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Doctor Spotlight: Dr. Rebecca DeRuyter

Dr. Rebecca DeRuyter

Sometimes you need to look beyond the expected~

I was finishing my final internship in the beginning of 2003, and was eagerly searching for a position in a private practice.  My husband and I are from the same small town in Iowa and we were unsure whether or not we wanted to go back to Iowa after graduation.  Several opportunities had presented in various parts of the country, but we were so torn about where to go that we struggled to make a decision.  Graduation kept creeping ever closer, and still no decision – no job.  In April, my mom, who was not shy about the fact that she wanted us back in Iowa, called and told me there was a brand new Wal-Mart Supercenter open in Le Mars, a short 40 miles from our hometown.  “Mom, I’m a doctor now – do you really think I want to work at Wal-Mart?” I laughed.  “I don’t want to be one of THOSE doctors.”  I dismissed the idea quickly, but she kept at it.  Her tactics eventually broke me down and promised at would at least look into it.  I do feel I’m pretty open-minded, and I have to admit that my bias against “corporate” optometry was based on very little actual knowledge of how any of these practices operated, including Wal-Mart.  Somewhere along the line, I had formed the impression that I would be forced to compromise my professional standards by practicing in such a place.  I don’t think I’m the only doc who has felt this way. 

I contacted the district manager, who gave me a lot of information that surprised me.  If I decided to contract with Wal-Mart, this would be MY practice.  I would be in control of how patients were seen and how I charged patients.  No one would be telling me that I needed to push contact lens A or frame brand B.  I could essentially run my own “private practice” within the vision center environment.  After much thought and discussion, we decided to move back to Iowa and give this a shot.  Even with all my newfound knowledge about the Wal-Mart contracting arrangement, I was still a bit skeptical about how this would really work out.  But it wouldn’t hurt to try it for awhile, right?

I started seeing patients in July of 2003 in a new Supercenter that had opened in March of 2003 and had only one day of OD coverage prior to me being there.  So basically starting cold – next to zero established patients.  Le Mars is a city of about 9,000 with three private offices in town – 4 other OD’s total.   We serve several other smaller surrounding cities that have no ODs of their own.  The next closest Wal-Mart Vision Center is 25 miles away.  We have a fair amount of competition in Le Mars, but it all comes from private practices. 

Dr. Rebecca DeRuyter

 It’s all about attitude.  I find, in talking to many other Wal-Mart OD’s, that your attitude about your practice in a Wal-Mart vision center has more than anything to do with your success and professional fulfillment.  If you truly want to have a great and successful practice in a Wal-Mart or Sam’s, you absolutely can.  You do, however, have to be willing to invest in your practice in several ways.  First, investing in instruments and technology will help you deliver the best care for your patients, will allow you to practice full scope, and will also provide an extra ‘wow’ factor for the patients.  Second, you have to work diligently to market your practice.  We have the benefit of having thousands of patients walking past our offices, but you can’t expect that to be enough to get them in the door for an eye exam.  If they are educated, both in the store, in the vision center, on the web, in the local media, and by current patients, they will start to get the message that you are able to serve all their eyecare needs, and often can provide them with services they may not be able to get in other practices.  Third, and probably most important, is that you need to do everything in your power to take care of your patients – go the extra step to show that you care and want them to have great vision and maintain healthy eyes.  I will be the first to admit that many patients are skeptical about receiving an eye exam in a “corporate” setting.    I find that many patients that come to see me for the first time will comment at the end of the exam that this was the most thorough exam they have ever had and that their eye conditions were never explained to them before.  These enthusiastic patients often refer their friends and family to you and this is what grows your practice more than anything else, while also growing your professional fulfillment.

These three “investments” are obviously important in any practice, regardless of location or setting.  I’m trying to invest (not just money, but time and thought) in my practice all the time, and am enjoying the returns on my investment in many ways.  I love what I do and wouldn’t trade it for any other setting.  I get to spend my time focusing on patient care, and not worrying about retail.  To be honest, I really dislike handling retail and prefer to see optical sales separated from the doctor so that there is no question of the financial motivation of the doctor’s recommendations.  It allows us to be doctors and not salesmen.

One final comment ~ whether you are new to Wal-Mart or Sam’s or you’ve been with them for years, don’t forget that we all have a tremendous support system at the home office.  This is a great group of individuals who want to do everything they can to make sure our practices are successful and that we are happy.  They’ve worked very hard to provide resources for us to help build incredible practices.  Not only do we have these folks at the home office, but we have somewhere around 3000 Wal-Mart and Sam’s doctors with lots of knowledge, advice, and ideas to share.  My head is always spinning with new, exciting things to add or change each time I interact with a group of Wal-Mart and Sam’s docs.  If anyone hasn’t yet attended one of the doctor meeting, PLEASE make sure you attend the Nashville meeting in April – you won’t be disappointed.