Dr. Casey Bartz, O.D., is owner of Moorhead Vision Associates in Moorhead, Minn. He received his bachelor’s degree in biology with minors in both psychology and chemistry from Concordia College in Moorhead. He went on to earn his doctor of optometry (O.D.) from Illinois College of Optometry, where he received clinical honors in primary care, contact lens and cornea, and advanced care/ocular disease. He served externships in pediatrics and binocular vision, as well as low vision rehabilitation services. Dr. Bartz performed his ocular disease residency at Bennett & Bloom Eye Centers in Louisville, KY, where he worked directly with and independently of seven eye physicians in a private tertiary referral center.
Dr. Bartz is involved in numerous professional associations, including American Optometric Assoc., American Academy of Optometry, Kentucky Optometric Assoc., and Beta Sigma Kappa International Optometric Honor Society. His awards and honors include Gold Key International Optometric Honor Society member (2009), Hoya Vision Care Case Report Scholarship recipient (2008, 2009), Varilux Student Case Report Award Recipient (2008, 2009), Dr. Stanley Pearle Foundation Scholarship recipient (2008) and Cribb Leadership and Service Award recipient (2007).
When did you first decide to become an optometrist? Why?
I wanted to be an eye doctor ever since elementary school. My grandmother had significant vision problems due to diabetes, glaucoma, and retinal detachments. I was her “eyes to the world” from a low vision standpoint since she was legally blind. The optometrists and ophthalmologists she regularly visited always listened to her problems and were helpful, kind, and understanding. As a youth, I thought the instruments they used were cool, and the drops and special lights and lenses they used to examine her were “magical” at that age.
How/why did you choose the optometry school you went to?
I chose Illinois College of Optometry because of the strength of its clinical training. It is an urban setting with a lot of ocular pathology. Also, since it’s the largest optometry school with the largest network of ODs in the US and Canada, I figured I’d be beneficial for job placement in the future. Also, the class size is large and students have diverse backgrounds. Living in Chicago was a fun adventure for four years.
What surprised you the most about optometry school?
The amount of debt associated after it! It really is expensive. When you’re a student, you don’t realize how much that yearly tuition and living expenses add up to with interest, and how significant the monthly loan repayment is…and how the final loan repayment will seemingly never get here!
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?)
Yes, I love my career and I love interacting with the patients. I also love the technology for imaging and diagnosing the patients with ocular disease. We use an HD OCT for imaging the retinal changes with macular degeneration and diabetes, or optic nerve changes associated with optic neuropathies such as glaucoma. We also regularly take digital photographs of the retina. Our clinic is also the only one in the area to offer iZon lenses, which use wavefront technology to correct higher order aberrations (microscopic imperfections of the visual system) and give the sharpest possible vision. We also have been utilizing EHR since 2004 (first eye clinic in the region).
What was it like finding a job in your chosen career field? What were your options and why did you decide what you did?
For me, it was an easy decision. I returned to the clinic in my college town where I used to be a technician. Their senior doctor was retiring, so it gave me an opportunity to buy out his half of the clinic. Otherwise, I considered working in a larger clinic setting with MDs.
I had comfort and peace of mind stepping right back into the clinic I started out here during college. It was a progressive clinic with a great established patient base, strong business background, and a competent staff. I always felt that I had significantly made strong connections with the patients back then, thus aiding in the transition from the retiring doctor to me. Also, it’s close enough to my hometown that some people from there travel to see me. Members of the church where I used to be an organist come and see me. Even college friends, professors and administrators have changed from other eye clinics to have me as their eye doctor.
I always like to have a position of control, wherever I work. For me, it’s a matter of the extra effort that I put into building the practice – I want to see it directly coming back to me as the clinic grows and financial reward increases too. You aren’t going to ever have a strong control in the business of a clinic until you are an owner.
Has being an optometrist met your expectations? Why?
Yes, I am able to care for the eyes medically as I have been trained; I can bill for the medical and vision services I provide. I like the hours I work, I like the clean work environment, I like the camaraderie with the staff, and I feel that I am fairly compensated for the services I deliver to my patients.
What do you like most about being an optometrist?
Although you can chose many different avenues to practice (private, academic, corporate, industry, etc). I most enjoy being in private practice. I view it as a “trifecta” profession: I like being my own boss (I decide when I work and how I work), I like being a healthcare provider (I enjoy pathology, I enjoy writing prescriptions, I enjoy the status and being respected in my community), I like delivering the best vision possible and knowing that people see the world through the vision-correction I provide.
What do you like least?
Dealing with staffing issues or difficult business decisions. Staffing can be difficult if someone resigns and you have to quickly interview to find the perfect, or trainable, person to fill that spot. Also difficult is correcting staff members who make errors or need improvement. Also, it’s a financial juggle if you think your clinic is busy and need to hire another person, yet you don’t know if you can afford to hire someone. Sometimes knowing whether to buy or lease equipment is a challenge, and to buy outright or finance a loan through the bank. Another challenge is knowing which insurances and billing, or even which benefits to offer your staff (medical, dental insurance, retirement savings, vacation, etc). Remember, I’m trained as an eye doctor. My training as a business owner is none. I am planning to audit some courses at my college to better my knowledge.
Describe a typical day at work.
My clinic hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. I often have Tuesdays as a non-clinical/administrative day. I do work one Saturday morning a month. I take about a 30-minute lunch break.
Do you work with mid-level providers (nurse practitioners, physician assistants, CRNAs), and if so, what kind(s)?
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 spend about 35 hours a week in clinic, and another eight on administrative issues. I sleep about seven hours a night, and I take up to four weeks of vacation a year.
Are you satisfied with your income?
Yes. But, being a business owner, I take the risks and can be as aggressive or relaxed in my work schedule. The large debt looming over my head keeps me motivated and wanting to better the business. I have excitement in what I do, I love what I do, and I guess that in itself is motivation enough. If I don’t like what I’m doing in the eye clinic, I’d try to change it or remedy what I don’t like about it to better fit my style.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
Yes, the debt is a long-term strain. You can adjust your monthly repayment amount to fit your budget, but just remember, if you make only the minimum payment, it’s going to take forever and you’ll end up paying more. I also have a home mortgage and clinic purchase loan to pay monthly…and I need a new car because right now I’m driving a ‘97 Olds.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?
You can do it—keep your eye on the prize.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning optometry school?
You are worth more than what you think. Demand respectable pay even in your first year of employment. You are the newest, most up-to-date optometrist to hit the clinics. I personally started for less pay than what I knew I was worth, especially after having completed a residency. But I knew that I’d eventually be making more once I had purchased the clinic. I knew that the two years of less pay would easily be off-set by the greater income I make today.
Also, if you have a dream of being in private practice, don’t get caught long-term working for corporate locations. Yes, they pay very well early on, but you may be tracking yourself into an employment course that may not meet your long-term financial and practice goals.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in healthcare today?
Constant threats of cut-backs on insurance reimbursements. Also, vision insurance plans pay very poorly for professional services.
Where do you see optometry in 10 years?
I see it as a stable profession that will continue expand its services in peri-operative settings, such as cataract and LASIK surgery, and also help care for patients receiving injections from age-related macular degeneration. I feel that as long as we continue to have strong local and national American Optometric Association and a strong Political Activism Committee, we will continue to lobby for our profession. We will make sure that we are able to practice our skills and prescribe our medicine to the fullest extent of our schooling and the law. Our lobbyists will also ensure that the governing bodies realize the importance of our profession, the health and vision impact we have as optometrists, and our ongoing need–especially as the population continues to age.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I am organist and pianist at my local church for worship and choir. I also volunteer with the Fargo Kiwanis and also the Moorhead Lions Club. They do different service projects and fundraising in the community, which I regularly try to help with.
Do you have family? If so, do you have enough time to spend with them?
I’m single and have no kids; my parents life two hours away. My social life is great and I have a great time with my friends and stay very involved with church and service groups within the community.
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing optometry?
Know the different between good and bad debt. Your educational debt is good, provided you aren’t using student loan money on luxurious vacations, new cars, or designer clothing.
Also, network early with optometry professionals and industry professionals (pharmaceutical reps, lab and equipment reps, contact lens reps, etc). Your classmates may be your best connection for future jobs or future business partners. With my class from ICO, we are always watching out for each other and giving tips on job opportunities, clinical pearls, or even business ventures.