Moving your career in the direction you need to reach your goals starts with being decisive and deliberate with your actions.
Uncover key actions that help build a thriving business with Bethany and Laurie Sorrenson — OD, owner of Lakeline Vision Source, and professor of Practice Management at the University of Houston School of Optometry. Laurie has a unique perspective on risk that gives her courage to make big decisions — looking at “what’s the worst that can happen” and realizing it’s not that bad gives her the courage to proceed ahead.
Discover how long-term success and personal fulfillment often begin with taking strategic, meaningful risks and shaping a positive mindset stripped of the fear of failure.
October 4, 2023
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Becca Starks: We have the ear with the students to hear what they’re looking for. They’re very, very few students that we’re working with, with the class of 2023 that will even consider an opportunity that is not private practice.
Dr. Bethany Fishbein: Hey, I am Bethany Fishbein. I am the CEO of The Power Practice and Host of The Power Hour Optometry Podcast. And I just want to first congratulate all of the new optometrists graduating this week from the optometry schools across the country. It’s such an exciting time. It doesn’t feel like that long ago since I and my classmates at New England College of Optometry in 1997 graduated. It goes fast. It’s really an exciting time. So congratulations, first of all, and this show is inspired by and dedicated to you and all of the people that you are hoping will hire you. Once you get your licenses and get out there into the world. So I’ve invited a guest, I have Becca Starks, Becca handles Enterprise Accounts and Operations for KMK Careers. And she’s here to help me sort out some of the things that today’s optometry students are looking for, and help educate some of the optometrists who are looking to hire young optometrists about misconceptions they may have or differing perceptions of this graduating class. So, Becca, thanks for doing this your second podcast ever. That’s awesome.
Becca Starks: Yes, thank you for having me. This is exciting.
Dr. Bethany Fishbein: Yeah, thank you. It’s an interesting time because we work with mostly established optometric practice owners. So most of the people that I’m speaking to day to day are employers of young optometrists, and they have this vision of what today’s graduates are like, and then I get the opportunity to speak with optometry students and recent grads and they’re not necessarily like that perception at all. So hopefully, you can help us bridge the gap a little bit.
Becca Starks: Yeah, absolutely.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: So, talk about yourself for a minute here. I want you to just talk about KMK and KMK Careers because when I want to data on students, I knew you were the one to go to. And so I want all of my listeners to understand your involvement with young optometrists today.
Becca Starks: Yeah, absolutely. So KMK for those that don’t know KMK’s foundation is the KMK board review, which was started 18 years ago by Dr. Kyle Cheatham. And now fast forward 18 years we are inside of all of the 23 optometry schools nationwide. We have a team of optometrist instructors that traveled to all of the schools and we have a relationship with both third and fourth-year optometry students and 98, This is a big number to remember 98% of optometry students utilize KMK to pass their boards. So essentially we have a relationship with almost every single optometry student nationwide from the board’s perspective. And so we now have a new division of KMK specifically on careers which is just a natural extension of supporting those same students and finding their first career.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: So you’re initially talking to these students when they’re students studying for boards. And then they hopefully pass boards and you know, move on and take more boards and pass those and move on. So what are the services that you’re providing for these students once they’ve graduated as doctors?
Becca Starks: Yeah, so it’s really fun. Personally, I am mostly an employee you’re facing so those that are looking for these candidates. However, we have a team of career advisors and all day long, they’re the luckiest ones in the world. They get to speak to these upcoming grads. So right now they are around the clock talking to those that are about to graduate here and a couple of weeks or maybe have graduated just recently. And uncovering what they’re looking for in a practice is really it’s a one-on-one relationship, so it’s totally free to students. They sign up to get a career advisor. They have calls with that career advisor to uncover what are they looking for what type of practice is it specific specialties, just anything that may be the true motivating factor as to why they want to go to a certain practice. And then essentially we play matchmaker so the career advisors speak to students all day long. I speak to employers all day long, and then we come together and get to build a bridge between the two and hopefully connect great candidates with a great opportunity.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Maybe it’ll be the next Netflix show after Indian matchmaking, Jewish matchmaking. It’ll be optometric career matchmaking. And be a celebrity.
Becca Starks: I think some of us would watch that, at least your listeners would probably enjoy that.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: My husband and I would watch it so
Becca Starks: same.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: So I mean, you’ve got a line of sight into exactly who today’s optometrists or today’s graduating class, today’s brand new optometrists are, can you give some facts and figures of what that class looks like?
Becca Starks: Yeah, so essentially, from a demographic perspective, it’s highly female. The data is showing 70% female and 30% Male.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: 70?
Becca Starks: 70 Percent.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Wow.
Becca Starks: Yes. And there’s information I believe you are going to be able to put in the show notes. But there is a really robust report. I believe it’s lots and lots of pages. I don’t remember how many but there are highlights within that on pages nine and 10 that give a really good but really quick summary of demographics of this class, within gender within race. There’s even financial information about how many needed to have financial aid, that sort of thing, and some really detailed information even about by school breakdown.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Are you able to roll through some of the things in there that kind of stood out to you?
Becca Starks: So the biggest thing that stands out to me is female and how as you it shows kind of year over year how that transition has changed from much more female than male as it was in the past. Same thing with race, I believe I don’t remember how many years ago it was but just not too long ago. It was predominantly white for professionals graduating and now that’s shifted to highly other races, whether it’s Asian or black or other races that are included in that.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And what about the financial piece? Because I feel like that’s such a big topic for new doctors. Is this need to pay back student loans? Do you have any stats on the amount of debt that students are graduating with?
Becca Starks: Yeah, so the report itself shows 85% of students are utilizing some type of support financial aid, loans, and the average for a graduate right now graduating is about $200,000 in debt. So definitely it is.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: That’s just from optometry school or that’s including undergrad debt?
Becca Starks: That’s actually a good question. We just get the stat of 200,000 and I assumed it was just optometry school. But that’s a good question.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: So young, female, and any change in like age demographic? Or is it typically right out of college a year or two out of college starting into Optometry?
Becca Starks: Yeah, So typically, it is kind of a typical route straight out of undergrad and to optometry school. There is about of the 16-1700 graduates there are about 150 of those that are considered you know, like other avenues whether that would be part-time or returning back in at a later point in time.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Okay, so out of 1500 you’re talking about? Very typically, right? 1000 young, female, probably non-white doctors.
Becca Starks: Yeah.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: If you had to say this is what’s typical. This is the majority.
Becca Starks: Yeah.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: With debt?
Becca Starks: Yes. A lot of it.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Okay. So, when you talk to this typical doctor and are getting into the field of matching into a career of their dreams, what are they telling you that they want?
Becca Starks: Yeah. So it’s been interesting to learn that so the things that I came into this thinking people would want my background was actually at LinkedIn for five years before coming on to help launch this division of KMK and I thought it would be very different. I would think pay would exceed everything else. But, interestingly, location is the top deciding factor for these new graduates in determining which practice they want. Obviously, that is the hardest answer because no one can do anything about the location of their practice. But we can touch on this later. Kind of some ideas and tips for those to try to recruit folks into harder locations but definitely the location. Again, before and above pay even this work-life balance coming into play that is much more of a topic. Then I think it has been in years past. Not necessarily meaning, Hey, I want to come in and I want to never work. But this generation is much more just passionate about having that work-life balance of the work to live not live to work mentality. And so location, work-life balance, obviously pay, and structuring pay in a way that is understood to the candidate as well too. So being very upfront about what that pay is so that they know before even applying and putting that in a way that they understand what they actually can make because sometimes it can be hard with percent of production, knowing what that means.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: So let’s go into those a little bit more and I want to just go back one to work-life balance because I think that’s probably the biggest misunderstanding between a doc maybe in their 50s and a doc in their 20s. This idea of working to live instead of living to work and it’s respectable and it’s necessary and mental health is important and it’s and life has to work for you. But these older docs, that was not their world. And so when I hear it, it’s complaints. They won’t work weekends, they don’t want to put in 40 hours. They’re asking for a four-day workweek. They’re like it’s coming across as we’re lazy. We’re not dedicated to the practice. We don’t want to be here we’re not going to work as hard as you and it. It creates a disconnect from the start like somebody interviewing, who says I don’t want to work every weekend. All of a sudden has all these judgments thrown on them that they probably don’t deserve. Do you see that with the docs that you’re talking to and you’re matching?
Becca Starks: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, it’s the same thing I hear to have. You know, that’s typically the demographic of employers that I’m talking to all day long to have, you know, they came out and maybe cold started or they came out and bought a practice and they’ve been doing it for 20-30 years and like. What?
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Right and they remember, or maybe they’re still working 70 hours a week and they’re there, you know, every day in the practice and their day off there when the cleaning themselves because that’s what the owners do. How do you coach of 50-something and 60-something-year-old practice owners into understanding that it’s not laziness and it’s not to they don’t want to work?
Becca Starks: Yeah, so that is it is a big misconception of the students that it is laziness, and specifically, most students are expecting to work at least one to two Saturdays a month. So it’s not that they’re coming in and saying I only want four-day workweeks, and I’ll never work a weekend. They are expecting a true full work week and one or two Saturdays per month. To your question about how to coach an owner in that situation. I think it’s just taking a step back and looking really high level at your practice as a business and I’ve had this conversation with many owners of I don’t know why we are open Saturdays, honestly, we’ve just always done it and so determined are we doing this because it’s just always been done or when determining this because it is a true business need. And so same thing with later hours or that sort of thing. If it is a true business need 100% voicing that to a candidate that’s a friend and that’s that’s great, but there may be situations where again, it’s just we’re doing this because it’s been done forever. And actually, our patients wouldn’t mind if we didn’t have a late night or we had a late night instead of a Saturday or vice versa.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Do you think docs have like a little bit of that? It’s like that hazy mentality? Like I went through it I put in my time therefore you you need to.
Becca Starks: I think it could be a little of that. Me not being an optometrist. I have to tread lightly because I have not earned my dues. But in the conversations that I’ve had, I think it is a little bit of that at least.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Yeah, I worked weekends for 23 years. I’ve never missed it Saturday. I’ve never called out sick. And now I’m going to change my whole practice because this 24-year-old kid doesn’t want to work, like there’s that so what are the students are the new grads thinking about these practice owners, doctors who are in a different demographic from them because there’s got to be misconceptions going that way also.
Becca Starks: Yeah, I don’t get to hear a ton of the misconceptions from the student side. But I think there’s just both sides can teach each other something right like maybe that student can come in and show this business owner who’s been doing this forever, like, wow, I could totally do this differently. And, wow, I’m kind of relieved that you came in and brought up the idea of work-life balance because I as the business owner, really needed that, and wow, my life is different because of it and vice versa. There’s obviously so much that the practice owner can teach and pour into these new grad optometrists. But as far as misconceptions from them, I haven’t heard any to be honest.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: I hear that they look at a private practice. They think they’re not going to be paid as much. So they’re thinking that not necessarily that the owner is cheap, but that it’s not. It’s not as profitable, therefore there’s not as much money in it for them. You didn’t mention the mode of practice. You talked about location, work-life balance, and pay. Are students coming out looking for commercial opportunities? Are they looking for private practice or looking for MD offices? I mean, obviously, students are looking for each of those, but what are you seeing most frequently?
Becca Starks: Yeah, great question. So motor practice is very important and private practice remains. Top of the list for I’d say close to 90% of the new grads.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Serious?
Becca Starks: Yeah, because I hear the same thing. I hear a lot from private practice owners that say that almost come to the call with me very nervous, like “Becca, what’s going on? Why might all the new grads want private equity and why do they want retail? And can I really afford to hire them? Because it sounds like they’re throwing all the money in the world with them.” And then it’s interesting because we have that ear with the students to hear what they’re looking for. They’re very, very few students that we’re working with, with the class of 2023 that will even consider an opportunity that is not private practice. So there’s just a handful of folks that have said all maybe look at private equity or retail, but the vast majority say I truly, truly, truly want to private practice and there’s even a really good group that says, “Not only do I only one a private practice, but I already know that someday I want to partner slash buy this practice as well.”
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Do you think though that it’s, it’s like self-selecting a little bit because retail opportunities are so easy to come by? That they might not even consider needing to work with a company like yours? They just need to go on Ziprecruiter, Indeed, and type in optometrists job and the geography they want and they have their choice. Are you talking to them before they’re job-seeking?
Becca Starks: Yeah, so we actually start a process with them a year before they graduate. And so we have them fill out a profile with us it looks just like a LinkedIn profile, but it’s specifically for KMK, and go in and select all of the different types of practices that they’re open to. And so, we have both from the data from what they input on their profile and then they all have a one-on-one call with a career advisor as well. And so that’s where those points come from, both in the data they enter and then the conversations they have with a career advisor.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And is that when a student should be starting their job search is early in fourth year?
Becca Starks: Yeah, so we were really surprised in the timeline as well that a lot of students start having conversations about the fall before they graduate. So this class of 2023 they were starting interviews, October timeframe, and then a lot of them were during their Christmas break, timeframe holiday break, going on visits to practice owners. And then as soon as the New Year transitioned over there were many that were in contract. So definitely, Fall time is like you can feel good. About yourself being ahead of the game, wintertime is still very safe, you still have a lot of opportunity to be reaching out to candidates, and then as we enter into more of the springtime, a lot of I’d say probably half if not more of those that we’re working with are 100% in contract ready to go.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: When you start working with them. Is there any issue with students who are starting the search and still haven’t passed their boards or won’t have the credentials to work when they graduate?
Becca Starks: Yeah, Yep. There is information from ASCO also about passage rates. And it goes into detail even of school by school, but it essentially shows year over year the decrease in passage rates, and I think we’re at about 70% passage rate, right now. 73%. And so there’s a huge population of students that don’t pass typically it’s part one where the struggle is and so there are some students that will even graduate and still have not passed boards. And another misconception there is, “Oh, these students are lazy or they’re not understanding the information, and I don’t want those students because they won’t be good doctors”. And completely not true. Those are students that could either be not very good test takers. These are also the population that came into optometry school right in the heart of COVID. There are some that have just had really rough life events around the time that it is to take boards and so but they are all great people that will be great doctors, they simply just need to pass this test. Many of them have had really great GPAs some of them have other degrees that help them with the practice management side and so it’s just a matter of getting past that one test or many of them.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And how does, how did they navigate that with the job contract like, will an employer sign something with a student who hasn’t yet passed boards?
Becca Starks: Yes, we are running into that actually part one. Board scores were just released this past week. And it was a lot of that there was a lot of celebration and there was a lot of sadness around those that didn’t pass. And the good news is, I don’t know that I’ve come across a single employer partner that we work with that isn’t at least open to the idea of bringing on someone that’s graduated in kind of a super tech role. It’s kind of how we position it to practice under that optometrist owner until they graduate and we even have some that say, “Hey KMK I know that you, as an organization, do great at coaching them and helping them after they fail boards.” I will even invest in that side of the house to ensure that they can pass boards not only to show that, hey, I believe in you and the hardest time in your life student but also that gains them a really loyal employee that again, is going to be a great doctor has just had trouble taking this one test.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Coming in as a super tech though, obviously, they’re coming in at a lower pay scale and they would come in as an optometrist, and they have those student loans. So let’s talk about compensation of obviously it’s going to vary around the country and regionally and how many hours and all of that but what is it that a new OD is looking for as far as the ability to earn money?
Becca Starks: Yeah, good question. So, specifically with this new grad population, the way that I kind of coach, the employer partners that we work with private practice owners is, a lot of times they’ll come into the call and say why pay 16% of production, but with this new grad population, they aren’t able to really wrap their brains around what that is, you could have a $1.5 million, your practice and they still just don’t, they can’t really understand that. And so the recommendation that we give is to at least have some sort of salary and we have information and concrete data on specific areas of the nation. So by all means, if, if we can support you in any way with that, I’m happy to to make sure that you’re competitive, but having some type of salary listed up front is what’s going to entice these new grad population because they can wrap their brains around 140,000. They can’t necessarily wrap their brains around 16% of production. And so totally understand, then obviously the argument private practice owner, I hear you what’s going on in your head is. “Well, I need to motivate them to work hard. Like if I just give them a salary, then what’s the motivation to work hard”, and so there’s been kind of this really nice avenue that we’ve taken with a lot of partners that’s worked well in that advertising a salary a little higher than you probably would have normally, but then decreasing to a really low percent of production, so that there’s some salaries that’s there that’s enticing to a new grad, but a lower percent of production. So for the first year only, so year one higher salary and lower percent of production, and then having that shift for year two and year beyond your two to a lower salary, higher percent of production. And so what that does is again, entices this new grad to apply, and even want to learn more about your practice because there’s a salary, but that little bit of percent of production will get them to realize in their first year of working well. I’m doing the math, and if I would have went on the percent of production, I probably would have made more than my salary. This is making sense this is motivating me to work harder. And then again, you can even have it in the contract that upon year two that shifts to a lower salary that’s guaranteed and a higher percent of production. So as they’ve gotten their feet wet, they’ve learned they’ve been mentored that first year shifting then into percent of production.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: So you’re coaching your doctors to do a salary plus a percent of production?
Becca Starks: Yeah, that’s pretty typical.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And what about benefits and stuff like that is that important? Yes, it is important. Is that something that a brand new grad is going to give enough importance to that it’s going to help them decide one place versus another?
Becca Starks: Yeah, such a good question. So I’ll give both sides just agree very important. I would say the majority of private practice owners that we’re working with are offering some sort of benefits, whatever that might look like. Some are very comprehensive, some are very “Hey, we will pay 50% of your medical and leave it at that.” But now that we are in this lane of there is competition from private equity and from retail. Those are just a no-brainer. In those avenues. And so to remain competitive from that regard. They will get a full package of 401K’s with matching with benefits with PTO, all of those things, if they’re considering a retailer or a private equity opportunity in comparison to your private practice opportunity. And so, again, I think most I talked to very few that say “Hey, I’m just percent of production and I don’t give any days off you just you if you’re here you make money if you’re not, you don’t but you can take whatever days you want type of thing”. I have a handful of those but for the most part, most private practices are offering the salary with percent of production, at least something towards medical, and then most do have a 401K whether there’s a match or not with that.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Are there other intangible benefits, other things that would make a practice more attractive?
Becca Starks: Yeah. So I think the thing that’s so such a great opportunity with all of the listeners that would have that are trying to hire than our private practice owners that have been doing this for years to a new grad specifically is mentorship. And so those that are willing to do that are excited about that. Well, maybe “Hey, I haven’t really even thought about that. But I’m gonna share over the last 20 years, I really have learned a lot that I could pour into this next upcoming generation”. And so being very vocal with that, even in a job description, or whatever it is that you’re creating, to entice candidates to come your way and some people put a really extensive plan behind, “Hey, we have a weekly meeting, and you get lunch hour with me every week and we will cover XYZ and some it’s kind of informal of just “Hey, I’m going to be with you I’m alongside you. You can call me when you want”, whatever that looks like, or even if you haven’t, some team members that are fairly recent grads, being able to vocalize that to have hey, we’ve got folks that I brought on board as new grads and couple years later looking them go and so the mentorship side is again that intangible free opportunity that I think a lot of people don’t even necessarily recognize they have the ability to give.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Is it mostly clinical mentorship they’re looking for? is it practice ownership? like when you say mentorship, what are they hoping to learn from you?
Becca Starks: Yeah, definitely medical at the top of that, but there are again, those those candidates that just know that they know that they want to be very involved in the practice management, the business side of the house. And so for those candidates that are interested in it, being willing to say “Hey, here’s I’ll show you all of our programs and all of our software and how I design the day and this is how I designed the business side of the house”, and so in those situations for folks that are interested in that side, I think it’s important to have just kind of an open door policy of “I’ll show you all that. I’ll show you that number. So I’ll let you in on this.”
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: So for practice in a particular geographic area, if you can get your salary and benefits close, but they don’t necessarily have to be higher. They just have to be within range and you can kind of check off all the other boxes. Is there a type of practice like heavy medical versus refractive versus specialty that people are looking for?
Becca Starks: Yeah, so definitely looking at highly medical. And then what I would also say is kind of another somewhat intangible, but if practice owners are open to new specialties that maybe you don’t have in your practice right now. But hey, if there’s somebody who comes in and is passionate about whatever it may be, and they want to bring that into my practice, that’s a really enticing thing for a candidate to really see themselves. They’re in the long haul of “Wow, I’m passionate about myopia management and this practice says, by all means bringing that on.” That’s such a great thing to be able to offer to a candidate and so definitely, medical and specialties are really where the candidates are wrapping their brains around of how do I see myself there.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And what if you’re in rural Wisconsin, where there’s just not a huge population of optometrists looking to settle? What’s the best way for a practice like that to set themselves up to find somebody to join because so many of those are great opportunities to become part of a community to ultimately partner buy a practice have a really low cost of living like it’s how do they make themselves attractive or show how attractive they are I guess I should say.
Becca Starks: Yeah, and I think that so often because I get the luxury of talking to these practice owners in some of these more rural areas. And every time I’m just like, Wow, if I could just record this and let all of these candidates see this owner care about the type of patients they get to see a lot of times it’s the smaller communities that because there’s not a nearby ophthalmology or another office like those are the most medically focused practices.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Absolutely.
Becca Starks: Yeah. And so, so often I feel better. Oh my gosh, if I could just package this up and get a candidate to truly wrap their head around it. So one of the things that we do on the candidate side is our current advisors do as soon as a student comes in and says, “I only want Miami in New York and LA”, we try to mentor as well and show your kind of cost of living and let’s truly take a look at this and let’s look at your lifestyle and look at
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Miami, LA, how about rural Wisconsin?
Becca Starks: Right? Yep.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And consider Minnesota.
Becca Starks: Exactly. We play that game all day long. Yep. And then to the practice owners, a lot of what I tell them is, they’ll tell me I say they get to brag. So give me your brag book, when they come on as a partner to me, tell me what’s so great about your practice. And then they’re typically ready to end the call and I say, “Okay, based on your area, we also want you to brag on the geographic location just as much as the opportunity and so getting a candidate to truly understand what their life is going to be like, not just when they’re at work with you all day, but once they leave work, and what does this community look like and what can I do there? Is it great for hiking, is it great for the music scene, and the art scene? Is it great to raise a family and maybe I’m not thinking about that right now. But in the next couple of years, I will be.” And so I always say “Somewhere in your job description, however, you want to do it. It’s a post that you’re putting on to kind of an Indeed or an AOA. Having information, just typed information about your geographic area and what makes it so great. And then also, the other added thing you can do is you can always create videos.” Videos are I feel like that’s kind of how we’re all digesting content at this point. And especially this generation of these new grads, and so if you can even do a quick it doesn’t have to be professionally shot but videos of you just speaking informally, almost as if you’re speaking to a candidate who wouldn’t be right in front of you talking about again, envisioning their life there, the more that a practice owner can make a job description or job post about the candidate instead of themselves. The better that that’s going to relay to the candidates have just really getting to understand “Okay, this isn’t what I thought I was thinking Miami, but now I can kind of envision how my life could be in Wisconsin.”
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: That’s a really strong and valid point. Because when I think about a job ad, it’s all about what we need and what we want. We’re looking for an optometrist to work these hours to do this and when I’m interviewing candidates for Associate optometrist, but really for any position I’m always sensitive to an applicant, who all they’re telling me is what this job is going to do for them. Right. So I’m very critical of it as an employer when they’re like, I’m looking to build my clinical confidence in myopia. I’m looking into, you know, whatever. And I think what are you going to do for me? But in the ad, maybe it should be the other way off, Here’s what I’m going to do for you so that they’re interested and intrigued by the post enough to then come in and want to tell me what they are going to do for me so
Becca Starks: Absolutely
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Cool.
Becca Starks: We even have one it’s a Power Practice member that wrote a personalized it looks just like a letter you would receive from your grandma in the mail and it was so different and so eye-catching and so engaging. It was truly just a personalized letter, Dear Candidate, and then it just spoke really informally like, Hey, I get it. Words are hard, school is hard, but here’s what it would be like living here. Imagine if you could leave work and go out and do this, this, and this and your two hours within this big city so you can go catch a basketball game and be back home at night. And so it was just very, again trying to get that candidate to envision their life not only with that practice but in that geographical location. And so that was an incredible example.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Did it work?
Becca Starks: We’ve gotten some interest. We don’t have anybody signed on yet, but it has enticed interest.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And talked about KMK a little bit again, just before we close. So if a practice owner is looking for an associate, they can reach out to you or how do they go about tapping into this database network matching service that you guys have?
Becca Starks: Yeah, absolutely. Yep. I would be the point of contact Becca Starks. And I’m sure you can put my email in the show notes, but it’s just Becca@kmkodcareers.com. And yeah, we typically just do a really informal introductory call and learn about the practice, learn about what they’re looking for. And then go over kind of our offerings. We’ve got two different offerings to choose from, just depending on what the practice owner is looking for. And then yeah, we just go from there. It’s really simple. It’s free to be in agreement with us and having us promote a practice. And so basically, we get that agreement going and then our current adviser starts promoting any of our partners that we’re working with. And then essentially once we have a student that is a great fit, we play the matchmaking game.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: I love it. Thank you. I think this is valuable information for new grads to help them understand what they’re going out into and some of the misconceptions they might be facing. But hopefully, we did our part today to try and reduce some of those and really give today’s employers a more real picture of new grads who are looking for jobs. So thank you so much for taking the time to do this and give this service to all of the optometrists out there.
Becca Starks: Absolutely. My pleasure, Bethany. Thank you. So much.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Thank you
Read the Transcription
Laurie Sorrenson: Let’s say that I go bankrupt. I lose the building. I have to move into a smaller house. I go get another job as an optometrist working for someone else, still making more money than 90% of the population in the United States. I’m still okay. So let’s do it.
Bethany Fishbein: Hi, I am Bethany Fishbein, CEO of The Power Practice, host of the Power Hour Optometry Podcast. And I’m excited to have a guest who’s one of my favorite people to talk to. This is Dr. Laurie Sorrenson. She’s the owner of Lakeline VisionSource. She’s a VisionSource administrator, director of practice management, professional editor of review of optometric business. She teaches practice management at University of Houston College of Optometry. She is a frequent lecturer, an author, a wife, a mom, and just has a long history of exceptional contributions to our industry as a whole. I’m proud to have her as a colleague, as a guest on the show, and as a friend. Laurie, thank you so much for doing this.
Laurie Sorrenson: You’re welcome. I’m glad to be here.
Bethany Fishbein: I feel like we could have done a whole episode on your list of credentials and just gone through each one and called it a day. But you have an amazing career and amazing practice and have had a huge influence on a lot of people.
Laurie Sorrenson: Well, thanks. I love optometry. I love everything that I’ve done. There was a question on a Facebook page the other day about what would you do differently? What would you tell your younger self? That’s what it was. I was like, you know, I don’t think I’d tell her anything because I think that the journey was the journey. And I got where I’m at and as happy as I am in the profession through some of the mistakes and things too, right?
Bethany Fishbein: Yeah. I mean, really, that’s what I invited you here to talk about. I forget what it was that I was watching that you were doing, but you were talking about risk taking and kind of the balance between risk being a necessity and a good thing and a bad thing. And it just struck me as something that we’ve talked about a couple of times over the years. And it’s that attitude towards risk that really helps shape that journey. And that’s kind of when you’re at those forks in the road, picking one way versus another. So just talk about kind of your personal definition of risk a little bit. I think it’s one of those words that gets a bad rap, like, oh, risk, that’s bad. But it doesn’t totally deserve that. Just talk about risk in general.
Laurie Sorrenson: So I think that I do think some people have much more tolerance, obviously, for taking risk than others and what somebody might think is risky, you might not think is as risky. But I think when you talk about risk, the first time I really felt like I did something really risky to me was when I built the building we’re in right now. Because where I was at was inexpensive. I had a great landlord. I was paying 30% under market for the space. He was willing to expand it, double the size, he was going to pay for the build. I mean, all these kinds of things that would make sense financially just to stay there. But I really wanted my own building.
I wanted to make my own stamp and have this building. But I did some due diligence. I actually talked to Gary Gerber and had him analyze the financials. And basically what he told me was, they’re both good decisions. So that helped a lot, right? I had somebody, a professional look at it. But I also sat down and went, what’s the worst thing that can happen? And I think that’s kind of where my, how I can get through making a risky choice is what is the worst thing that can happen?
So here’s my thought process when we were doing the building, which is I’m doubling my expenses overnight, right? Let’s say that I go bankrupt. I lose the building. I have to move into a smaller house. I go get another job as an optometrist working for someone else, still making more money than 90% of the population in the United States. I’m still okay. So let’s do it. And then I just quit worrying about it after that.
So it’s like, worst case scenario in my mind was still not a terrible situation to end up in, right? And of course, none of that happened. But it made me able to go, yeah, I can live with that. Let’s move forward.
Bethany Fishbein: So it’s hard to imagine that that was the first big memorable risk, right? I mean, you opened a practice, you like go back further. And I think as you take bigger risks, the earlier ones probably start to feel smaller.
Laurie Sorrenson: That’s true. That’s true. I’m trying to think of from a business standpoint, one of the first risk things I think I did was I quit my job and I bought a practice with a couple of other optometrists. But we kind of built in a salary. So I don’t, I sit there and go, I didn’t feel super like I was taking a big risk. But then shortly after I did that, LensCrafters came to me and said that the doctors that had the lease where I used to practice, they were basically kicking them out for not paying rent, and they wanted me to take over that lease. I was all of 20, God, how old was I? 27 years old, maybe?
Bethany Fishbein: And this was like 10 years ago.
Laurie Sorrenson: Yeah, right. Exactly. Exactly. I mean, I was really young and basically take over a practice. It’s next to LensCrafters because in Texas, it’s a two door state and you sell the contact everything but the optical.
So I was thinking, I did the numbers and went, oh, that kind of makes sense. But I’m thinking this is a lawsuit. This is going to take a year. I have a year to prep because I don’t know how to start a business. I don’t know anything about taxes. I don’t know how to pay salaries. I don’t know any of this kind of stuff. And then I get a phone call three days later and said, we’re taking it over tomorrow. We need you tomorrow. So in like a 24, 48 hour period, I had to go from this one practice and have the lease next to LensCrafters and start seeing patients. Didn’t close down.
So I had to figure out how to get DBA and do set up payroll and do all that all in just a couple of days. I think I was too busy to feel like the risk. I’d already decided to do it and just was moving forward with it. So that was kind of a super crazy time.
Bethany Fishbein: Yeah. So at that time, you owned a different practice with partners?
Laurie Sorrenson: I was a third partner. So I actually sold it to my husband at the time.
Bethany Fishbein: Okay. So there was three partners. One of them was your ex-husband.
Laurie Sorrenson: No, I sold my third to him. I went back to the LensCrafters. Yeah, it was kind of crazy. And then of course I sold the LensCrafters and started my private practice. And that was kind of a big thing. And for me, I kind of had these moments in my life where something just like the click, I almost hear an actual click in my head. And I had something happen where the regional manager said something to me that I felt was disrespectful and very much didn’t sit right with me that I didn’t go to optometry school to listen to this guy. I won’t use the words I normally use about him. Talk to me that way. And that was my click. I was like, I’m going to sell this practice and open a private practice so I don’t have to deal with corporate folks in that world. So I did it. And then six months later, I’d opened my own private practice.
Bethany Fishbein: So was there stuff that leads up to that click? Like, is it something that that thing that happens is the last straw?
Laurie Sorrenson: Sure. Similar stuff. Like not having control. I’ll tell you the biggest thing that happened was when I first took over the LensCrafters, that LensCrafters had been built out by two optometrists. The doctor’s side had been. And it was pretty colors and it was designed differently. And it wasn’t just like that typical hallway type of an office those usually are. And it was really, really nice.
Well, the mall wanted to move the LensCrafters over into another spot and build a bookstore there. So we ended up moving and my space got smaller and uglier and it didn’t feel the same. And my patients didn’t like it either because we were kind of like on the outside of the strip center where parking was really easy. And now we were kind of like in the center of the strip center where parking wasn’t easy. And so in our patient, quite a few patients were unhappy with how that felt.
Plus, then you walk in and you’re in this little tight reception area, which before we had a nice, pretty little reception area that was kind of spread out and pretty. So I think that was a big part of it. It just didn’t feel like it did before. It didn’t feel like, I felt like I had a private practice next to LensCrafters before. Now I felt like I had a lease next to a LensCrafter. So it really felt very different for me. And it was growing. We were like the third biggest, third or fourth biggest LensCrafters doctor’s side production wise in the country at the time. So in that little bitty space, I was doing quite a bit and it just wasn’t as fun. I don’t know. I didn’t enjoy it as much.
Bethany Fishbein: So when you decided to leave there, did you go through that same what’s the worst that can happen kind of question or there you were unhappy enough that you were, the worst that could happen was to stay?
Laurie Sorrenson: I don’t think I went through the worst case scenario as much. I think you’re exactly right. I think worst case scenario, I feel, I think I was too stupid to know how bad it can be at the time. I don’t think I thought through it. I just wanted to do my own thing. And I had a doctor that worked for me. He worked part-time for me and he really encouraged me to do it.
He was just super positive and talked about how great I would be doing it. I really had a very strong cheerleader in my office saying, you can do this. You should do this for months. And I think he really helped me decide, yeah, other people can do this. I can do this. I think that’s another attitude I have is if somebody else can do it, then I can do it.
Bethany Fishbein: I feel that sometimes.
Laurie Sorrenson: Yeah, right?
Bethany Fishbein: We talk about that with practice owners like that are worried about a recession or worried about a competitor. Like somebody is going to be successful in this space in this time. What’s going to make that practice successful? And then how about we make that be yours?
Laurie Sorrenson: Well, there’s that study that was done, you know, tens of thousands of CEOs that were studied and look at the most successful CEOs and look at their traits. And there were four traits, but there was one trait that was by far the most important, hands down, more than twice as important as the other three traits. And it was being decisive. So there’s that saying, when you get to a fork in the road, take it, you know, make a decision and go. I think that is in having that, I think partly have and then having the faith that you can make it work. And maybe then you can back up and go down the other path too. That’s always an option in some situations, not all. But I thought that was really interesting that being decisive was by far the most important trait for a successful CEO in this huge study.
Bethany Fishbein: Yeah, I absolutely believe that because even if you’re wrong, at least you’re moving, right? Because when you’re stuck as the CEO or as a leader, everybody around you is stuck and you can’t do anything. So it’s guaranteed you’re not moving forward. My quote always that I like, and I guess it’s the opposite of your four quote, but it’s the road of life is paved with flat squirrels who couldn’t make a decision. That’s mine.
Laurie Sorrenson: Yes, I actually have that on one of my slides too.
Bethany Fishbein: Yes, we both shared that one over the years, but that’s what it’s about. It’s better to go down one hallway, realize, turn around, go back, go down a different one than to just stay there looking at the doors and wondering where to go.
Laurie Sorrenson: One other part is to know yourself. I’m a decisive person. I mean, that’s my personality, right? So for me, I don’t have to push myself to be decisive. I need to actually stop and listen and make sure that my team’s on board, my son’s on board, my husband’s on board or whatever, more than I need to do the other. But the vast majority of people are the opposite of that. They aren’t super decisive. And so they need to push themselves to make decisions. I actually need to slow down a little bit.
Bethany Fishbein: Yeah. Do you think about what you have to lose in those situations? So I mean, you walked away from a LensCrafters lease, you were probably making a decent amount of money.
Laurie Sorrenson: I was. And I did have an income situation the first couple of years, but I sold my LensCrafters practice and I actually have a, I can’t tell you how much I sold it for, but I have never heard anybody selling that side of the doctor side of a practice because it’s basically a three-year lease you’re selling, right? And I think I threw in, I had a couple of computers and some equipment I’d bought that I sold too. But I had some cash money to start that practice from selling the LensCrafters. So I had a little bit to hang on to for a little while. The problem was, you know, I did open that practice and you know what happened, right? I got pregnant.
Bethany Fishbein: I do, but my listeners don’t.
Laurie Sorrenson: I got pregnant, which kind of, you know, that’s one of the things you could tell your younger self, dumb idea, start a new practice and get pregnant right away. But when is a good time to get pregnant when you’re a practice owner? Like now, I don’t want to say how old I am. Now’s a great time, plenty of time to have a baby and not hurt the practice. And you know, and cashflow will be just fine without me, right?
Obviously that can’t happen. I’m getting ready to have a grandbaby though. So I have time for the grandbaby. And I was so fatigued and felt so terrible and everything, but I ended up going on bed rest for 11 weeks. So there was 11 weeks without a doctor in my practice.
I did hire somebody to come in once or twice a week. I actually had some friends, really good optometry friends that came in because I was doing ortho-K and stuff. Men would come in and one just saw regular patients, one saw my ortho-K patients. So for the first month or so, they just came in when they could just to help out a little bit here and there. But then I hired somebody part time.
But what that did for me, and so that’s one of the things I say is one of the worst things that happened to me was this bed rest thing. I did go back to work five days after the baby was born, by the way. But I also, I went back, I only worked two or three hours at a time, would go home to nurse and come back for two or three hours. But I never ever went back and saw patients 40 hours a week. I always worked, there were some full days in there, but a lot of half days. So from that very beginning, I think it kept me from growing and being as profitable as quickly.
But what it did is it taught me how to do that and become profitable. So that’s all my energy was spent on becoming profitable and still not seeing patients for 40 hours a week. So I had associate doctors from the very beginning. And I think that’s one reason why my brain works a little differently. I think that a lot of doctors, they work their tail off, they get up to where they’re producing $800,000 a million and then they take on an associate doctor.
Well, I had an associate doctor like when I was broke, like almost bankrupt. And then I added another one super quickly. And then I added another one super quickly. And so instead of learning how to pull my schedule down, my schedule was already here and I had to figure out how to be profitable with my schedule down instead of the other way around. How do I stay profitable and pull my hours down. Which I still pulled them down over time, but it was a pretty slow thing because I wasn’t seeing patients a huge amount. I think it was probably for a long time I did probably three-ish days a week and then went to two and a half days a week. And when I say two and a half, it’s usually five half days. I really like working half days as far as patient care. And then I went to four half days. I did that for a long time, four half days, and then went to three. I think you were during my three time and then I was around you during my go down to two time. And then I went down to just doing one and seeing a second day with my son. And right now I don’t even have a schedule of patients.
I do some emergencies and things like that. But it’s been a whole year. I did it last August. I didn’t realize it’d been a whole year that I decided to take a sabbatical from patient care just to see what it felt like and how it worked. And so far I still haven’t had added it back in yet.
Bethany Fishbein: Not a bad place to be. I tell your story.
Laurie Sorrenson: I’m glad to be able to do both. Right?
Bethany Fishbein: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I tell your story of getting pregnant so quickly after you opened the practice. And I think about another client I worked with who had a very similar situation, brand new, cold start, beautiful office, and got a call one day and she’s like, so I have to tell you something. And you’re right, because it teaches you how to make the practice run and helps you avoid that situation where everything in the business depends on you, where we see sometimes docs in their 50s, we’re getting a call, they’re like, I can’t take more than a week vacation. I’m like, yes, yes, you can. You just got to do it.
So I mean, risk and trust to me kind of go together. Like when you say, okay, I’m willing to take this risk, you’re putting your trust in someone or something, or I guess usually in yourself, that this is going to all work out. Right? You have to believe that that’s likely most of the time, right? You go on, you jump out of the plane and you trust that the parachute is going to do whatever it’s supposed to do when you pull the cord, I don’t jump out of plane. So are there times where you lost that trust a little bit, where something happened and it didn’t go well, it like made you question yourself or you felt like something really didn’t pan out?
Laurie Sorrenson: Oh, yeah, for sure. But I think because of those, I don’t know how much we want to talk about that one, but I had a partner embezzle from me at one point in my career. And that I totally, it was so much my own fault, right? Because I didn’t have systems set up in place and I was just, I wasn’t watching what I should have been watching. And at that moment in time, that was about as low as I could go.
I mean, I was, I felt like a failure. I felt like an imposter because I was also the Benedict Professor of Practice Management at the University of Houston that same year, right? So I’m supposed to know what I’m doing and here I was being embezzled from for years and didn’t know it. So at that point, I didn’t have a huge amount of trust for my own ability to run a business. And I think that imposter syndrome helps a lot.
So because of that, I had that, right? So I decided to really work hard at understanding business. I always liked it anyway, but I became pretty obsessed with how do you run a practice? How do you run a business? How do you become profitable? How do you do all these things? I really became kind of obsessed with it. And I think that’s because I took my imposter syndrome stuff and did, I’ve done it before when I was the legislative chair for the Texas Optometric Association, same thing.
I was pretty young when I took that over and I felt like I was kind of an imposter in that situation. So I made our first spreadsheet on every legislator, who their contact person was, which town they were in, and I went met them all. I went to every fundraiser. I mean, there was nobody in the state that knew more about the legislative stuff concerning optometry than me at that moment in time. So because I felt like I was being put in a position I wasn’t really ready for. And so I kind of did the same thing, I think, with business. So sometimes being not sure of yourself can actually make you better because you work harder at it.
Bethany Fishbein: Yeah, I appreciate you sharing that a lot. It’s something that I think has gotten so much more challenging for people now that everybody’s out talking on social media. I’ve heard from a number of people that it makes it extra hard when you feel like you’re not doing well, right? Because most of the people that are posting on Facebook or in groups or whatever, everybody seems to be doing amazing except you, right?
So being a successful private practice owner who says, okay, there was a time I felt stupid. I missed something big. I should have known that this is how I felt about it. I think it’s just important to share those stories because just about every really successful practice owner I know, I think actually every has those, right? Those times where you did not feel successful.
Laurie Sorrenson: Oh, moving into this building, my cash flow went to pot. I did not have enough money saved up. I really didn’t know what I was doing then either. And it was a struggle because I’m hearing people talk about how much they’re making and how this works and always get a building your income will go up overnight. And I’m like, well, that didn’t happen to me. I mean, my cash flow sucked for two years. You were around me then. I was talking to you during that period of time. It was rough.
I actually worked on getting some outside income during that period of time. And thank goodness. And it worked really, really well. And then got over that hump. And of course, it’s been a great decision since then. But that first couple of years was tough. So I feel bad when people are building a building and everybody’s just talking about what a great decision it is. And I’m not saying it’s not, but it wasn’t easy because our expenses seriously more than doubled overnight. And when I say more than doubled, I’m not just talking about the rent and the mortgage. I’m also talking about having to double the number of computers that I had. How many more employees I had just to cover the square footage of the place.
I mean, there was a lot of expenses that I had zero idea was going to happen during that. Trash cans. I mean, there’s so many things that you have to buy when you move into a new space besides all the equipment. I had more exam room equipment and everything else. So that was a tough couple of years for me too that I wasn’t sure I knew what I was doing. And you were really helpful during that period of time for sure.
Bethany Fishbein: Thank you.
Laurie Sorrenson: You told me it was going to work. And that’s what I needed to hear. It’s going to work. In another six months, I think you’re going to be safe. I was like, okay, I can do that.
Bethany Fishbein: Yeah, we did a podcast a couple months ago, but he talked about, with a psychologist who talked about negativity bias and how much bigger those bad things seem in your mind, how it’s really like a thought distortion. And that one, I think about in those kinds of situations because it’s fear, right? I don’t know if I have enough money to meet payroll. What’s going to happen if I can’t pay my staff? What’s going to happen if I can’t make the payment on this building? And it might be a small concern. In a grand scheme of things, it might be unlikely, right? But it feels like the only thing at that time. And you feel that.
So, I mean, you work with students and you have for a while. So you’ve seen the changes in student thinking. Do you feel like the risk tolerance or risk understanding of today’s students is different than 20 years ago?
Laurie Sorrenson: Man, I hate to generalize too much, but yes. And here’s one of the things that I’ve noticed. So I’ve been doing like personality profiling, Joyce Letowers, personality plus stuff with my students for most of the 20 something years I’ve been teaching. And it’s interesting to watch how the personality profiles have changed. So that now the personality profiles of the students actually match the general population a whole lot more because you know the peaceful personality is the most common one, right?
Well, that’s true at school too now. And before there weren’t hardly any. 20 years ago, there were very few peaceful personalities in my classrooms. So I think that peaceful personality is a little bit more averse to risk taking. We’re a little slower at it too. I mean, I don’t know which way to say it, but they’re not as aggressive about taking risks. So yeah, that’s how I’ve seen it more than anything. And of course, their horrible school debt now is just awful. And I think it makes them make decisions they wouldn’t have made before. So they’re really scared of not being able to pay their loans. So they’re looking for how much money can I make? I mean, and we all were when we graduated, but I, so I was offered two jobs.
I was offered when I got out of school, I was offered a five day a week job up in Dallas without the greatest equipment in the world, making $72,000 a year. And I was offered a job in Austin for four days a week with nice new equipment, wasn’t fancy equipment, but it was nice new equipment for $36,000 a year, half the amount of money. And I took the $36,000 a year job because the money wasn’t as a big deal, but I didn’t have $200,000 in student loans, or even the equivalent back then, $100,000 in student loans. I think I might have had 15 or 20 because tuition didn’t cost hardly anything in state school here in Texas. It was nothing, $1,000 a semester or something. It was crazy. So I had an ability to make a decision that was different versus if I’d had a larger student loan, I couldn’t have taken that job.
Bethany Fishbein: So do you teach this in your classes? Do you talk to them about that kind of decision-making? Because it’s tough, right? Those decisions, it’s not that one decision shapes the rest of your life every time, but if you had taken that job in Dallas, you might not be where you are now. And if you had done a couple of gap years before optometry school, so you were two or three years older than you were, which a lot of optometry students are now. And so you had a much greater debt load. You felt like you didn’t have a choice. Do you teach your students about a matrix for that decision-making?
Laurie Sorrenson: Not really. I do at the end of the course, the last thing I talk about is I talk about the profession a little bit and what a great profession they’re getting into and how excited I am for them. And we’ve talked about goals. I said, it’s just crazy for me to think what your next 10 years are going to be like, because every decision you make for the next 10 years is just such a big deal, right?
It’s so much about how, and I always talk about that if you’re not happy doing optometry, then it’s your fault. There’s so many ways to do optometry that if you’re not happy, you should fix it. There’s opportunities there that you can do that. And I get pretty dramatic about it when I talk about it with my students. It’s your fault, because I want them to be happy and love the profession as much as I do. And I don’t want them to go, yeah, it’s okay. It’s a job. That makes me sad. That makes me really sad when I hear somebody say that.
Bethany Fishbein: Yeah. I don’t know if I was lucky or unlucky, but I remember I’d gotten a job as a tech in an office. It was in a mall. I guess it was in between second year and third year. And there was a doctor who’s working there who was really miserable as an optometrist. And I remember in school, I was all excited to meet an actual optometrist. And the first day he gets a lunch break, I’m like, oh, would you mind if I go to lunch with you? I don’t know. I was oddly outgoing then. And he says, sure. And I said, what are you, third year? Yeah. He says, I guess it’s too late to talk you out of it. That’s how lunch started. And I was like, what do you mean? And I still remember the conversation that he wasn’t happy and hadn’t been with a lot of his career. And I think that at the time being young and idealistic, I was like, I’m always going to be happy. And you’re right, though.
There are so many choices. Optometry does not shut a door. It opens a door. There are so many ways to practice optometry. There are so many ways to be an optometrist and not practice optometry. You can work with any population. You have options. But that’s the piece, right? That’s where this risk comes in is you have to be willing to take a chance on them sometimes for a slightly lower salary, for a little bit longer commute, for a job that wants you to work Saturday mornings when you really didn’t want to. But otherwise, it seems ideal. And then to be able to realize when you’re in it that maybe it wasn’t what you thought. Maybe you made this decision. And now that you know more, you need to make another one.
Laurie Sorrenson: So when I first started working for those optometrists, I had the spot that I ended up owning later down the road next to a LensCrafters. And I was a good doctor employee. I ran meetings, and I painted walls after hours, and I did all kinds of different things. I mean, I really took the ownership of that practice on a lot. And then I asked the doctors I worked for for a raise for my front desk person, who was a single mom, child, was amazing. And they said no. So I told you before I get clicks in my head, that was my first click with my business that I can’t go work for someone else.
They were wonderful taking care of patients, but the way they were handling their staff was just, I couldn’t do it. That’s when I bought that other practice with the two other owners. That’s when I left there. That was the click when they told me no for giving a raise. I didn’t just say, hey, can we give this person a raise? I wrote a letter, writing out everything she had done, why she deserved a raise. And this was back in the day, it was $5 to $5.50. So that tells you something. I was appalled. First of all, they would tell me no. What I didn’t know is they were in financial trouble. But still, I was told no. And I was like, I didn’t know. I can’t not be in control of these people that I’m working with every day, where they can be treated this way. So that was my first click with needing to own my own place.
Bethany Fishbein: Alright. So you get these clicks, you start thinking about it. You go through this idea of what’s the worst that can happen. What are the other signs that you look for or feelings that you look for to say, this is something I should do versus this is something I shouldn’t?
Laurie Sorrenson: I think something that I keep thinking about, I think I’ve put it on the shelf, and it comes back to me. It’s just something like the expansion of the building. Actually, I knew we needed something. Actually, it was Eric’s idea of how to expand the building. And I was like, we just decided we’re going to do it. I mean, we don’t even know how much it’s going to cost us. But we’re basically going to win is the question when it comes to cost, right? Not if, of course, right now, it’s if because of the imminent domain issue that we have in our building that we might have to move.
So that’s kind of another thing I think that for risk for me is I have a nice history now of a lot of things that happened to me that weren’t always the greatest, and I always figured it out. Right? So I think that I always just like this whole thing, if I have to move, which I really do not want to move, I did not enjoy building a new building, I didn’t like that part at all. I’m going to figure it out. Like, if I have to, I have to, and I’ll make it work. And I just have a lot of faith that it’s going to work. You know, and I can’t worry too much about it, because I don’t know the details yet.
So it’s pretty relatively easy for me to put it on the back burner and wait until I know for sure, which will be in a hopefully about four or five months, I’ll know for sure. And as soon as we know for sure we can stay, we will be expanding the building.
Bethany Fishbein: So I mean, you were in a position for a long time where you were making all these decisions by yourself. And now you’re including Eric, your son is your partner and in these decisions with you.
Laurie Sorrenson: And my husband.
Bethany Fishbein: And your husband.
Laurie Sorrenson: Yes, I got them both I got to deal with.
Bethany Fishbein: So is their view the same as yours? Like, it gets harder when you have a partner because your risk tolerance might be a little bit different, you have faith that it’s going to work out, but they want they might want to see numbers or, you know, you have faith, but they’re pretty sure it won’t work out. Like, how has that changed your ability to make decisions?
Laurie Sorrenson: So Eric is definitely not as big a risk taker as me. Not I mean, personality wise, it’s just he’s kind of the opposite end of the spectrum. My husband’s a risk taker, but he also does it. He doesn’t have to have any numbers or anything. If he wants to do it, he’s just going to do it. And he doesn’t worry about all the details. Right.
So that kind of probably helps push me when I really want to do something. I’m not gonna get any pushback from him whatsoever, that I should go ahead and do it ever. He’s never gonna say, oh, that might be a bad, he’ll always say, oh, let’s do it.
Bethany Fishbein: So maybe that’s why I didn’t, I didn’t include him initially when I said you have, sorry Joel, I didn’t forget on purpose.
Laurie Sorrenson: Just the opposite. As a matter of fact, no, he never put it, but Eric does. And I think it’s actually really good because I don’t feel like it slows it down. I feel like it just, if I can make him relatively comfortable, I know that I have processed it appropriately, that I have thought through everything. And he’s the one that came up with the idea of where to expand the building. So he, even though he’s way less comfortable with it, he understands the need for taking risk to put us where we need to be.
So this whole building onto the building thing came from last Christmas, between Christmas and New Year’s. I wrote an article about this, but Christmas and New Year’s, we were incredibly busy and we were running five doctors at a time every single day, trying to work in all these patients that wanted to get in before the end of the year. It was seriously the busiest week we’ve ever had in the history of this practice, for sure. It was crazy, crazy.
And so I sent a survey out to my staff and said, what did we do well during this week period that was so crazy? And where could we have been better? Where did we either didn’t do well, or didn’t feel as good as it should have been? And basically, and I did it anonymously, but I came down to four things. Two things were kind of easy fixes. One had to do with checkout and one had to do with, we needed another auto refractor. So I bought an auto refractor and we changed, added a credit card machine where we check out.
The other two were that just like any holiday, people bring in two, three, four people with them when they’re visiting. So our patient lounge area and our optical felt crowded. People got taken care of really well. There was no wait. We did really good. I heard from everybody. There was almost no issues whatsoever taking care of the patients timely because efficiency is one of our core values, but it felt crowded, right? It didn’t feel as good, which means we need more space, right? So how do you do that? And we were going through all these ideas. And then Eric said, why don’t we push the building out towards where the patio is on that side and take over the patio. And then we can move, we can make a patient lounge bigger and we can make the optical bigger. I was like, oh wow, fantastic idea.
So here he is. That’s a pretty bold, risky move. And it was his idea. So we walked out there immediately, stopped the meeting right there and walked out there and walked it to see how it would work. And we would have already been started on it if it wasn’t for the eminent domain thing. But well, hopefully we’ll get to do it because I’m real excited about it.
Bethany Fishbein: I think, obviously you can’t get where you’ve gotten without being willing to trust yourself and being willing to take chances and not like wild gambles, right? We’re talking about calculated, put some thought into it. This makes sense kind of decisions, but having the guts to pull the trigger, right?
Because I feel one of the things that people will talk to me about from time to time is just that uncertainty. They’ve gone through all the decision-making. They know it makes sense. They’ve weighed the pros and the cons. They’re not too worried about the worst case scenario. They’ve figured out the financing and that last moment of, should I do it? Right? What do you think makes you different that you don’t get stuck there?
Laurie Sorrenson: I have a lot of mentees in my world, a lot of younger doctors, because they were my students, friends of my son and all that kind of stuff. And I see that all the time because they are more that perfect personality. They’re really good at analyzing stuff, but they struggle sometimes with that final step. They see that all the time. I don’t know why I don’t have that.
I think I just have a different personality. My decision is up at the front, not at the end. And those people, they do all their stuff and then they make their decision. I think maybe that’s where the difference is. Just like expanding the building, I’m going to do it if we stay here. Now, how am I going to do it and when am I going to do it? I’m going to figure all those things out. But that personality will go, well, what’s the time? Money and this and that and all these kinds of things before they could say, yes, I’m going to. Well, I’ve already said, yes, I’m going to. I can still say no. I can still say, no, I’m not going to, which I could if we’re obviously, if we’re moving. I think that step happens at the beginning for me instead of at the end.
These younger doctors that I work with, talk to all the time, I feel like I’m always pushing them, like, hire another person, get that associate doctor. Yes, put that second line of equipment in. Yes, do. I’m always like, and they give me the analysis. I ask questions. I don’t just say do it. I find out, I was like, oh my gosh, girl, you should have, you need to hire two people, not one.
So I see that all the time. And it’s just funny that I didn’t have to have somebody push me. Although I told you that one guy really pushed me to open my private practice. And I kind of needed that. I needed somebody saying, yeah, you can do this. You’ll be good at this. He goes, I did it. You can do it. You’re better than I am. That’s kind of what he said to me. And I was like, whatever. But I think having somebody encouraging you in different places, right, I think is really important. And I do that a lot with these different younger doctors I work with.
Even Eric does it too, though. I mean, he talks to these same people because they’re his friends too. And he just sees us. He’s lived in a growth mentality practice his whole optometry career. So I think he processes, even though he’s not a risk taker, he gets that to do what you want to do, you’ve got to.
Bethany Fishbein: Awesome. Laurie, any final thoughts, anything else you want to share here?
Laurie Sorrenson: So I think we mostly talk about big risk, right? There’s always these weird little risks, like trying to implement something new. And for somebody with some kind of personalities, for me, it just feels like a pain in the rear end to get it going. But for somebody else, it might feel like a risk. And I think the other thing I think about all the time is, let’s just do it. Let’s go all in for three months. And if it doesn’t work, we’ll fix it. And we’ll check in and fix it and work with it during that three months, of course. But willing to pull the plug at three months, no matter what. This isn’t working, we’re done.
Now, sometimes that will extend. I just told you about a project that took me a year and a half to get completely done. And then sometimes I pulled the plug after three weeks, because like, this ain’t working. And I don’t see how to fix it. But basically, to get everybody on the same place and in the right mindset is to kind of put this deadline out there that this is how long we’re going to try this. And if it doesn’t work, hey, we’ll go back or we’ll do something different.
Bethany Fishbein: Yeah, that’s a good point. Like, the big risks are fairly rare. Right? They’re not fairly rare. I mean, huge building and building risks are fairly rare for most people. There are kind of middle ones like, can I live without this staff member? What’s going to happen if I let someone go? Can I take this day off for something that’s important to my family? Those are medium risks. And then there’s kind of the little ones. It’s a constant decision making that practice owners are doing. Anything that students or young doctors have shared with you about how they’ve gotten better at it?
Laurie Sorrenson: I have heard, I hear your voice in my ear. I hear that too. You would say do it. I’ve heard that a few times. Which I think is funny.
Bethany Fishbein: Yes. Yeah, definitely asking other people but having somebody, I think the difference between like what you hear and I hear that too, right? I know you’re going to tell me to, I know you’re going to say and that’s different than I posted it online. And, you know, the slight majority of people told me to like, you got to find people that you trust, who know you, who you believe care about your outcome, they want to see you succeed and have maybe that level of risk tolerance that you aspire to have.
Because that’s, I see that with younger doctors too, that sometimes their families are discouraging them. You’re not going to be able to do this. Why would you take that risk? Why wouldn’t you take the short thing? You could be comfortable. You can, you know, you’ll know you have this salary, you won’t have to worry. And that’s the parent’s side, right? You want to protect your kid from any potential hurts or anything like that. But having somebody who can be that voice in your ear, whether actually or even from memory is even maybe even more valuable is pretty extraordinary.
Laurie Sorrenson: I think about what you just said is somebody might post online, should I fire this person? And they tell the scenario. And of course, everybody on usually responds, yes, you should fire that person. But if I tell you my story, you know me, you know, my culture, you know, my office, and I tell you and ask you, do you think I should fire this person? It’s a complete, that’s not the same thing. Like you’re, and we’ve had this conversation before where I thought you were going to, I know you’re going to tell me to fire him today and you didn’t, you said fire him the next week actually is what you told me. And I think, like you said, having a good mentor, somebody, friends that get you and know you and ask them their opinions.
You know, and now I have my son, my son and I definitely have each other a lot on these kinds of things and run things by each other all the time. And I think that’s a lot better than posting your question to a bunch of people you don’t know.
Bethany Fishbein: No argument for me. Thank you so much. Thank you for the time. Thank you for sharing the story. Thank you for being willing to be a little bit vulnerable and talk about some of the things that haven’t gone so well and how those played into your journey to get you to all the things that have done well. And yeah, wishing you tons of continued success, whether in your existing location or if you have to move, I know you will take that opportunity to make it even bigger, even better, because that’s who you are and that’s what you do.
Laurie Sorrenson: Thank you. I appreciate that. Appreciate you, Bethany.
Bethany Fishbein: If you are looking for better cLauriety around your business that lets you spend more time doing the things you want to do and make more money doing so, please reach out to us at powerpractice.com. Thank you so much for listening.