We recently sat down with Dr. Chad Fleming, CEO of Wichita Optometry for a deep dive into the challenges and rewards of owning a healthcare practice. Dr. Fleming, who leads a nine-doctor, five-location practice in Wichita, Kansas, shared his journey from aspiring eye doctor to successful practice owner. This interview reveals valuable insights for both current and aspiring healthcare professionals.

Early Ambitions and Career Choices

Dr. Fleming’s journey into optometry began early. “I wanted to be an eye doctor when I was in sixth grade,” he reminisces. Despite his early interest in optometry, his path was not straightforward. “Academics was second place to athletics,” he admits, recalling his passion for sports. After considering a career in professional golf, Dr. Fleming chose to pursue optometry, valuing the stability it offered. He worked in optometry offices during high school and college, paving his way to a fulfilling career in healthcare.

The Decision to Practice Optometry

For Dr. Fleming, the decision to specialize in optometry over ophthalmology was driven by his desire for long-term patient relationships. “I wanted the interaction and patient relationships long term,” he explains. This patient-centered approach is a cornerstone of his practice philosophy and has been instrumental in his success.

Building a Practice: Challenges and Strategies

After graduating in 2002, Dr. Fleming faced a pivotal decision: join a commercial establishment or invest in a private practice. Opting for the latter, he embraced the long-term investment despite the initial financial challenges. “Most students are not going into private practice because the student loans are high,” he notes. However, he saw the potential for greater rewards down the line. “I call it the S-curve… If you stick with us, you will surpass what students are getting paid once they graduate.”

His business acumen was evident early on. “Had I not gone into optometry, I would probably be on Wall Street or running a company,” he says. This business-minded approach has been crucial in scaling Wichita Optometry from one location to five.

Leadership and Patience: Keys to Success

One of Dr. Fleming’s key messages is the importance of patience and strategic planning in practice ownership. Early in his career, he faced resistance from a senior partner who did not share his vision for expansion. Instead of leaving, Dr. Fleming chose to be patient and prepare for the future. “I will have a day that I will be the decision maker, I will be the leader, I will call the shots, and I want to prepare for that,” he reflects.

This strategic patience paid off in 2016 when he bought out the senior partner. “We started acquiring practices,” he recounts, noting that their careful preparation allowed for a smoother and more profitable expansion. His advice to aspiring practice owners is clear: “Be patient. To build something that has a strong foundation and that stands… doesn’t happen overnight.”

Culture and Patient Care

Beyond the business strategy, Dr. Fleming emphasizes the importance of culture in his practice. “Our competitive advantage is our culture,” he asserts. Wichita Optometry places a high value on communication and patient relationships. “The number one thing that we will be the best at in Wichita is communication,” he says.

Dr. Fleming personally invests time in mentoring new doctors, focusing on effective communication and patient care. He believes that a positive patient experience begins with how well the staff and doctors communicate. “If we can communicate to each other and to patients in a way that is a dialogue and not a monologue, we are going to exceed people’s expectations without even trying.”

Looking Ahead

Currently, Wichita Optometry is in what Dr. Fleming calls a “steady state strategy,” focusing on maximizing the efficiency and synergy of their five locations. This approach is part of a broader vision that includes strategic planning retreats, a practice Dr. Fleming adopted from successful leaders like Bill Gates. “It’s very beneficial, and you will find a lot of great leaders do that,” he says.

Final Thoughts

For those looking to follow in his footsteps, Dr. Fleming’s advice is straightforward: have a clear vision and be patient. “You have to know where you’re going… spend time on the front side, putting down on paper your purpose,” he advises. This vision and patience are what he credits for his practice’s success and the satisfaction he finds in his work.

Dr. Chad Fleming’s journey is a testament to the power of vision, patience, and strategic planning in building a successful healthcare practice. For more insights from Dr. Fleming, be sure to check out the full interview on the Happy Practice podcast.

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