In addition to being an optometrist, Philip Hasler, OD ‘86, is the boys‘ track coach and football wide receivers coach at his local high school in Reedsburg, Wisconsin. That gives him an insider’s view of which students might have the makings of a future optometrist,—and the opportunity to invite them to his practice during the required shadow portion of the school’s health professions class.
So far, he has a perfect record. He’s had five shadows and two have graduated from optometry school, two are at ICO, including his daughter, Rachel, and his son, Nick, is graduating from high school this year with a plan to eventually become an optometrist. One aspect of optometry that appeals to his shadowing students—and other students he works with as a coach—is that he can be on the track or football field at 3 p.m. a couple days a week for practice. The students wonder how they can get that kind of work-life balance in their future careers.
“The ones I have had in our office to shadow have been very sold on what I do,” Dr. Hasler says.
The shadowing students get the full experience of life as an optometrist in a half-day visit, even starting the day walking through the employee entrance.
“I take them through my regular day,” he says. “We look at the schedule, they shadow the technicians as they work the patient up, then I ask the patient if it’s OK for the student to observe the exam. I pick the two or three patients who will give them the best range of what we do. Then when the patient leaves, I show the student the EHR and have them sit with the optical people. So they really get a feel for the whole operation in one morning.”
That sounds like a lot of work for Dr. Hasler and his staff, but he says he’s the one who really benefits.
“I get the satisfaction of presenting the profession of optometry,” says Dr. Hasler, whose father, James, OD ’49, also was an optometrist. “It’s a profession that’s been very good to my family. I love what I do and I like the satisfaction of presenting what I think is a fantastic profession to these students.”
Up Close and Personal
For as long as she can remember, Megan Sullivan, OD ’09, has had one dream for her career: to be an optometrist in a private practice. Visiting the optometrist for glasses as a child and seeing her grandparents being treated for macular degeneration and glaucoma sparked her interest.
Then she had the chance to be part of a Shadow Day organized by her high school in Iowa, giving her the opportunity to follow her family’s optometrist for a day and experience the profession up close. Even though it was just one day observing the main facets of the practice, it put her squarely on the path that would eventually lead to ICO and her dream job at Vision Care Associates in Storm Lake, Iowa.
“I was definitely nervous, but I knew in high school I wanted to become an optometrist,” she recalls. “I really liked how the doctors got to interact with their patients on a one-to-one basis. And I knew optometry was an amazing and satisfying career because you get to help patients, not only with their visual needs but also manage the health of their eyes.”
Her experience as a young student is precisely the goal of shadowing programs—to inspire students to pursue a career in optometry by connecting them with practicing doctors as early as high school or while they are undergraduates. Shadowing can be as simple as a half-day visit observing doctors with their patients, or being hired as a part-time employee who does office tasks while seeing up close what goes into running a practice.
In Dr. Sullivan’s case, she did both. Several years after her high school Shadow Day, she did a month-long internship at Vision Care Associates during her undergraduate studies at nearby Buena Vista University. Under the watchful eyes of three ICO alumni—Donovan Crouch, OD ‘63, his son, Craig Crouch, ‘OD 90, and Fred DeHaan, OD ‘77—Dr. Sullivan observed all aspects of the practice and made a promise that she would return when she completed optometry school.
“Every day I went to the office to shadow the doctors and technicians and get the feel of what they did,” she says. “I would go to all the different areas, starting with the front desk to see how patients were checked in and then how they were take care of and moved throughout the practice. I was there to observe everything I could, which allowed me to take that knowledge and apply it to my classroom and laboratory work back at school.”
Vision Care Associates still opens its doors to high school and college students who want to get a feel for what a career in optometry would be like. Sometimes they are hired as part-time employees and other times it may just be a student who visits for a day or two. Either way, they learn not only about caring for patients, but also about the business side of operating a practice so they can make an informed career decision.
“A few months ago, I had a freshman in high school who came by and said she was interested in being an optometrist, so she sat in with me for the day,” Dr. Donovan Crouch says. “A lot times we’ll get seniors in high school or students from Buena Vista. I hope all our shadows see what we do day in and day out, see how we relate to the patients, experience the optical materials side, and learn how the business side of it works.”
Even though it takes time from the doctors’ day to explain to the shadowing student what they do, Dr. Crouch says the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks.
“I enjoy having someone here observing,” he says. “There are so many different careers young people can get involved with, so the more knowledge they have of the finer details of a profession, the better prepared they are to decide what they want to do.”
Getting the ROI
Optometrists who are considering inviting students to shadow in their practice should approach it as an investment of time and, sometimes, money, says Kevin Danahey, OD ’91, who practices in Mishawaka, Indiana. Although he was not able to shadow until he was an undergraduate, he frequently gives talk about his career at nearby St. Joseph High School to get those students interested sooner. If they do show an interest, the practice takes them on as part-time employees so they can earn a little money while observing the day-to-day work of an optometrist.
“A lot of kids are really interested in what we do,” he says. “So I’ll give them a job for $10 an hour and let them see what we do every day. Some do that in high school and some in college. But no matter who it is, I want to give of myself 100 percent.”
He says there is almost always extra time involved. The optometrist has to explain to the patient what the shadowing student is doing in the exam room, and then explain to the student what is being done to the patient. At the end of the day, the doctor must go through charts with the student and also discuss any business considerations of the practice.
“It is definitely an investment,” Dr. Danahey says. “Some days can be more challenging than others because we have a busy practice and often see emergencies come in. But I think our clinic is great for shadowing because we see so much. It’s amazing what you can diagnose from an eye exam and make a meaningful impact on a patient’s life. For a student to see that—that we are more than glasses or contacts—that’s great for our whole profession.”
Jacqui Cook is a freelance writer for ICO Matters. She may be reached at Jacqueline.firstname.lastname@example.org.