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This information is provided for informational purposes only and does not represent a product or service endorsement or recommendation by the American Optometric Association

Doctor Spotlight: Naheed Ahmad, O.D.

Naheed Ahmad, O.D. The Unexpected Turns into the Right Mode of Practice

The funny thing I have learned about life is that it can have surprising twists and turns. The surprises in my life have led me to places and results that proved to be fantastic.

I grew up in Montreal, Canada and after finishing high school, I knew (or thought I knew) where I was going with my career goals. I was accepted to McGill University to major in Microbiology and Immunology with a minor in Molecular Genetics. In my mind I was going to go into research and discover a new vaccine, or a cure for cancer or for diseases with recombinant DNA. With this plan carefully laid out, I was a little disconcerted when a Microbiology professor asked to have a serious talk with me. I was further distressed when he told me that I should think about going into another field. “But I’m getting good grades,” I protested, and this was certainly true.

His response was, “you don’t enjoy what you’re doing. I know you like science, so find a career that keeps you not only in science but also with interactions with people.” He had noticed my tendency to start an experiment and then find someone to talk to. He informed me that a truly dedicated researcher would be planning his or her next experiment, interpreting results, altering variables in their experiments, and such. My mind was reeling; I had some hard thinking to do. The professor in question was a world renowned researcher, had lectured all over the globe, and had been published so many times that everyone had lost count. I had to take him seriously. After all, he was my father.

After doing some investigation into different career paths, I settled on Optometry and then abruptly realized two things. One, there is only one Optometry school which is taught in English in Canada; two, I was days away from the application deadline. I feverishly completed the application, couriered the finished product in, held my breath, and waited. As most of you can (hopefully) guess by now, I got in!
So I started Optometry school and over time realized that my father (don’t you hate it when this happens?) was right. I really enjoyed working with people and knew that I had made the correct choice, with some help and prodding. I was married at the time and encountered another twist at the end of my sophomore year in Optometry school: I was expecting a baby! This baby was definitely not planned but it’s amazing what antibiotics can do to mess up your protection; at least, that’s what my OB told me. I decided to continue with school and with a lot of help from my fellow students I made it through the next semester. My baby was born in the middle of the winter break. Thankfully, my parents helped me raise her until I finished school.

After my husband got a residency in Kansas City, we moved. Since I had not been able to spend a lot of time with my baby during the previous two years, I decided to only work part-time instead of going into “private practice”. I had been conditioned to believe that practicing optometry in a private office was the best, however, a lot of the work I did was in “commercial practice.” Despite this, school lectures about the best way to practice stayed in the back of my mind.

Two moves and one more baby later we ended up in Atlanta, Georgia. With both kids in school, I finally lived the dream I had been brainwashed to want: I joined a “private practice”. It was a large multi-location and multi-doc affair. I was happy to be doing what I thought I was supposed to be doing. But I disliked the way the practice was run, and after three years I knew this was not for me. Going through the thought process of what is best for the patient versus what is best for my checkbook bothered me daily. In my mind I started doubting the ethical and professional nature of doing business this way.

At the same time, my personal life was falling apart and I knew I needed something completely different. One day, I saw a sign about two miles from my house announcing “Wal-Mart coming soon.” The next day, I contacted the DM and arranged for a one year lease. My plan was to use this year to figure out my life and the direction my career should go. I really wasn’t planning on staying more than one year because I still heard my professor’s voices telling me that working in this environment was “selling out our profession.”

So in September of 2000, I had my grand opening in Roswell, Georgia. I quickly discovered that there was a steep learning curve to practicing in a Wal-Mart. But most amazingly, I felt better about the way I practiced. I never needed to consider the bottom line and I could concentrate on my patient care. In other words I was finally practicing pure optometry. I could now recommend the best product and care for my patients without thought for how it affected my pocket book. I didn’t have to worry about the optical which, frankly, was something I never really wanted to be responsible for. Most importantly, I could come home and not be stressed out with an arm full of paperwork.

My daughters like me better now since I have more time for them. I regained love for what I do. Oh and I divorced my husband, also a good decision.

How happy am I being in private practice in a Wal-Mart setting? To answer, I have been here for seven years and fully intend to be here for a whole lot longer.

My advice to doctors thinking about taking a lease with a corporate affiliated practice: keep an open mind, forget what we were told at school (only the practice stuff, not the clinical stuff) and figure out what is right for you.