This story was originally published in our March 2011 issue.
Lisa Thomas, OD, of Pearland, Texas, still recalls the intimidating health care system and doctors who treated her as she battled ovarian cancer when she was a college student. That experience may have contributed to her soft spot for kids. She determined then that she would be a different kind of doctor with a different kind of practice.
Although her office is not purely for pediatrics, the three-year-old practice draws a lot of children. In fact, it’s not unusual for her to have a parent ask, “Do you see adults, too?” when they see how relaxed their child is during an exam. Dr. Thomas quickly realized that catering to children was a smart niche. Parents are generally willing to buy the best for their children. Here are the steps Dr. Thomas has used to grow her practice, with children as the launching pad.
Map it out. She drew a 25-mile radius around her practice and color-coded every elementary, middle and high school in three nearby school districts. “I asked myself, ‘How can I attract these kids to the practice? I knew I couldn’t walk into the school and say, ‘Hey, come to my eye clinic.’” A brunch and guided tour of her practice for school nurses provided an entry.
Make a connection. A local school nurse came to her, asking if she accepted VSP vouchers that no one in the area would take, With that, Dr. Thomas, who had been interested in working with children, discovered her opportunity. Dr. Thomas
learned that the nurse sees a constant stream of students for eyeglasses repairs—which she often made with dental
floss. Dr. Thomas realized she could do a lot to help these school nurses. So she went to each of the school web sites and found names and contact information for all the community’s school nurses. She offered to provide school-based eye screenings. The nurses noticed an immediate difference. Screenings that previously took them at least a week were now completed in just a few days.
Nurture the relationship. “I needed to show my appreciation to the nurses,” Dr. Thomas says. So she catered a brunch at her office, allowing the nurses—many of whom are friends with each other—to relax and enjoy time together as she shared information on eye health and gave a tour of the practice.
Stay on their minds. The nurses received a custom emergency kit with a small screwdriver, contact lens solutions and cases, as well as eye health educational and emergency information and details about Dr. Thomas and her practice. Nurses who couldn’t attend the breakfast received the kit with a batch of cookies from a local bakery. Additionally, Dr. Thomas made
practice gift certificates to distribute to all the teachers in the district.
Dr. Thomas asks every patient or parent how he or she heard about her practice. It’s no surprise that “school nurse recommendation” is now one of her top three responses. “We strive to be compassionate about what we do by showing it to all who come to our practice daily,” she says.