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    Q&A: Craig Thomas, OD: Optometrist Dallas, TX

    Private practice, diabetic retinopathy, and changing optometric education

    Where did you grow up?

    I was born in Houston, moved to Dallas for two years at age 8, moved to Los Angeles for five years, then came back to Dallas. I went to Houston for college and moved back to Dallas 33 years ago when I graduated.

    How did you get into optometry school after you were rejected?

    I became aware of optometry as a profession while an undergrad at the University of Houston. I wanted to be some kind of doctor, so I applied and did not get in. Three days before the semester started, I get a phone call asking if I still wanted to go to optometry school. I showed up and after a few days, I got a meeting with the associate dean of admissions. I said, “I got this fancy rejection letter from you in the middle of summer, then I get a phone call three days before school starts saying do you still want to come. What’s going on?” He told me. Apparently the school went through compliance with the government. They submitted their first-year class of entering students and out of 104 people, they didn’t have any black students. The federal government doesn’t like that for a good reason. So they thought, we got one or two guys that applied, we got to get them in no matter what. I don’t look negatively on it.

    Why did you open a practice right out of school?

    Actually, I bought a practice. I knew I wanted to be a doctor when I was 11 or 12 years old. Honestly, I did it because I wanted to make a lot of money. As I grew older, I realized I liked being a boss, too. So, that guided me from the beginning. The profession is built on guys like me, private practice regular guys.

    Related: Q&A: Darryl Glover, OD: Cofounder of Defocus Media

    What is the biggest obstacle to growing a practice?

    Lack of access to medical panels. Let’s say you’re an OD in a town where 70 percent of the people are on Blue Cross, but when you apply to the Blue Cross plan, they say the panel’s full; you can’t get on. Or, like what happened to me last year where I hired a new associate. The demographic around me is changing significantly to where 30 to 40 percent of my practice is now Medicaid. In Texas, HMOs and managed care plans closed the panels in a misguided attempt to save money. Their position is the less providers they have, the less money they’re going to spend. So, I hire a new associate to see all the Medicaid patients where I’m not really making that much money and keeps me free to see patients with higher revenue. They won’t let my new associate on the plan. It absolutely destroys my ability to stay competitive and to do what I want to do for my business.

    Does your direct, no-nonsense style help or hurt your practice?

    It’s a positive thing for my practice. I have a cult practice. My patients love me. You’ll find that a common thread to many private practices that are extremely successful. I know guys making $5 million a year being optometrists. They’re good at it, but the first part about being good at it is you have to be friendly. That makes a big difference in this business because it’s so service oriented. About 80 percent of my patients are black. They talk to me almost like I’m their preacher. They want their preacher in a fancy car. They want their preacher to be wearing diamond cufflinks. They don’t look at it like I’m making money off them and wasting it. They look at me like, “I’m going to a successful doctor, so that means I’m making good decisions.” That makes them feel better..

    Why aren’t there more black optometrists?

    Lack of awareness is the biggest thing. I was totally unaware until I went to the University of Houston.

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