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20 Questions: Colin K. Chan, OD

Created October 28, 2012 by Juliet Farmer
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Colin K. Chan, OD, is a private practice optometrist and owner of Dr. Colin K. Chan & Associates (http://www.drckchan.com/) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, which he opened in May 2011. Chan attended The University of Waterloo for both his undergraduate and professional training, which included an ophthalmologic rotation in diseases and therapeutics in Newmarket with special interest in treatment and management of ocular pathologies. He earned his Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree in April 2007.

In addition to his private practice, currently Dr. Chan also runs The Ontario Optometrist
Network, which sends optometrists to different locations across Ontario to under-serviced
areas. Previously, he was at the Centre for Contact Lens Research (CCLR), where he
made research parameters, hypothesized, conducted tests on patients, and wrote and
published the results for the diurnal variations of tears meniscus height in preparation for
advancements of contact lens technology. He has also served as a clinical supervisor and
assessor at The University, as well as an examiner for the Canadian Standard Assessment in Optometry (CSAO) board exam.

When did you first decide to become an optometrist? Why?
I first decided in high school. I’ve always wanted to be in a clinical setting. That’s
where I see myself helping others and contributing to society the most. Of all the
health professions, optometry is the most suitable for me because I get to focus on the
medical side of the eyes (to care for patients’ long term health) as well as provide proper
prescriptions (giving short term satisfaction to patients). And I feel vision is one of the
most important senses we have.

How/why did you choose the optometry school you went to?
I chose the University of Waterloo because it is the only English speaking optometry
school in all of Canada and it’s known for producing great optometrists in practice.

What surprised you the most about optometry school?
I was surprised by the enormous amount of material we have to cover within the four
years that we had. The workload is a lot heavier than what we’re used to in undergrad.
What surprised me even more is the amount that we actually retained after we graduated.

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 would do it all over again. This is a great profession. You make a decent living and
you do so while making a difference in your community. Most of my colleagues go home
happy. They enjoy their work and still maintain a balance lifestyle.

What was it like finding a job in your chosen career field? What were your options and why did you decide what you did?
It wasn’t too hard at that time. Although they’ve increased the class size dramatically the
last few years, so I wonder what the market will be like in a few years. Most graduates
start off as associates. Some choose to buy in to or start a practice. Most are happy being associates because you still make a decent living without all the headaches. You go to work, and then you go home.

What do you like most about being an optometrist?
I like that you see so many different types of people every day. You converse with
different people and you appreciate the diversity, even within a small community. And
you’re responsibilities are very well rounded. You have to make sure you give the proper
spectacle prescriptions; you have to make sure your patients’ eyes are healthy, you have
to treat any pathology that arises, you do frame adjustments sometime. Pretty much you
have to problem solve, but you have to adapt in so many different areas.

What do you like least about being an optometrist?
The perspective from certain parts of the public. Some people still think optometrists
simply refract and give prescriptions. It’s getting better though. Most people are more
educated these days and realize what it means to be an optometric physician.

What are the challenges inherent in running a private practice?
Funds, exposures, time. When you own a practice, you pretty much care about it 24/7.
You have to advertise but manage it in a way that it’s affordable yet effective. You have
to always think of ways to improve even when you’re off. And there’s not much time to
begin with.

Describe a typical day at work.
My days are busy but rewarding. Some days, you simply do a bunch of refractions. Other
days, you see various pathologies and you treat and manage accordingly. But one thing
that’s constant is the great feeling you get when patients walk out your door happy.

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 work about 39 hours per week. I sleep about six hours per night. I take two weeks of
vacation a year.

Are you satisfied with your income?
Yes.

If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
Not for me personally, but it depends on the amount of loans and your income after
graduation as well. The income as new grads vary so much that the time it takes from one
new grad to pay back the loans compared to another new grad is very different.

In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?
I would say, “You’d better be satisfied with the sacrifices you’re making now because
owning your own practice takes a lot of time and effort. And your cash flow is bound to
be limited in the beginning as most of your money’s tied up into your practice. The
reason I’m doing it now is for the future me.”

What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning optometry school?
I think I was pretty well informed at that time. I don’t recall any surprises. The only
advice I’d give is to build more connections in school because you never know who you’ll
run into again and who you’ll need help from.

From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in optometry today?
The two biggest problems are: a) Some people still don’t realize the importance of a
comprehensive ocular assessment. They think that as long as they can see properly, then
everything is peachy. So they go to optical stores and buy glasses without getting their
eye exams consistently. Then as the years go by, they realize their vision is decreasing.
They come in, and even when we give them the best possible prescription, their sight is
not as good anymore because a lot of the problems are not fixable. They’re preventable if
caught early, but once they come on, they’re not fixable. b) Some family physicians,
especially the old school ones, still don’t understand the role of optometrists in the health
care system. So they refer every little eye problem to ophthalmologists. Unfortunately,
the system is so backed up already. People must understand that optometrists are the
primary care provider for the eyes. We are the first person that patients should see for any
and all eye related issues. After we look at a patient, then we decide if an
ophthalmological referral is necessary.

How does practicing optometry differ in Canada (as oppose to the U.S.)?
It’s hard to say. Even in the U.S., the standard of practice from state to state is different.
I’ve heard certain places in the states offer their associates salary, whereas here in
Ontario, most places offer percentages. But again, that’s different everywhere.

Where do you see optometry in 10 years?
I think it’s difficult to assess. In terms of public awareness, I think it’ll be better. Our
association is taking measures to make people understand the importance of optometry
and people’s eye care. But in terms of practicing, I believe it may not be as lucrative. I
already see signs of a plateau. With class size still increasing, I don’t see new grads, in
general anyway, being as happy as the last generation. But competition is a good thing. It
forces everyone to focus on patient care and letting that dictate our success.

What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I assess the Canadian board exams and supervised interns, preparing them for the future.

Do you have family? If so, do you have enough time to spend with them?
I’m married with a baby girl. Unfortunately in our profession, the busiest times are
evenings and weekends. Especially if you own your own practice, it can get hectic
because even at home, you’re doing work. But family is priority and I try my best to
spend as much time with them as possible. Luckily my wife is very supportive and she
understands the importance of my practice.

Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing optometry?
You have to be enthusiastic, whether you’re going to class everyday or going to work
everyday. Some days will be downers because it may seem like things are so repetitive.
But if you’re passionate about this field and helping people’s eyes, look at the big picture
and you’ll remember why you’re doing this.

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