Building your personal brand – or reputation – as an optometrist doesn’t come easily, but it’s important. How your patients remember you when they leave your consulting room will dictate whether they come back.
The word ‘brand’ has traditionally referred to the way a company looks, feels, positions itself and communicates with its customers, staff and suppliers.
Increasingly we talk about our ‘personal brand’ – the way we, as individuals, present to patients, staff, managers and suppliers – the way people remember us.
When I reflect on my journey to date as an optometrist, I realise how important my personal brand has been to my success… had you asked me at my graduation where I thought my career would take me in two years, “managing one of Victoria’s largest OPSM stores (OPSM Southland)” would not have been my first response.
An ability to evaluate one’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as develop strong inter-professional relationships goes a long way in defining your career
I started building my personal brand as a graduate at OPSM Cranbourne. At this well-established practice I was fortunate to work with two experienced optometrists, including my mentor, Greg Fielder, who had been working there for 15 years.
The front-end staff were accommodating, advising patients that I was a recent graduate, which meant their consultations would take a little longer. This proved to be a good strategy and was helpful when scheduling appointments.
I was lucky enough to be the only optometrist in the practice who was able to prescribe therapeutics, and this became my niche while I was there.
By providing consistent care and therapeutic service, I earned recommendations to my patients’ friends and family. Slowly, my patient base began to grow. However, I knew that it was not enough to provide a unique service; I needed to provide an excellent service to all my patients.
The Power of Self Evaluation
Constant self-evaluation allowed me to understand my strengths and opportunities and, as a consequence, identify how I could improve my clinical practice and expand my horizons.
Our customer experience surveys also provided valuable information. The surveys highlighted areas of practice in which I was able to engage with patients well. At that early stage in my career, these were generally simple actions, such as taking time to explain all the results of the test, and clarifying why patients needed a new pair of spectacles.
Consolidating the strengths identified through these processes, and more importantly, working hard on my weaknesses, allowed me to steer my career, and develop my professional reputation – or brand – as an optometrist.
Growing Brand Awareness
In my graduate role I had the opportunity to practice at Frankston, Dandenong and Southland OPSM stores. Moving between stores can be a challenge when it comes to maintaining your reputation, however it also serves as a chance to broaden awareness of your skill sets among more teams, and especially dispensers.
The relationship with optometrists and optical dispensers is paramount in any successful practice. Having been a part-time optical dispenser while studying optometry, I was able to identify with dispensers and convey this in my personal style of practice. Again, simple actions, such as helping out on the floor when possible, allowed me to connect with dispensers, and exemplify my belief in teamwork. These opportunities also opened my eyes to the ways other optometrists were making their mark and highlighted the diversity in our field.
Within a few short months, I was invited to move to OPSM Southland, one of the largest OPSM stores of Victoria. I was working alongside two optometrists at all times, and had access to an optical coherence tomographer and a topographer, as well as our OPTOS Daytona Ultrawide Digital Retinal Scan, auto-refractor, Digital Retinal Scan and visual field machines. It was an optometrist’s dream, and also a chance to continue to develop my skills, patient relationships and personal brand.
In the consulting room, my efforts to develop my professional reputation began with providing patients with a report of their visit, in the form of an OPSM Customer Report Card. I try to give each customer one life-long eye care tip; generally about visual breaks within our working day. I also staple my business card onto each report, so my name, contact details and email are present and readily available to my patients. Follow-up calls to patients who need extra reassurance also help in the process of building rapport. These behaviours were instilled by the ‘All for You’ module for optometrists, a training session developed by OPSM to provide a seamless journey for our customers.
It wasn’t long before the strong foundations I had established with these measures became apparent and I was able to build a patient base at Southland. However, I didn’t want to just grow my numbers, I wanted to ensure that patients would deliberately ask to see me every time because of my unique and personal brand of optometry. This requires a strong rapport with patients, and ultimately leads to the best care in the long term.
Earning Patient Loyalty
One recent experience I had was on a Sunday afternoon. A middle-aged gentleman, who had his eyes tested 30 minutes earlier at another practice, had been given a referral to the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital (RVEEH) for raised intraocular pressure. He simply wanted another opinion to understand how urgent the problem was. I repeated the measurements and his intraocular pressures were 40mmHg in each eye. I sat him down and explained why it was important he visited the hospital that day and told him I would follow up with a phone call on Monday to see how he was going.
When I called the next day, he told me he’d had multiple treatments, and was going to attend a Glaucoma Clinic for further work up. A week or so later, he called me reporting he had a bad reaction to one of the drugs and has been on complete wash out. Since then I have been monitoring his pressures weekly but, unfortunately, they have started increasing again and now I am co-managing him with RVEEH.
This gentleman was not my patient to start with, nor did I diagnose him with elevated intraocular pressures, however the time I invested in explaining why he had to go to hospital, and my follow-up call, has resulted in a patient who will continue to visit me.
I believe my personal approach has not only made a lasting impression on my patients, but has also been recognised by my management team. An ability to evaluate one’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as develop strong inter-professional relationships goes a long way in defining your career. Providing good patient care is easy, but patients are increasingly demanding more from their optometrists. They yearn for the personal touch in eye care; one that resonates confidence and compassion, in individuals they can trust.
As the field of optometry becomes more competitive, I believe personal branding will emerge as a novel attribute in successful early career development.
Dr. Ayesha Kathriachchige (nee. Senadeera) graduated in 2015 from University of Melbourne with a Doctor of Optometry. She is currently the Managing Optometrist at OPSM Southland.