Is There a Perfect Time to Add an Associate Optometrist?

By Courtney Dryer, O.D. April 06, 2022

It is difficult for a practice owner to assess the opportune time to hire an associate optometrist. There is not just one practice metric to consider. It must make sense both financially and personally.  Assessing several key practice metrics and evaluating your personal practice motivations can be beneficial to the decision-making process.

 “What are your primary goals in adding an associate doctor?”

When to Hire a New Associate

Assess Practice Metrics

ECPs should evaluate their exam slot numbers, booking schedule for patients, practice revenue and break-even point when looking to hire a new associate optometrist. These numbers can assist in making a financially sound decision.

Exam Slots

Are you able to add more exam slots to your schedule by adding a scribe, training a tech to refract, or adding an additional early morning or evening spot? If you are willing to see more patients, and more exam slots can be created, the owner may want to reach full capacity prior to adding additional staff. 20 patients a day is considered by many to be capacity and a single full-time optometrist can be expected to generate 650K per year, but may produce over 1 million in revenue. For some practices, hiring additional ancillary staff with delegated responsibilities may be preferred over hiring another doctor.

Patient Wait Times

The High Cost of Long Wait Times | PhreesiaAssess the current booking in your practice. Expert research states 25% of patients will go to another practice if they aren’t seen within 2 weeks. If you are booked 3-4 weeks out and at full capacity, it may be time to consider an addition. Stress can be eased by knowing your books are full and your optometric associate will have patients without affecting your own income.

Practice Revenue

An associate optometrist will be a high practice expense. Most associates are initially paid a base salary and on production once they pay for themselves. New optometric associates are unlikely to produce as much as an established doctor until they cross a 6 month to a year threshold. While production-based may be best for the practice initially, with high rates of student debt, this could be quite risky for the new associate doctor and could result in unhappiness with the practice.

Break-Even Point

Determining the break-even point of hiring a new optometry associate can be helpful for owner expectations. A comparison should be done between the additional costs associated with hiring a doctor compared to production. Additional doctor benefits such as 401K and vacation pay as well as additional staff, marketing and equipment costs should be included.

Personal Practice Motivations

Your personal practice motivations must also be considered. Maybe you are looking for more time off or to spend additional time managing the business. Doctors should consider how many patients they personally want to see per day, how many hours /days to work, and the necessary compensation. If a doctor is approaching retirement, it is in the best interest of both the doctor and the success of the practice to be mentored by the doctor and introduced to the community.

Expand Office Offerings

An associate optometrist can be lucrative for the practice by expanding current hours or introducing new services. New associates may be asked to expand hours to weekends or bring specialty eye care to the practice. An associate optometrist trained in vision therapy or sports vision can deliver a new patient population to the practice and expand revenue. Many specialties require little monetary investment equipment upfront and are not covered by insurance. If an associate’s schedule is not completely full, their time can be used to grow and market their specialty within the community.

Where to Find a New Associate

School state clubs, society dinners, and website opportunities can be valuable resources to find a new associated doctor.

Optometry School State Clubs

aoa 19_2..jpg (752 KB)Many optometry schools have organized state clubs where students meet, discuss state practice culture and scope, and invite doctor speakers from the specific state. These meetings create a prime opportunity to meet students with an interest in practicing in your specific state/city.

Local Society Dinners

Many private practice doctors with externs will invite their student doctors to local society and practice management meetings.  This casual environment is a great opportunity to get to know graduating doctors and develop key relationships with the potential to hire.

Website Opportunities

LinkedIn, ODs on Facebook, and ODs on Finance are free resources to find potential talent.  Optometry-specific Facebook groups allow you to find the most dedicated and involved students looking for future career opportunities. Many desire to work only in private practice.

What to Look for in a New Associate Optometrist

Besides the obvious things like personality of the optometrist, commitment to practice values, and shared practice goals, hiring ECPs may want to consider adding an associate optometrist with a different personality or unique expertise than their own to meet the needs of their existing patients and recruit new patients. Besides clinical expertise, an associate’s ability to “sell from the chair” is key to practice success. The heart of optometry remains glasses and contacts and an associate doctor who understands doctor-driven dispensing and their role in prescribing to patients can give them a leg up on the competition. Not every doctor is successful in this area.

Only you can evaluate your current practice metrics and your practice motivations to decide the right time to bring on an associate. While hiring an associate optometrist can be a big upfront expense, the right one can grow your practice by bringing in new patient populations, eye care specialties and additional revenue to the practice.


Courtney Dryer, O.D.

Dr. Courtney Dryer earned her doctorate from Southern College of Optometry, Memphis, Tennessee in 2011. She opened her own practice Autarchic Spec Shop in 2013 in Charlotte, NC. She has had the privilege of writing for numerous optometric publications and serving in various industry capacities. In 2015, Vision Monday named her a rising star and one of the most influential women in optometry. Her optometric passions include practice management, specialty contact lenses, and dry eye management.

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