"How do you anticipate COVID-19 affecting the job prospects of graduating residents and fellows?"
Robert F. Melendez, MD, MBA
COVID-19 has affected many ophthalmic practices, requiring them to become very lean by reducing costs from multiple areas of the practice and different lines of services. For example, employee salaries and benefits are typically the highest expenses for an ophthalmic practice. Some practices did not rehire all employees who were furloughed early on in the pandemic. The pandemic is likely to affect a practice’s hiring of new physicians as well, unless the practice needs to fill a particular specialty.
For young ophthalmologists on the job hunt, my take-home message is to be willing to broaden your horizons in what you can offer the hiring practice. For example, a cornea specialist might be hired for corneal refractive surgery, but he or she may also need to step in to provide comprehensive ophthalmology services if the practice has a need to fill both roles but can hire only one ophthalmologist at the time. Some practices, however, have bounced back quickly and are seeing numbers similar to those before the outbreak of COVID-19. Each practice is different, and some regions of the country have been hit harder than others.
When interviewing at an ophthalmic practice in these times, young ophthalmologists should consider asking the following questions.
1. How has COVID-19 affected your practice? This open-ended question is a good way to kick off the conversation and gives the practice the opportunity to describe its current situation.
2. Have your patient volumes returned to what they were before the pandemic?
3. Is the demand as high as it was before the pandemic? Assessing physician access demand is an important way to determine how needed you may be. Another way to inquire about this is to ask how booked out the doctors are in clinic and in surgery. If the answer is 3 months or longer, your presence will be appreciated sooner. If the answer is 2 to 3 weeks, then it may take time for you to build your portion of the practice.
4. Have you seen more pathology because some patients delayed coming in for their eye care? Generally speaking, all of medicine has seen patients with medical problems that have been put off out of fear of going to the hospital or doctor and being exposed to COVID-19.
5. What are your plans for hiring additional ophthalmologists and optometrists? Has COVID-19 affected this decision? If the answer to the latter question is no, that suggests the practice is likely already lean and well managed financially.