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Thinking “Outside the Box”

Doctor drawn to Walmart initially has kept finding reasons to stay

Dr. Viker recently celebrated her 25th practice anniversary.

After Melissa Viker, OD, graduated from Pacific University College of Optometry (PUCO), she spent two years working for an ophthalmologist. When she heard that a new Walmart store was opening in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, she considered how many potential patients walked through the store every day. “I saw it as an opportunity to get back to Minnesota, and I thought it would be a stepping stone to the next place I wanted to be,” Dr. Viker says. That was 26 years ago, and Dr. Viker’s practice, The Eye Doctors, has flourished, supporting two ODs. Here’s how she built a business that keeps patients coming back and, ultimately, kept her from leaving as she once thought she might.

Build your team

Dr. Viker says that one of the keys to her success has been managing her own staff. After about five years, she started hiring her own team members. She has one employee who has been with her for 20 years and another for 18 years; their tenure is proof of the great workplace that Dr. Viker has created. “I’m driven by how we work together as a team. As a result, we make the patient experience better and more fluid.” She adds that there is a sense of professionalism when everyone is coordinated, and she can feel confident in delegating tasks to them. “Your own staff can execute everything exactly as you want.”

Add a second doctor

About seven years into practice, business was booming. Dr. Viker found Britt Gustafson, OD, a fellow PUCO alum, through the school’s job board site. Dr. Gustafson applied for the position, and she has been with the practice for 18 years now. “We have six days of coverage per week, and each of us works about 3.5 days a week,” she says. It’s the perfect balance and schedule for both of them; Dr. Viker enjoys spending the extra time with her family, and Dr. Gustafson is a consultant and often spends her time out of the office traveling to speaking engagements. “It works out great, and we have a back-up system. There is never a panic about losing money or not taking care of our patients.”

                                              Dr. Viker and Dr. Gustafson

Invest in the business

Dr. Viker doesn’t shy away from putting her money back into the business, and she treats the space like her own: it’s painted, and she uses her own cabinetry and fixtures. The walls are decorated with local Minnesota photography shot by one of her employees. She has also added lots of new technology beyond what was provided to her as a new leaseholder. “We are constantly updating—from a fundus camera, which was a big deal, to now an OCT. I don’t know how we practiced without it,” Dr. Viker says. As her patient base ages, she’s seeing more pathology and wants to add the services that they need without having to refer out.

It’s great when instrument purchases result in a quick return on investment, but that’s not her only calculation. She looks for technology that will help her patients, aid her clinical decision-making and make her life a little easier. “I spend money for that sanity, so I’m not losing sleep at night and I’m not burned out.”

With her established reputation, Dr. Viker says her patients know that they can turn to her for eye emergencies or infections instead of going to a walk-in clinic. “It’s old-fashioned in a lot of ways, but our patients know that they will see one of the two of us. It’s been huge in helping to grow and maintain our practice,” she says. That consistent care and reliability of a familiar team have tied patients to the practice, but that kind of trust isn’t earned overnight. It meant staying in the office during those early days
without any appointments on the books. “You have to be there, even when there is nothing to do.”

Dr. Viker appreciates the patient-centric support as a leaseholder. “Walmart has done remarkable things for our patients to make them happy.” While much has evolved at Walmart and in the profession since her start, the leaseholding option remains an appealing one for a new graduate. Back then, Dr. Viker says a big draw was the foot traffic coming through the store, and now, Walmart Vision Center and the ODs who work in the store have become a strong, established network.

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