m
Recent Posts
Connect with:
Friday / November 27.
HomemifeatureGo Your Own Way in Your Country Practice

Go Your Own Way in Your Country Practice

Many of Australia’s regional areas have been hit in recent months by drought, bushfires and COVID-19. Yet a strong sense of spirit has prevailed, and communities have reunited to rebuild their homes and livelihoods.

Meanwhile, in the cities where life is also returning to a new normal, urbanites are reflecting on the joys of quieter roads, fresher air, and fewer crowds that rapidly came about during the COVID-19 lockdown, then disappeared equally as quickly…

It’s all still available to you… you just need to move to the country.

Around three quarters of Australia’s population live in the country’s 21 largest cities, which together generate around 80% of gross domestic product. The remaining 25% of the population reside in inner and outer regional, remote and very remote areas of Australia.

we’ve developed strong relationships with specialists who rely on us to help when they’re not available and we’ve developed the skills to manage eye emergencies and severe eye conditions

Often regional cities, which are classified as having populations of between 25,000 and 100,000 residents,2 are perceived to be too small, conservative, mono-cultural and even dull, by people who’ve grown up in a city. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

Our vibrant regions are integral to Australia’s values, our sense of identity, and our economic success – around two thirds of Australia’s export earnings come from regional industries such as agriculture, tourism, retail, services and manufacturing.1

For eye health professionals, regional cities, as well as outer regional, remote and very remote areas, offer a diversity of practise opportunities due to the greater need for medical services and the scarcity of health service providers.

Additionally, working in remote and regional areas offers a wealth of personal rewards that come from living in smaller communities that are supportive, resilient, closer to nature and less expensive.

mivision spoke to a handful of optometrists about their experiences and the support they’ve relied on, from various optometry groups, to grow their businesses. Together they have painted an appealing picture of working and practising in regional and remote areas of Australia.

TONY IRELAND

Franchise Partner, Tony Ireland EyeQ Ulladulla and Batemans Bay, NSW 

Aside from the years of my undergraduate training, I have always lived in country towns. I guess this background led me to return to the country with my first job in Nowra, where I worked with Peter Rose having seen how passionate he is about the industry. Peter proved a wonderful mentor, and we started a practice together five years later in the coastal town of Ulladulla.

Ulladulla, together with adjoining Milton and Mollymook, has a population of about 20,000. The people are remarkably friendly and egalitarian, which provides a great environment in which to raise my family. Another big reason I enjoy living in a coastal country town is my love of the water. I can be in the water at least once a day, surfing, training for fitness and surf lifesaving competitions, or coaching. With traffic and more people around, it would be difficult to replicate my lifestyle in a city.

Apart from one half day a fortnight, our nearest ophthalmologist is about an hour away and very busy. As a result, we see and manage patients that would otherwise be referred on. Initially this was daunting, but after some post graduate training through UNSW, I now find the mix of cases we manage to be exciting and challenging.

Tony Ireland and his family at his practice opening

Support for Professional and Personal Development 

I joined EyeQ Optometrists as a founding member in the mid-2000s. It wasn’t a difficult decision because I knew and respected all of the other optometrists in the group. EyeQ’s mission is Experts in Eyecare, and this is what I aim to be to best serve my community. Ours is an optometry led company, and patient care will always be foremost.

Along with the practice in Ulladulla, EyeQ has helped me open a partnership practice in Merimbula, and another practice in Batemans Bay. The franchise model EyeQ uses is very fair, and provides great support. Additionally, I find its business model excellent and predictable. National office support is great – they do all the things I don’t like doing so I can see more patients.

In recent times, EyeQ has helped me find ways to serve our community by providing free glasses for bushfire affected people, and essential eye care during COVID-19. They were also very supportive seven years ago when my wife suddenly became seriously ill and I had to leave the practice to help her.

I am proud to be a part of EyeQ, I have learnt a lot from my colleagues… and our conference dinners are awesome!

Mark De Paola with patient. Photo by: Rodney Braithwaite, Shepparton News

MARK DE PAOLA

Director/owner, Graham Hill Eyecare, Shepparton, Victoria 

I moved to Shepparton as an employee optometrist at Graham Hill Eyecare in 1997; I became a part owner in 2005, and then a full owner in January 2018.

One of the greatest advantages that comes with working in or owning a country practice is the really strong community network. As a newcomer to Shepparton, I found it easy to break into this network and develop a profile, by getting heavily involved in community and local charitable organisations – which is something I enjoy doing anyway.

Specialists don’t often visit our region, and our nearest eye hospital is over 200km away. This has meant that we’ve developed strong relationships with specialists who rely on us to help when they’re not available and we’ve developed the skills to manage eye emergencies and severe eye conditions. It also means we work more closely with our local doctors, who rely on us for more specialist services than would be the case in the city.

As a country practice, we benefit from a team that is close and very supportive of each other – this really became evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was terrific. We also benefit from the support of the broader community – Australia’s ‘buy local and support local business’ mentality is particularly strong in regional communities and has become even stronger during this period. Our customers appreciate our relationship with the Australian manufacturing lens lab, CR Surfacing, it’s a relationship we are particularly proud of. This culture of local support helps everyone, both during the good and the tough economic times.

Support for Professional and Personal Development 

Our practice joined ProVision in 2002 and benefited hugely from their support in defining our partnership structure when I took part-ownership in 2005, then later when we decided to modernise our business structure and marketing services – Graham had run a very successful business for 40 years based on traditional values, but we could see there were opportunities for change.

As a sole owner, the day-to-day independent counsel and industry knowledge of my ProVision business coach, Julie Hocking, provides an unmatched advantage in independent optometry.

From a logistical and financial perspective, ProVision ProSupply has made an enormous difference to our business model, enabling us to maintain good stock levels without having to hold an extra 20% of frames in the drawer to assure supply.

The biggest disadvantage to being in a country area is that we have less access to continuing education – it’s harder to go to the launch of a new contact lens or even attend all of the ProVision meetings. However when we do get along to ProVision meetings, the ability to share information with like-minded professionals in a noncompetitive manner is really beneficial.

Importantly, I feel as if I am part of a family rather than being on my own. Most recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was terrific to receive regular updates from CEO Steven Johnston and HR advice from our ProVision partners. Being part of the ProVision community has also been great for my team as they haven’t felt alone in their decision making.

Mark Prince

MARK PRINCE

Practice Owner, Eyecare Plus Bendigo, Victoria 

I purchased my practice in Bendigo in July 2011 and with that, became a member of Eyecare Plus. At that time, it was an Eyecare Plus practice owned by Eyecare Partners (now EyeQ) and I was working for them as a locum optometrist.

From day one, I loved the friendly, professional feel of the Hargreaves St practice and surrounding area. I particularly loved the spacious practice which is a stand-alone house alongside a range of professional businesses and historic homes. And I enjoyed the fact that it didn’t have the retail feel of a shopping centre.

Additionally, I appreciated the patient base, which was primarily extended families who had attended over many years, since the original optometrist, Brian Carney, had established the practice in the same location more than 30 years before.

Something else I liked was the fact that a significant percentage of the practice’s business was focussed on providing eye care and government subsidised glasses to people with pension and health care cards through the Victorian Eyecare Service and Victorian Aboriginal Spectacle Scheme. This allowed, and continues to allow, me to assist members of the community who need help the most.

To be honest, buying a business in an established community that I had not grown up in was the biggest challenge. However, through the existing loyal patient group, I have been able to build relationships with my patients over time, by getting to know them as people not just patients/customers.

I get involved in the community wherever I can – for example, I became the comajor sponsor of the Bendigo Umpires, a natural connection for me as I had been a football umpire in the past. I also became involved in the local agricultural show, sponsored a bowls club, produced and distributed high quality tri-fold practice brochures to GP clinics and I have always provided reports to GPs. Doing all of this has helped build and strengthen my connection to the local community.

Support for Professional and Personal Development 

Being part of the Eyecare Plus group of optometrist business owners has been very enjoyable.

As independent optometry practices with our own exclusive locations, we have created an environment that offers genuine support. Whenever we get together, which is pretty often with bi-annual conferences, regular ‘boot camps’ and overseas educational meetings, we benefit enormously by sharing information, experiences and insights.

I also enjoy the fact that our group provides a huge range of resources, programs and promotions. We have the freedom to choose whether or not to participate and if we decide to do so, we also get to decide on our level of participation.

Hannah Koch

HANNAH KOCH

Specsavers Franchise Partner, Glenorchy, Tasmania

In 2015, as part of my optometry degree at Deakin University, I took part in a sixmonth rural placement at Specsavers Clare in South Australia. I was amazed by the company’s investment in new graduates and its support network, even in a rural location. That experience influenced me to sign up with the Specsavers graduate optometry program, and I was offered a position in Geelong, Victoria.

After two years in the graduate program, I knew I wanted to work towards a partnership. After collaboration with the Specsavers support office team, an opportunity arose in Tasmania, and while I had never even travelled there for leisure, I met the team at Specsavers Glenorchy and instantly felt at home. I was keen to take on a regional practice as, having had the opportunity to work in both metro and rural areas, I found myself drawn to the close knit feel of a community and the opportunity to really make an impact on the overall health of the locals.

Support for Professional and Personal Development 

It was certainly challenging moving to an unknown environment, both from a business and personal perspective. Some of the initial challenges I faced were settling in to leading a new team, building relationships with local GPs and ophthalmologists in order to provide collaborative care, and learning new processes that come with being in a regional area.

I owe a lot of my success to Specsavers’ great support network. Being part of an organisation with strong core company values meant that moving between stores was made easier due to a common culture and the transferable skills I gained along the way. With access to the latest eye care technology I am able to provide a high standard of care in a patient focused environment within a regional town – I find that incredibly professionally satisfying.

Aaron Kangisser

AARON KANGISSER

Head of Retail, The Optical Company 

There are a number of major benefits for a city optometrist to move to the country. Professionally, country practices benefit from a customer-base that appreciates personal and high levels of care. A visit to the optometrist is more than a simple eye check and new pair of glasses – it’s an opportunity to connect with valued eye care providers and create a strong and personal relationship. Furthermore, country practices can have a more mature aged clientele, which often makes for a more interesting and enriching optometry practice.

On a personal level, country life can be rewarding – offering fresh air, less traffic, a slower pace, affordable property, friendly communities and an active, outdoor lifestyle. All of our country locations boast a unique Australian charm that our local teams are incredibly proud of, which makes for a great place live.

There are, of course some challenges that come with moving to a new country town – it can take some time to settle into a new community and lifestyle – but that said, establishing yourself in a new environment, far from family and friends, also brings great rewards.

Optometrists who settle quickly are typically those who make the effort to connect with the local community, establish relationships and participate in the activities on offer. A great example of this is one of our optometrists, a keen scuba diver who, following relocation to one of our country practices, quickly joined the local scuba diving group which allowed him to make new friends and enjoy his hobby.

Support for Professional and Personal Development 

Graduates who move into The Optical Company country practices are overseen by our Group Head of Optometry, Robyn Weinberg. They receive local mentoring and, more than anything, benefit from learning in an independent optometry environment with the support and structure of a corporate. To help with the challenges that come with moving away from family and friends for an extended period of time, we assist with settling in and make appropriate allowances for important return visits.

Optometrists who move to the country to manage a practice with The Optical Company really get to experience our core values, one of which is Treat it like your own. They have the independence to build the store, take an active role in decision making across areas such as product ranging, merchandising and local area marketing. And yet they also have the valuable support and structure of a corporate.

References 

  1. www.regional.gov.au/regional
  2. www.infrastructure.gov.au/cities/smart-cities/plan/ index.aspx

DECLARATION

DISCLAIMER : THIS WEBSITE IS INTENDED FOR USE BY HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS ONLY.
By agreeing & continuing, you are declaring that you are a registered Healthcare professional with an appropriate registration. In order to view some areas of this website you will need to register and login.
If you are not a Healthcare professional do not continue.