by Juliet Farmer
Benjamin S. Chudner is an optometrist in New York state currently working as manager of learning and development for Bausch + Lomb in Rochester. Dr. Chudner earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of California, Irvine, and went on to earn both a bachelor’s degree in optometry and a doctor of optometry (O.D.) from University of California, Berkeley. He served a residency in ocular disease at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, and also worked at Optometry Clinic, University of California, Berkeley; Eastern Shawnee Vision Clinic II, Claremore, Oklahoma; Oakland Veterans Administration Hospital, Oakland; Lovelace Medical Center Montgomery Eye Clinic, Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Omega Eye Care Center, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Dr. Chudner has performed hundreds of lectures at regional and national optometric meetings, focusing efforts on contact lens education. Previously in private practice, Dr. Chudner was president of The Eye & Contact Lens Clinic in Bremerton, Washington, where he employed 10 staff, including an associate doctor, office manager, two opticians, two technicians, a billing specialist, and two support staff. There, he perform eye exams for 25+ patients daily and manage all operations, including hiring, training, financial leadership, and patient relations. Prior to that, he worked at Pacific Eyecare in Poulsbo, Washington. Dr. Chudner is a member of the American Optometric Association, American Academy of Optometry, and Optometric Physicians of Washington.
When did you first decide to become an optometrist? Why?
I decided to become an optometrist in the tenth grade. I had to research careers for a career placement class I was forced to take, and my parents made the suggestion to look into it. Since I had been wearing glasses from the age of five, I actually had some understanding of what an optometrist did and the more I learned, the more interested I became.
How/why did you choose the optometry school you went to?
I was born and raised in California and never wanted to leave, so I applied to UC Berkeley School of Optometry and Southern California College of Optometry (SCCO). I also applied to schools where I knew people, just in case I didn’t get in either one of those. When I got accepted to both, I chose Berkeley because it had a higher passing rate on the boards, plus, as a California resident, I would only have to pay in-state tuition, which was about a one-third of what SCCO’s tuition was at the time.
What surprised you the most about optometry school?
I was surprised at how little our practice management instructors actually knew about the real world of practicing optometry. They may have been successful private practice doctors, but I was amazed at how they didn’t realize that their situations were so unique that they almost couldn’t be duplicated.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still become an optometrist? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
That’s actually a difficult question to answer. If I had to do it all over again back in 1993 when I entered optometry school, I definitely would. I have been very fortunate in my career. If I was looking at optometry today, knowing what I know today, then I don’t think I would still become an optometrist. I say that because I’ve worked in just about every setting you can imagine, and I know that I would not be happy unless I could be in a private practice. That being said, if someone looking at the profession understands that most likely they will work in a corporate setting for at least the first several years, if not their entire career, and is fine with that, then I think this is still a good career choice. I didn’t become an optometrist I probably would have considered dentistry.
What was it like finding a job in your chosen career field? What were your options and why did you decide what you did?
I was able to find a job fairly easily in optometry. I think a lot had to do with the fact that I had completed a residency at a well known ophthalmology hospital and I was willing to work in an ophthalmology group. I had a couple of options at various co-management centers as well as a few private practices. Ultimately, I chose the job in a location where my wife had a great job opportunity.
Why did you decide to sell your practice and get into the manufacturing side of the business?
After working for the ophthalmology group for three years, I realized I would never have the opportunity to buy in to the practice, so I bought out a retiring optometrist in the area. The contacts I made through that decision opened up opportunities to lecture for a couple of contact lens companies and a pharmaceutical company. After about six years of owning the practice and dealing with all the headaches that come with that, I found myself enjoying being on the road talking to other doctors more than being at the office. In 2008, I was offered a job as the Director of Professional Relations for Bausch + Lomb, so I began the process of selling the practice while working part time at the office and commuting from Seattle to Rochester to work part time at B+L. After five weeks, there was a major restructuring at B+L and I was laid off, so I went back to practicing full time. Unfortunately, my heart was no longer in it and I had lost the desire to drive the business like I had before. In 2011, I decided I needed a change and sold the practice to look at other opportunities. When a position opened up at B+L again, I decided to give it another shot.
When you were in private practice, what did you like most about it?
I liked the autonomy of owning a practice.
What do you like least?
I did not like being the only one responsible for running the practice.
Describe a typical day at work in your current position.
The nice thing about my current position is there is no typical day. I am one of the training managers for North American Vision Care. We are responsible for training the entire U.S. and Canada contact lens and lens care field reps. My days consist mainly of either creating content for training, working with vendors to create content, or facilitating training. (Per Dr. Chudner’s resume, he designs and delivers educational training to the North American Vision Care field sales teams related to pharmaceutical and vision care products, as well as trains new hires on entire Bausch + Lomb portfolio of contact lens, lens care, vitamins, prescription and over the counter eye drop products.
What was a day like in private practice?
Most days were the same. I would basically see patients from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
I currently work about 45 to 50 hours per week. I get about seven hours of sleep per night. I can take three weeks of vacation a year.
Are you satisfied with your income now? Were you satisfied with your income in private practice?
I don’t know that anyone is ever satisfied with their income. I did take a small pay cut to take this job with the idea that there would be an opportunity to make more down the road. I would say that I made a very good living in private practice and I do well now.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
I did take out loans, but paying them back was never a financial strain. To be fair, my total loan amount was under $80,000 and that included undergraduate loans.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?
I think I would tell myself to remember that having an O.D. degree does not mean that I have to work in the traditional optometric office setting. There are lots of opportunities available for an O.D., and many of them to not involve seeing patients every day.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning optometry school?
I wish I would have known how time consuming it can be to run a private practice by yourself. Looking back, I think I would have enjoyed being in practice more had I been in a partnership or group practice.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in optometry today?
I think the biggest problem that optometry is facing is too many schools are opening up. No one in the trenches really believes we have a need for them, and the result will be too many new graduates each year.
Where do you see optometry in 10 years?
I think the smaller independent optometry practices are going to have a difficult time surviving and what will be left will be larger group practices and corporate locations. I think the days of the “mom and pop” optometric office are coming to an end.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I really haven’t had the time to volunteer since I took this position. I have contacted a local O.D. who staffs a volunteer clinic and will hopefully get involved with that once things settle down.
Do you have family? If so, do you have enough time to spend with them?
I am married with a nine-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son. During the week, it’s difficult to spend as much time with them as I would like. I do have boys’ night out with my son on Thursday night, and I bowl in a family league with my daughter on Sundays. I definitely wish I had more time to spend with them.
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing optometry?
It’s important to really understand the profession before deciding to pursue optometry. I think a lot of students have been going to their family private practice optometrist for years and think that’s what it will be like. Unfortunately, the reality is that the majority of graduates will end up working in LensCrafters, Wal-Mart, Target, etc. As long as they understand that and are comfortable with it, then I think optometry can be very rewarding. The optometrists that are unhappy seem to the ones that never wanted to work in a corporate location, but ended up there anyway and regret their career decision.