After Tessa Sokol, OD, graduated from Illinois College of Optometry, she joined a private practice in Georgia. “I obtained a lot of business and clinical experience” in that setting, she says. But several years later, she returned to her native state, Wisconsin, where she was approached to take on a LensCrafters lease in Madison. That was eight years ago.
The switch from a private practice to a corporate-affiliated one made sense to her. “It’s a sublease model, the company’s values
aligned with mine in terms of patient care, and I knew that I could manage it as my own location,” she says. A previous doctor had
been there for 20 years, although it was not his primary location. So she was taking on an established location, but she had the opportunity to put her own touches on Sokol Advanced EyeCare.
For example, she saw the demand to bring more medical eye care services in. “I have an Optos Daytona, and that has a huge wow factor with patients. That was my first acquisition,” she says. She soon added a Cirrus OCT unit so that she is able to make medical decisions about retinal lesions, macular degeneration, glaucoma and optic nerve assessments more confidently.
She has the patient base to support these investments. While there’s a large healthy population that keeps the refractive business
humming, she’s also seeing a lot of patients who are coming to her outside of their HMO network. “Even though the HMO has medical and ophthalmology clinics, because I have the OCT and Optos, I can care for these patients at the same level—without the wait time.”
Seeing that patients will go where it’s convenient reinforces her decisions to invest in the practice. She’s now planning on adding an
anterior segment camera and will be offering amniotic membrane tissue transplants and scleral lenses for an even wider range of services.
It’s important to keep things fresh and new, she says. So two-and-a-half years ago, when a restaurant in the mall absorbed her space, the practice and store moved. While the new layout mirrored the old—with two exam lanes, two pretesting rooms and a special advanced testing room—“the look is very modern. The LensCrafters store has a modern, open look with an outdoor entrance, welcoming windows and bright colors.”
Master OD program
Dr. Sokol’s success is replicable, she says. In fact, she’s part of the Master OD program, called Connect to Grow, where ODs who
have had proven success in some area of practice now collaborate and share their information and strategies to help others grow their
businesses, as well. “The areas I’m presenting are on patient acquisition, advertising and community outreach,” she says. The group has
presented its first teleconferences to pilot audiences, and Dr. Sokol is excited to not only speak at some of these but also learn from others who are successful in areas where she is trying to grow.
“I’m not passive about growth. I’m keenly aware of the fact that I’m piggybacking off of the multi-million dollar advertising
budget that LensCrafters has. It’s not enough to wait passively for those patients to walk in here. I know the opportunity is there,
so I’m going to figure out how to attract them and do it right.”
That means educating patients—something she’s been doing all her years in practice. As chair of the communications committee
for the Wisconsin Optometric Association—and the association’s treasurer this year—she has been interviewed for several news
segments. The topics range from toy safety, children’s vision, the solar eclipse and more.
Being involved in the state organization was ingrained already as a student in optometry school. “There’s a lot of work that goes into advocacy for the profession. Optometrists need to do it,” she says.
So she was eager to jump in. If the traditional executive committee cycles go as planned, Dr. Sokol will be the association’s president in three years. “Association presidents do not have to be in the traditional private practice model. The fact that I have a corporate affiliation isn’t a factor at all.” It simply enriches her perspective.