Like the proverbial candle burning at both ends, Ada Noh, OD, felt burnout with her optometric career not even seven years after her 2015 graduation from Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University. “I had secretly been hating many aspects of optometry for many years, but I had this debt, and I didn’t know what else to do,” she says.
So she made some major pivots in her life and her career. She left the practice where she was in the Philadelphia area and relocated to Little Rock, Arkansas. “I wanted to be closer to my sister, and now we live one mile apart. It’s the best thing ever.”
Once she arrived in Arkansas, she made herself a short checklist of what she wanted in a practice location. She found a former OB/GYN office, about 1,000 square feet, with three exam lanes and a reception area. “I took it as it was. Having to do only cosmetic improvements saved me a ton of money, and I was able to open without taking on a business loan,” she says.
She has no optical and no phoropter. Her dry eye patients ask if she can be their “regular” eye doctor, and she tells them no. “Find someone who loves doing that. They’ll do it better than I can,” she says.
Most importantly, she and her patients are thrilled with the setup. “I set boundaries for myself so that I don’t reach burnout,” she says. One of those is that she will not see more than five patients per day. Each slot is about 90 minutes, and she spends at least an hour with each patient.
She’s also the only person working there for the three days a week the office is open. Patients walk into a reception area that looks more like a living room. There’s no desk or check in. “I know who they are. I’m the one who greets them, and there’s no waiting,” she says. One of her three room is a workup room for meibography. Another is a treatment room where she has her Lumenis OptiLight intense pulse light and radio frequency technology. And the third is a room where she offers autologous serum treatment, topical therapy, amniotic membrane lenses and more.
As the only provider in the region offering these services, some patients are traveling two hours each way just to see her. “That’s humbling, but it reinforces why I love what I’m doing. I no longer feel bogged down or resentful. Instead, the work is gratifying.”
And she is hopeful that it will become increasingly profitable. She’s been open fewer than six months, but she’s covering expenses and generating a little bit of income each month. “I take zero vision plans, but I am on some medical plans. Most dry eye services are private pay,” she says. Her practice Facebook and Instagram pages are filled with fun and educational reels about dry eye, as well as a growing number of patient testimonials.
Taking on fill-in work helps pay her other expenses. She’s confident that there’s a market for a dry eye only practice – but if she needs to or wants to add other services in the future, at least she’ll know she gave her best shot to this dream practice.
She tells her story because she wants other ODs who are feeling stressed and unhappy to know that pivots are possible. “Optometry is expanding to the point where we can follow nontraditional models. That’s good,” she says. While moving 1,200 miles away and starting over worked for Dr. Noh, she does say that setting strict boundaries for yourself can help. “I burned out fast, but I did it to myself. I was working six days a week for three solid years.”
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