In the midst of a paradigm shift

10 04 2013

Thomas Kuhn was an American physicist, historian, and philosopher.  His 1962 book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” stood to define what we know today as a paradigm shift.  Essentially, when the prevailing winds of science have resulted in the build up of anomalies that cannot be explained by existing theory eventually a new wind blows the sail in the right direction.  For example, prior to Hellenistic Greece, the concept of a spherical earth was remote at best.  The paradigm shifting to a spherical planet changed conventional wisdom and set the stage for a new era of science.

As scientist and a great seeker of the undiscovered, I look at my profession, optometry, as in the midst of great change.  On a daily basis I hear from colleagues that are anxious about internet driven competition, big box optical competition and corporate competition.  I meet with new and soon to be graduates about the climate they are entering into and hear great fear.  The prevailing winds are blowing but with every build up of anomalous threat comes new opportunity.

This post, unlike many of my others is not a clinical directive and might be assumed by some to be just rhetoric – but let me share my short story and you be the judge.

A little over 1 year ago, my life got flipped upside down.  I was a partner in an established practice and professionally was content but not satisfied that I was being authentic in the care I was delivering.  I still practiced 1 day in a hospital setting which the patient base was lower income, ethnically diverse and the staff were less organized and more emotional.  My partner and I decided to part ways due to increasing tension and discord.  Our practice philosophies were decidedly different which I now can look back and see that were reflections of our personal philosophies.   So we parted amicably and I changed gears and decided to build a clinic dedicated to the ocular surface.  No retailing of any kind – a medical optometry clinic.  In ONTARIO?  It stirred the waters quietly among my colleagues both optometry and ophthalmology alike.  It stirred the waters in my home as well.  My wife and I had a 6 month old child and financially this was a high risk manoeuvre as she wasn’t working either.  This resulted in an immense change in the ‘comfort’ we had grown accustom to and resulted in a cascade of stresses that both my wife and I hadn’t experienced before.  The prevailing wind in my life was blowing me over the edge.   On a personal level this was one of the most uncomfortable times in my life.  I put my wife through the same.

The clinic has been open for 9 months now and much to my dismay, the cup did not overflow with patients like I thought.  The tax incentives I had planned for were denied and I was in an even worse position that I originally predicted.  I feared what this meant for my family but with support I carried on working tirelessly at carving my niche, my dream of what optometry meant to me; creating what I wanted it to look like.  I created a research division at my clinic and  developed novel techniques for treating a condition I spent my entire career avoiding.  Most importantly I starting making a difference in peoples lives by examining what they needed most.  I decided that I can’t do it all, but dedication to this specialized area of eye care I could do great things.  I am doing great things.

To be clear, I’m not a millionaire or even close.  The clinic is still growing, but my practice has become a reflection of  me and that has made all the difference.  I do – my practice does – my family does.  From this adversity I was able to free myself creatively.  To not be bound by someone else’s rationale.  I was able to grow professionally at an exponential rate.  I surrounded myself with the greatest minds in the eye industry from  Donald Korb to Steve Arshinoff to Stuart Richer to Larry Alexander.  My colleague and phenomenal speaker Kent Prete gave a recent presentation that allowed me to fully reflect on the last year and realize that out the deconstruction that was my life grew a new subset of practice.  Though I didn’t realize it, I had inspired others to do the same.  It has become contagious and I believe we are witnessing a paradigm shift as I write this post.

What’s the point of this post?  I have never shared this story before and I’m not entirely sure what type of reaction it will attract.  I hope that it lights a fire under some like the one that is under me. In the face of this uncomfortable, unpredictable, unprecedented time I encourage new grads to older colleagues to embrace the change because the discomfort may be driving your patients out of their contact lenses, it will keep you on the edge of your seat wanting more.





Dr. Richard Maharaj OD, FAAO

Director of Optometry,

eyeLABS Inc.

twitter: @eyelabsinc






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