Find Your Niche as a Young OD
By Melody Huang, OD March 12, 2020
The field of optometry offers a wide range of opportunities for the young optometrist. If you are in optometry school or a recent graduate, all these options can feel overwhelming. But if you take the time to find a unique niche, your efforts can really pay off! Developing a specialty sets you apart from neighboring practices, especially if you are in an area saturated with other optometrists.
There are several different optometry niches to consider:
● Sports Vision Training. If you love sports or are an athlete, you may enjoy helping other athletes improve their sports performance.
● Vision Therapy. Since vision therapy requires working with patients consistently over months, this niche can be very rewarding as you see your patient’s condition improve. Pediatric and neuro-optometrists can be a source of referrals.
● Low Vision. Low vision exams are challenging, but also rewarding when you help improve a patient’s quality of life. With longer life expectancies and increased prevalence of certain eye diseases, there may be a growing need for low vision services.
● Pediatrics. Working with children requires patience, but some optometrists find pediatric exams fun and fulfilling. If the idea of watching a child see clearly for the first time after getting glasses is exciting, maybe pediatrics is for you!
● Myopia Control. With the widespread use of digital devices, many parents are concerned about preventing myopia progression in their children.
● Specialty Contact Lenses. Fitting specialty lenses such as hybrids, sclerals, and RGPs can be a great practice builder and maintains patient loyalty.
● Dry Eye Clinic. The need for advanced dry eye therapies is increasing,
especially when you consider longer life expectancies and growing use of digital devices.
● Refractive Surgery. Co-managing laser refractive surgery or cataract surgery is another avenue to consider.
● Neuro-optometry. If you enjoy flexing your clinical knowledge muscles, neuro-optometry may be a good fit. From traumatic brain injuries to congenital diseases, you’ll be able to challenge yourself regularly.
If you are not sure what niche is best, here are some questions to think about:
What gets you excited about optometry?
This is one of the first things you should consider. If you don’t have an interest in your niche, it will be harder to sustain. If you genuinely believe in what you’re doing and know that your niche will benefit patients, you’ll be more likely to work harder to make your passion a reality.
Is there a market for this niche?
Conduct some market research in your area. Are there other practices offering the same specialty?
Also, think about what needs you can fill in the community. If there are several retirement homes nearby, a low vision practice may be suitable. Or, if many children in your local area participate in sports, think about a sports vision practice. If you are already practicing, survey your patients to see if there is any interest in your niche.
Do you need more training or expertise?
Even if you didn’t complete a residency, you could still specialize in a niche. If you want to get up to date with the latest advances and treatments in your specialty, optometric associations are an excellent place to start. They may offer continuing education or workshops to expand your skill set. You can even look for an association in your specific niche, which is a great way to network with fellow optometrists and gain knowledge in your specialty.
Or, you can join an existing practice that offers the specialty you’re interested in. You can learn on the job and figure out if it’s really something you want to pursue.
What will you need to get started?
Consider whether you plan on offering your services to a group practice or opening your own. Partnering with another optometrist allows you to test the waters and see if your niche is viable without making a substantial investment upfront. The practice owner will benefit from the unique services you offer, which is a win-win situation!
Also, think about other needs specific to your niche, including any specialized equipment, how much office space is needed, staff training, insurance (medical or vision), scheduling (specialty versus primary care appointments), etc.
Finding the right niche for you may take some trial and error, but the results are gratifying. If you find one niche doesn’t work for you, it’s okay to move onto another one. You have most of your career ahead of you and plenty of time to figure things out!