Sara Kurtis, OD, has been working in an independent practice next to a Walmart Vision Center since she graduated from optometry school in 2005. While in school, the pressure to open a private practice was real, she says. “There was a push that private practice should be our ultimate goal,” Dr. Kurtis says. But finding a career next to a Walmart Vision Center almost 20 years ago has saved her money from the beginning and paid off in the long run.
She’s practiced independently at several different locations, but she has been at her current location in Davenport, Iowa for more than a decade. She and her team “flow” together, she says. And the Walmart Vision Center manager has been with Walmart for over 10 years, which adds an extra layer of continuity. Dr. Kurtis contracts with Walmart for administrative and op-tech support and because the Walmart Vision Center team is trained on pretesting, it makes it easier to cover the gap if someone takes a day off. Not that Dr. Kurtis has to worry about it often—The Walmart Vision Center is well staffed and easy to work with, she says.
THE BEST FROM THE START
Dr. Kurtis says she’s had a “full patient schedule” since day one. “Walmart provided the ophthalmic equipment necessary, as part of my license agreement, to perform comprehensive eye exams beginning day one.” With that immediate flow of income without having to worry about a large overhead or marketing as a cold start, Dr. Kurtis been able to splurge on expanded technology and equipment for her patients, providing them “only the best.” She brought new pieces of equipment into her practice, including a Topcon Chronos, that her personally hired technician fully operates. She also has a Topcon Maestro 2 that she purchased herself; independent optometrists working next to a Walmart Vision Center can also lease a retinal camera or an OCT from Walmart if they choose.
She has brought in a new digital phoropter and scanning instruments to “bring the practice to the next level,” she says. “Every single patient gets an optomap of their eye when they visit; for most patients, it’s their first one ever.”
With the updated technology, she can get “so much information before I even see the patient,” saving her time in the exam lane.
“That’s the great thing about working where I do. I can choose to only do vision exams, or I can treat glaucoma, specialty lenses or whatever I want,” Dr. Kurtis says. “I don’t have to refer patients out because I am treating them right then and there. It keeps people coming back.”
And they do. Dr. Kurtis says she has lots of patients who have been seeing her for 18 years. They return for her personalized, high-quality care, and they appreciate the option of purchasing their eyewear at the Walmart Vision Center next door. She finds the practice continually growing. It isn’t uncommon for her to see upwards of 30 patients a day.
She took the time to get credentialed with specific insurance plans to expand her patient base, including becoming a primary Medicaid provider.; today, she’s one of the “very few ODs in the area that take Medicaid without a referral,” she says.
But when she leaves the office, she doesn’t carry home administrative paperwork. “When I’m off, I’m ‘off,’” she says. She spends her free time with her husband, Toby; son, Sam; and 16-year-old Silkie Terrier, Rex.
She also enjoys real estate investing and has found time to build her portfolio while still working full-time.
“For some ODs, one way to build wealth is owning the building you work in,” Dr. Kurtis says. “That’s not the path I’m going to take, but with the time and money I’ve saved, I’m able to do so much more.”
Read other stories about ODs who have made their careers as independent optometrists working next to Walmart Vision Centers.