” shoppers, either. “Once the patient has experienced the level of care and quality of the products, they often become long-term patients and return every year for new eyewear,” she says. “My VSP Vision Care patients take advantage of their coverage allowances. I see them more often and they usually spend more than private-pay patients,” she says.
Dr. Vavricek says building a practice on patient loyalty is one of the thrills of being a modern optometrist. When she graduated,
she heard from many pessimistic colleagues, and it rattled her. Now her outlook is much more optimistic. “This is a great opportunity
to embrace the change that can happen. We may not like the idea of online eye exams, but how might that technology bring
people into our practices in a different way?”
She is enthusiastic about what the future will bring. She’s hoping to add vision therapy to her practice, and she’s thinking of adding an associate OD with the ultimate plan of opening a second location. “I may still be in the early stages of my career, but I
can pass along what I have learned thus far.”
On graduation day, “Melanie was the person who was the most proud. She went through the pain with me,” she says, but the two are now seeing the rewards unfold.
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