If you haven’t figured it out by some of my recent posts, I’m mildly obsessed with San Diego. Ocean living without humidity, sign me up! After a recent trip, I started checking some of the optometry job boards and chat rooms to see what was available in that area. It surprised me, but it seems that most of the optometrists in California are struggling to find gainful employment. This made me wonder what I might do if I was struggling to find a job in a tough market.
Everyone Wants to Live in California
I grew up in the South. I went to optometry school in Memphis. Believe it or not, the South is pretty progressive as far as what optometrists are allowed to do. In Tennessee, optometrists can give Botox injections. In Kentucky, they can use LASERS. Not that I want to do these things particularly, but it certainly gives you more freedom in how you practice. As a result, private practices are pretty common, and everyone I went to school with seems to be doing well. Of course, most of them live in the South or Midwest. In Colorado, it’s much of the same. We certainly have commercial opportunities, but most optometrists that I know work in private practices or with Indian Health and are pretty happy.
In California, it seems that most of the private practices belong to older doctors. The laws are very restrictive medically, so optometrists have to refer many of the cases we are capable of treating to ophthalmologists. Recent graduates come out of school and are finding they have to work in 2-3 different commercial places, like Wal Mart or Costco, to make ends meet. If you read the online forums, you would think people are qualifying for food stamps by the pessimism and talk of working long hours or weekends to barely make enough money for house and student loan payments. What’s a broke optometrist to do?
My first thought was to be a bit scared. Couldn’t this happen anywhere? Too many applicants for a limited number of jobs sounds like many other professions I know of. My next thought was to tell them to quit whining and take control.
I think many students graduate with a degree in whatever and expect there will be a line of employers standing there waiting to pay them a six figure salary with full benefits where they will put in the minimum amount of work necessary to maintain their jobs. Maybe this was the case in years past, but it’s a whole new ball game now. There are tons of ways you can make a living in a tough market, but you have to be smart
Consider Student Loans
Before you even start school, you need to be looking at where you want to live and what the job prospects are. If you want to live in San Diego, you’d better not run up $150,000 in student loans. Pick a school that is more affordable. I’m sure it’s fun to go to school in Berkeley or Chicago, but those schools cost lots more than somewhere like Memphis or Birmingham.
Unless you are super lucky or have connections, likely, no one is going to be handing you a job. Before you graduate, start looking for places you might want to work. In the case of optometrists, there are many older doctors who are thinking about hiring an associate to eventually take over the practice. The best opportunities lie with those who are not actively looking. Write them a letter. Make a phone call. Connect on Twitter. Volunteer with something they support. Make your own connections. It works. It worked for me and for many other doctors I know. I think this applies to any career.
Realize that your personal brand is going to be a constant work-in-progress. Once you conceptualize the identity of this brand, you can work on creating a niche that is congruent with your passions as well as the needs of your intended target audience. Aside from this, it is also important to ask trusted peers for feedback along the way. Not only is this a humbling process, but it makes you sharper and more efficient as well. Also, broadcast your brand identity via social networking. Most social networks are free to use, and are thus an excellent form of free advertising.
Be an Expert in a Specialty
Any optometrist coming out of school can do basic eye exams, but there are shortages of those can do specialized tasks. Vision therapy for kids with learning disabilities and low vision for partially sighted individuals are two that come to mind. It might take some extra effort and hours on your part to become proficient, but it’s something you can market. Develop your skills to be able to do things others don’t, and you’ll find a job.
If all else fails, move. Wouldn’t you rather spend 10-15 years thriving in Mississippi or New Mexico than struggling in San Diego? You could retire early or own a business that employs others to do the day to day work while you have tons of time off. You can visit California all you want without the high taxes and restrictive laws. Living in paradise sucks if you have to live paycheck to paycheck.
Reading troubling online information does make me worry until I think about where the information is coming from. The people who are busy working, marketing themselves, and learning new skills don’t have time to sit around whining in a chat room. The choice is yours. Keep complaining or do something about it.
Would you move in order to find a better job? What connections have you made that have helped your career?
Image Credit: Freedigitalphotos.net/Ponsulak