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Doctor Spotlight: Melonie Clemmons, O.D.

Melonie Clemmons, O.D.

People often ask me, “Why do you work in a Wal-Mart?” The truth is I never planned to work in a Wal-Mart. When I graduated from Southern College in 1996, I began to look for a job in Atlanta, GA. I had worked in a small town, private practice before going to optometry school and that is the setting I had envisioned for myself. However, as I searched, I discovered the jobs available to me in the large city I wanted to live were much different—most of the positions were corporate-affiliated. After a few interviews, I decided to take a job at a Lenscrafters as an employed OD of a lease holder. It was a good experience; however, after 4 years, I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied working as an employee of another doctor. I wanted MY OWN practice.

I left my first job and started doing contract/fill-in work in all types of practice modalities to get a feel for what other career choices existed. I found that I really enjoyed my days in which I worked in the Wal-Mart Vision Centers. I realized that although the vision centers had some similarities, they were all uniquely different based on the direction given by the lease holding doctor. I realized having a Wal-Mart lease would be like having my own private practice, but with low start up costs!

I was offered a brand new Wal-Mart store in a part of town that I loved. I was so excited. I remember my DM telling me I would have to work hard to build the practice. I then became the “promotion queen!” However, despite my enthusiasm and hard work, the store didn’t take off financially like I had hoped and it seemed like there were endless staff and manager problems. That combined with my lack of business experience and long hours made for a challenging first couple of years. I was so frustrated that I was thinking about leaving Wal-Mart I felt torn—I really wanted my own practice, but I wasn’t happy and was struggling financially.

During this tough time it was hard to not become discouraged. While weighing all my options, a doctor I had never met called me and said, “I hear you’ve been having a hard time getting started at your store. I’ve been with Wal-Mart for a long time. Do you need some help?” His advice and timing was so helpful I could hear the angels singing a chorus in the background! I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the idea! This doctor is now one of my dear friends and many of you probably know him, Dr. Larry Brown. There was also another doctor in my area that had offered me help when I first started. She is now another good friend and someone you may know, Dr. Naheed Ahmad. I was amazed how much all three of us could learn from each other and how eager all of us were to help each other! I decided to “stick it out” and things started to slowly turn around.

Shortly after that experience, I was invited to attend the national Wal-Mart meeting in Kansas City. I met many doctors from other areas of the country along with the home office management team. Again, I learned so much and was encouraged. These series of events led to a small group of us starting a local doctor meeting in Atlanta! I am so glad we did! I can honestly say, I don’t know if I would be as successful or would have even stayed with Wal-Mart if it weren’t for my good friends and colleagues in the Atlanta Area. It has been very helpful having a support system and good relationships with the Wal-Mart management team which resulted from having the meetings. If you are reading this and don’t currently have a local doctor’s meeting, I encourage you to look into it!

I have now been with Wal-Mart for six years. I was at my first store for a little over two years until I was offered another brand new store in my home town, Ellijay, GA. I took it and it has been great! I didn’t realize how connected I was to this small town until I moved away and came back! I get to see my five nieces all the time (three of which are six year old triplets!) as well as the rest of my family. Ellijay is about 60 miles north of Atlanta so it’s still close to a big city that I love and I still get to enjoy events the city has to offer. For example, this summer I was able to participate in my first official 10K run, Atlanta’s Peachtree Road Race!

I’m thankful to God for the opportunities he has given me through Wal-Mart and that I am able to practice in my home town, close to my family. Wal-Mart has definitely been a good experience for me overall, not that it’s been a perfect picnic every step of the way. However, I’ve learned that most things in life worth having aren’t always easy! Any business owner is going to run into challenges with their business and I have never regretted taking that “jump” and going into business for myself!

I wish you the best with your practice and if you ever find yourself in north Georgia, come visit! Ellijay is known for their apple houses—don’t leave without sampling a fried apple pie!