You Are the Catalyst of Your Practice

Need to run a great practice? Harken back to your chemistry training for inspiration.

By Will Tantum, OD

Optometry school taught me a lot. In fact, years later, my brain still kind of hurts from it all: 4 years of nonstop learning, training, testing, and preparing. Somewhere along the way, I sat through practice management courses, seminars, and guest speakers. I even externed at practices that were well known for their business success.


Optometrists who act as agents of change can convert average practices into extraordinary ones.

Come graduation day, I thought I was ready to take over a practice and transform it into the optometric equivalent of a Fortune 500 company. If only. Unfortunately, optometry school did not teach me passion for running a business. It didn’t teach me how to engage and inspire a staff. It didn’t teach me how to be a catalyst, or the incredibly vital role a catalyst can play in developing an outstanding practice. (Need a crash course in catalysts? See the sidebar on the next page.)

If the successful completion of optometry school, passing boards, and providing great clinical patient care were the only criteria for practice success, there would be a much different landscape across our profession. Optometry school trains us to be outstanding clinicians, critical thinkers, and integrated health care professionals. That skill set definitely prepares us all for eye care success. It is not necessarily, however, the skill set needed to propel a practice from being just a great eye care practice to becoming an outstanding business that provides great eye care. In the life of an optometric practice, the owner-optometrist is the catalyst who determines whether the practice is thriving or simply existing.


We may think of ourselves as doctors and business owners, but do we view ourselves as catalysts? Do you realize how every function of your practice is a reflection of yourself?

Walk into any optometric practice across the country, and you can quickly pinpoint the things for which the owner-optometrist does and does not have a passion. If you enter into an outdated waiting area with no television and with stale magazines scattered about, you are in a practice where the owner does not participate in the total patient experience. If you interact with staff members who are lifeless or apathetic to the world around them, then you are in a practice where the owner does not engage in the cultivation of passion and culture in his or her team. If you browse the optical shop and find disorganization and bad product presentation, then you are in a practice where the owner is not concerned with filling one of the most common patient drivers to the practice itself.


In chemistry, a catalyst is a substance that induces a chemical reaction. Importantly, the catalyst does not undergo any significant change, and it does not become part of the reaction’s final product.

Think back to chemistry class. There is no chemical reaction that occurs in a cup of copper II sulfate solution and aluminum foil. Add salt (which destabilizes the aluminum), and solid copper is formed on the surface of the foil. That’s because the salt acts as a catalyst that creates the proper conditions for a chemical reaction.

Similarly, optometrists can act as a catalyst for their offices. The talent likely already exists—now it’s time for the optometrist to turn that talent into success.

When it comes to owning an optometric practice, you simply cannot outsource success. Even the best managers and consultants cannot take your practice to its peak. The well-known quote from the movie Field of Dreams is true: “If you build it, they will come.” If you own a practice, chances are that patients will come, staff will work there, and you can find a way to survive. But there is a difference between surviving and thriving, and that difference is the presence of a catalyst.

Being the catalyst of your practice is a huge responsibility, and it is never-ending. If the catalyst has an off day, the practice has an off day. An off month for the catalyst turns into an off month for the practice. Being perpetually off or uninvolved is the path to mediocrity.

In some ways, being a catalyst can be more difficult even than being an eye doctor. It requires you to evaluate your practice constantly and define what you want it to be clearly. It requires an understanding that a catalyst can be the spark that leads to either positive or negative results.

Create an office environment with passion, and patients will feel it. Hire a staff with passion, and they will give you the same in return. Market with passion, recall patients with passion, fix messed up optical orders with passion, and clean up your workspace each day with passion. This way of acting is bold, but it is also extremely contagious. Choose not to be just an owner whose name is registered with the state. Don’t just own the building, equipment, and assets. Instead, take ownership of your practice.


There are a few ways to start getting involved in your practice as a catalyst. Consider these three easy interventions that can reorient your practice:

1. Engage in your staff recruitment and hiring process. Be patient and wait for people who have both the skills and personality to help you achieve your practice culture goals.

2. Get involved in your local community as the face of your practice. Shake hands, talk to people, and recruit
potential patients by getting to know them first outside your practice walls.

3. Take a long, honest look in the mirror at where your passions do and do not lie. Find people that complement your strengths and supplement your weaknesses.


As an eye care physician, the owner of a practice, and someone who has a life outside of work, you cannot be everything to everyone. It is extremely rare to find an optometrist with the ability to oversee every aspect of a thriving practice. It would probably be even rarer to find an optometrist with an honest passion for every aspect of that thriving practice. The beautiful part is that you do not have to be that rare individual to be the owner of an incredible practice. Start your journey to practice greatness simply by accepting your role each day: You are the catalyst that will help your practice reach that lofty goal. n

Will Tantum, OD
• optometric physician, practice director, and CEO, Blount County Eye Center, Maryville, Tenn.