Ever considered career opportunities in optometry outside of primary care? The possibilities outside the walls of your 10-foot exam lanes are actually pretty abundant. Modern-day optometrists can pursue careers in research and development, academia, the lecture circuit, and many others.
For those of you who have ever considered a job in industry, I’ve interviewed three ODs from very different backgrounds with multiple different companies in order to better assess what it’s like working in industry and how to find these highly coveted positions.
Let’s meet our experienced industry partners:
• Kevin Roe, O.D. (KR): Professional Relations and Academic Development, Alcon
• Carla Mack, O.D. (CM): Professional Affairs, Alcon Past: Research and Development & Global Professional Marketing, Bausch + Lomb
• Joseph Boorady, O.D. (JB): President and CEO of Tear Science Past: Clinic Director, SUNY; COO, Eyemaginations; Professional Affairs, Senior VP of Sales and Service for Ophthalmology, Neurosurgery, Dental, ENT, Spine and Radiation Therapy, Carl Zeiss
What has your personal experience been working in industry?
JB: I started in private practice, then to academia at SUNY as Clinic Director. This experience led me to industry where I have worked in start-up environments like Eyemaginations as the chief operating officer. I was responsible for the software and animation teams as well as a variety of other company functions. I now work for Zeiss. I began in professional affairs, which focused on relationships with ODs, MDs, thought leaders, and academia. I then advanced to become the senior vice president of sales and service for ophthalmology, neurosurgery, dental, ENT, spine and radiation therapy. After six years at Zeiss, I am now taking on the role of President and CEO of Tear Science. Tear Science is an innovative new start-up company that has recently developed a novel treatment device for meibomian gland dysfunction.
KR: My responsibilities in industry have been in professional relations and Academic Development at Alcon. In my Professional Relations role, I am essentially liaison between Alcon and the professional community, ODs and all of the professional organizations, including the AOA. I represent Alcon from a professional standpoint on industry relations boards and also serve as the voice of the profession back into Alcon. As director of academic development, I represented the company at all the colleges of optometry in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.
CM: I started first with Bausch + Lomb where I worked in R+D in the medical affairs division and then in a role in global professional marketing. I now work for Alcon in the U.S. division in professional affairs. In all my roles, I have had opportunities to work with incredibly smart people in cross-functional teams where we each bring a different skill set. The atmosphere and cultures have been fast-paced and results-driven, which I love.
What different kinds of opportunities are available?
JB: There are a vast amount of opportunities in industry. Clinical affairs, regulatory, research, professional affairs and education, a variety of management roles, medical adviser, marketing and promotions, and even sales leadership to name a few.
How did you decide to work in industry rather than a traditional patient care setting? Are the two modalities very different?
CM: Working as a faculty member at Ohio State offered me many opportunities I may not have had in traditional practice. I was able to run two very complex patient-care settings at our Student Health Center and then our main campus clinics. I was able to consult with many companies and participate in industry-sponsored research as well as travel, teach, speak and write quite often. I also worked with ophthalmology, worked in nursing home care settings and worked at two Veterans Administration hospitals. Through my industry consulting, I was able to experience a bit of what industry life was like and found myself fascinated by how companies made decisions and communicated with eye care professionals and even how they were organized. This led me to pursue an executive MBA from Ohio State. I knew I desired more global experience and I wanted a better business base knowledge and acumen. My many years of patient care have served me very well in all my industry roles. Patient care is very different from any of the industry roles I’ve held but I always get to work with our great eye care professionals in the field.
What’s a typical day like working for industry?
KR: Hard to answer this one because there really isn’t a “typical day.” I spend about 35 percent of my time on the road, which I truly love (though it’s not for everyone). The fact that there is no “typical day” is one of the things that I like best about working for industry.
For students interested in pursuing an industry role after graduation, how do you recommend they find out about available positions?
KR: I would recommend the following:
(1) Talk to anyone and everyone from industry that you can, even while in school: Reps, speakers that visit the schools, etc.
(2) Whenever you’re at a trade show, stop by the booth of any companies that you may be interested in working with in the future. Relationships are everything! It may literally be years before an opportunity comes up, but you want them to know you and remember your interest when that opportunity comes along.
(3) Become a Fellow in the AAO.
(4) Be patient… I can only speak for CIBA Vision and Alcon, but I can’t recall any position that did not require at least five years of real-world experience.
(5) Residency programs are a big plus.
CM: Network, network, network. I believe a strong foundation in patient care is critical to develop first and then take opportunities as speakers and on advisory boards or as consultants. I’d then reach out to other ODs in industry for advice and knowledge of roles.
JB: I would strongly recommend getting practice experience first and learning the business. Then find what you are passionate about (lecturing, managing, research) and begin to pursue this area through consulting agreements with partners in industry. See if you enjoy the dynamics of corporate life and try to build a resume of real experience no matter how big or small.
Be patient! Opportunities are around, but they are also competitive and it takes time and effort to build a network. Network early and often throughout your career; I am always surprised where that has taken me! Never burn bridges; it is a very small world and even smaller industry and you have to be in it for the marathon not the sprint. Be honest and humble, and then be smart-in that order. And lastly, work harder than anyone you know.