After Melanie Zhang, OD, finished her two-year commitment as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force, she began working in private practice. During her active-duty career, she spoke with other military ODs who were working at independent practices inside Walmart, and they liked it. So after the birth of her second child, she began looking for a way to open a practice of her own. As luck would have it, a Walmart recruiter contacted her—and based on the timing and the positive feedback she received from her colleagues, she pursued the opportunity to start her independent practice, Open Vision, in a Walmart store in Fremont, California. As it was a nearly new location, “From my perspective, I opened cold,” which meant that she was able to create the practice the way she wanted. Dr. Zhang wasn’t sure how quickly it would grow, but she was prepared for starting a new business to take some time. “I came in and I wasn’t expecting to see many patients; one to two a day was my expectation,” she said. “From that point on, it felt like it was just organic growth.”
Dr. Zhang understands why owning your own practice has such appeal to former military personnel. She is currently a major in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, which carries a considerable commitment, and an independent practice made it easier to take the time. Earlier this year, she served two months at a hospital in Japan, taking care of service men and women and their families.
When duty calls
At every level, from store to the business management team, Walmart accommodated her lease agreement obligations in support of her reserve duty. “With the military, you never know when you’re going to be called. So you do what you’re called to do. Walmart was a great business partner, and I felt like I could help out as an airman and still take care of my patients.”
Walmart has a reputation for supporting military members, which is certainly attractive to ODs who remain on reserve duty. Spending that amount of time away from her practice did not come without some worry. “I was concerned about leaving the practice for that long. It turned out to be a positive experience and interaction with Walmart. It’s hard to be pulled from work for two months, and I didn’t want to shut the door and walk away, and but Walmart worked with me to find an arrangement that was good for both businesses,” she says, noting Walmart worked with her as she found coverage for her time away so patients could still be seen.
She was able to be in contact with her practice via e-mail to track what was happening in the clinic. “I don’t feel like my practice suffered,” she says. Patients were seen by covering doctors, and they were happy to see her return.
Adjusting to differences
Certainly, military and civilian practices have their differences. “In the military, I was in a hospital, seeing 14 to 18 patients per day. My work there was to make sure our pilots were meeting the vision standards set by the Air Force,” she says.
To move into the private sector, Dr. Zhang brushed up on topics like insurance billing, patient economics and business finance. She also encourages patients to purchase lenses with the features and benefits that will help them most. Dr. Zhang notes the convenient Walmart Vision Center is among the options patients can select to fill their eyewear.
As any OD who cold starts a practice knows marketing is vital. Dr. Zhang’s website makes it easy for patients to schedule appointments from their computers or their phones, if they want to. Her social media marketing—a Google page, Facebook and others—are important to her Silicon Valley patients where an active presence on the internet can make or break a practice. “One person walked in and said ‘I [searched] for optometrists and you were one of the top 10,” she says a patient told her recently. The website can be viewed in English or Chinese; Dr. Zhang is fluent in Mandarin. She is currently working on her Spanish, too.
It’s exciting to be in this situation where she can build her independent practice as a business partner with Walmart and cultivate relationships with new and returning patients, she says.
Walmart embraces diversity in all aspects of the company; from talented associates to the supplier partners they work with to deliver the products and services their customers want and need. To learn more about Walmart’s supplier inclusion program visit corporate.walmart.com/suppliers/supplier-inclusion. To learn more about Walmart’s support of veterans visit walmartcareerswithamission.com