Can I rewind myself in time and start over as a member of Gamma Omicron at my alma mater, the Southern College of Optometry? I’m not saying I want to go back to school, or that I haven’t enjoyed the last 5 years seeing patients and you know, getting paid to do so. But today’s generation of future female ODs isn’t messing around. They’ve seen the statistics on the 16% gender starting salary gap for new graduates in our profession and while most of their classmates are women (67% of all enrolled optometry students were female in the 2015-2016 calendar school year), they noticed some overt discrepancies. When asked, Sandy Trybus (SCO ’17) says she cofounded Gamma Omicron on campus when she began realizing none of the successful doctors brought back to speak on campus were women. Where were her female optometric role models and mentors? Women that could help her and her classmates navigate the issues that they would disproportionately face as they graduated and began searching for job opportunities and establishing leadership and authority in their relationships with employers, staff, and patients? Where were the people like her that were success stories and leaders in our profession? She and cofounder Michelle Moscow set out to bring more female voices on campus by giving them a place all their own.
Gamma Omicron was previously a club on campus at SCO back in the 1970s, when just a small subset of the student body was female. At that time, female students at SCO felt they needed a place where they could establish their own leadership and autonomy in a historically male dominated profession. As female enrollment in optometry schools continued to grow, the club eventually fell out of existence as class sizes became more equally split. Forty years later, Trybus and Moscow were looking for a place to focus on women leaders in the profession to help mentor themselves and fellow classmates and came upon Gamma Omicron in old yearbooks. It was a perfect fit to re-establish the club that had lovingly drawn it’s greek letters from “Girls Only.”
Over the past month I’ve had the privilege of speaking with Trybus, and new club leaders Julia Hamm and Maddie Coughlin via the latest Defocus Media podcast, and then to the entire Gamma Omicron club as a speaker at their first 2016-17 school year meeting to talk salary and contract negotiations, and navigating difficulties young women often face in staff, employer, and patient interactions. Our discussions have yielded so many great talking points I wanted to share some pearls with you ladies that might not yet have a Gamma Omicron chapter established at your school:
- When applying for a job, how can you negotiate if you haven’t really had any experience? My recommendation is to think outside the box; you may not be an expert in patient care by the numbers, but I bet you’re an expert in something your hiring doctor is not. Look at their practice: are they offering specialty contact lenses, vision therapy or sports vision, infant and pediatric care, or dry eye specialties? These are all buzzword specialties in optometry that older doctors may not be personally interested in training on, but would love to bring into their practice through you. Look at their social media: is their website a mess? Facebook underutilized? Are they even online at all? Taking over social media marketing is a great way to bring instant value, and your hiring doctor will not question your generational expertise in this area. For more negotiating tips head here.
- But hold your horses, because bringing value to a practice is great, but you need to make sure you and the hiring doctor are on the same page about your future. When we first spoke on the podcast, I was surprised to hear that putting a date on when to begin buying in to a practice at the initial contract signing wasn’t a top priority for students. It’s true that you want to try out the practice first before you commit, but many friends and good doctors before and after me have fallen into this trap. If you don’t set a date to begin buy-in negotiations, then the day will somehow never magically come. Five years later you’re still waiting to have that conversation and the doctor you work for still thinks you might not be ready to take on the leadership and commitment of being a full partner because you’re about to start a family or you’re still growing into the position. That’s 5 years of blood, sweat, and tears you’ve put into that practice that you will eventually have to buy back from yourself, because every day you’ve worked there you’ve grown the business patient encounter by patient encounter. I highly recommend setting a 1 year from hire date to get the practice evaluated by an outside party and to begin buy-in discussions. Doctors love their practices and those in the Baby Boomer generation have universally seemed reluctant to walk away or retire, so they often put off handing over the reigns to their practice even after bringing you on board with the mindset to do just that. Help keep the ball moving in that direction by getting firm plans set in stone for buy-in discussions right from the start.
- “You look like you just graduated high school” or “when’s the doctor coming in?” are questions these ladies will likely be asked as new docs (and 5 years later, yes I’m still getting them). The best medicine is laughter in these situations – I always laugh a little and say something to the effect of “Oh thank you so much! My wrinkle cream must be working!” with a genuine smile like I truly appreciate the compliment. Yes, I know patients who criticize our appearance as too youthful aren’t complimenting my wrinkle-free skin, but they are telling me with those comments that they feel anxious or concerned that my level of care might not be up to par. Th best way to alleviate fear is to help get the patient smiling or laughing with you on the other side. If I smile and laugh, they will smile and laugh, and it’s hard to feel anxious when you’re smiling so much!
If you want more pearls from what the next generation of ODs envisions for the future of our profession, and their thoughts on the biggest challenges and issues we face, check out this week’s girls-only podcast; boys are welcome of course.