I love teaching patients how to wear contacts.
Jennifer Maxwell, ABOC
Optician/Supervisor | Eye Care Center, Fullerton, CA
I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I was a young mom, I had my son and I was 18 and I kind of didn’t know which direction to go with my life. I wasn’t prepared to go to regular college. I went to Bryman to look into the classes they had and they had three: dental, medical, and optical. And the optical one just seemed so much more appealing to me. Even though it’s medical, it’s still on the retail side. When you’re on the medical side, you’re not really selling anything and the medical side didn’t appeal to me as much. I have fun choosing glasses with patients. It was a year course. They taught us a little bit of everything. They had modules, so they taught us the anatomy of the eye, how to choose frames with the patient, how to do adjustments, how to do Seg Heights, how to write up orders, how to put a contact on a patient. My son was sick during that time so it took me a little bit longer to finish the course than it should have but it was only like two months longer. He had cancer when he was a baby. He was about a year and a half when he was diagnosed and then he was about three when he was considered cancer-free. He’s 30 now.
When I got my first job I was like, “I can sell eyeglasses, this is fun!” One of the doctors I used to work for, his wife called them “eye jewelry.” You have to wear it on your face so you’ve got to love it; nobody wants to put a pair of glasses on that they don’t like. Somebody told me a long time ago, “You have to be proud of what you’re putting on your patients because somebody’s going to ask them, ‘Hey, where’d you get your glasses?’” You don’t want to have ugly glasses on.
The first office I worked at, it was a doctor and his wife and myself. I had two little ones at the time and I worked there for five years and I took one vacation. I had Sundays and Mondays off, but still I had two little ones. When my daughter started school, I was like, “I can’t do this anymore.” Then I had a job in Yorba Linda and that was much nicer because there were three of us, three staff. I still worked five days a week but I could take a day off and it was wonderful. And that didn’t end too well, let’s just leave it at that. I was let go over there at 3:00 and Dr. Chiana hired me at 6:00, so I was unemployed for three hours and I’ve been here ever since. I’m so much closer to the house, closer to the kids, the kids went to school here in Fullerton so if I needed to go out for a minute, there’s plenty of staff here. It was wonderful for me to be able to be there for the kids even though it was a pretty rare occasion that I had to leave, but I could if I needed to. Dr. Chiana’s been amazing, 18 years and I’m still here. I know I give more than I should to the office but I’m glad to do it, this is my solace. When there were some tough times at home, this was my happy place. I loved coming to work. I didn’t have to engage in the stuff that was going on at home, I could be here and choose glasses with the really friendly patient. We’re a very busy office so I’m always busy, always doing something, not just standing here worrying about other things.
I’m very good at what I do because I like to talk to people. I have a girl who still comes to me, she moved to Texas about 10 years ago. She comes to visit her mom and her best friend here and still comes in. I have patients who live in Baja, I have a little old lady who lives in Ireland. It’s awesome! She comes here every other year. Another lady lives in the Philippines and she comes to Fullerton to see family and comes to see the doctor. It was funny, the other day there was a couple and they moved to Yorba Linda and the husband goes, “Dr. Chiana’s really good, but we come see you.” But I spend more time with the patent; I spend up to an hour with the patient between glasses and contacts and billing and figuring out what they want and making appointments, and he’s in there for 10 minutes.
The pretesting in this office has gotten so amazing. When I first started here, I read the prescription off of your glasses and did like two tests and that was it. There are five new machines in there now plus everything else, so there’s a lot more to do. It’s pretty amazing all the technology that he has here, like the photograph, the OCT, those are honestly amazing, I’ve only seen those in ophthalmologist offices. The doctor’s really good about looking at the health of your eye. We won’t name any names, but there’s an optical place under a brand name that sends their patients here for medical. Are you kidding me? You’re an optometrist, too! But they don’t even mess with it.
In my move from my previous office to here, it opened so many opportunities for me. I was the office manager there, but there were only two other people; here, there’s more and I do a lot more administrative stuff than I did over there, so I very much enjoy my time here. There’s not much that I don’t do. I do the payroll. I do most of the frame buying, I get to pick the frames and the doctor gives the ok for how much we spend that month. I do a lot of administrative stuff but the doctor pays the bills and I just tell him what we need. I do the schedules, take care of staff, meet with reps. If anything breaks, “Jennifer, call a plumber,” or if the roof’s leaking… I take care of the office. Just making sure everything is on par: “I helped that patient, their glasses aren’t ready yet? I’m going to call the lab.” I’ll check the fax we get daily from the labs and go, “Huh, how come this has been in customer service for three days? Somebody call the lab on this.” Just keeping everybody on task.
I’ve done this for 30 years, and every patient has a different insurance because they have a different employer and because they have different needs. Each insurance is different and we take hundreds. Well, we take about 50 different insurances, and each insurance has hundreds of different plans. You have to know what to put in the computer, how much to charge the patient, what their needs are, schedule them for a follow up… there’s a lot to do.
We choose glasses and then it goes to billing, comes back, after we dispense it to the patient (and this is for glasses, not contacts) they sit in a tray and the tray sits in my area and on a second glance I make sure everything got billed, make sure everything got dispensed, and make sure everything is in the computer correctly before we close out the chart. So it’s a process. We have had a few computer programs that call patients that it’s time for their exam or that their glasses are ready. We’re human and we make mistakes and the programs make mistakes and then we get angry patients so I’ve alleviated a lot of that by doing my job correctly. We still call patients when their stuff is ready, it’s not just an automated system. We have had a few instances in the past where the patient doesn’t live very close and they get an automated call mistakenly that their materials are ready and they come to pick up and they’re not here and they drove in from Corona or something. It’s an awful feeling. I’m sweating right now just saying it! We try to make patients happy and I think we do a pretty good job. I love when patients have been here from the start, I think the doctor’s working on 34 years if I’m not mistaken, in this same little office.
We have a lot of new patients, but the majority are long-time patients. There are some that move away but it’s really funny how many actually come back to visit. I’ve mastered shipping patients their glasses. I have a guy who will send me his glasses. He lives in New York and because I’ve helped him every year for all these years, I know where it sits on him and I can do my measurements without him in them, and make them and ship them back and he’s like, “I love them!” That’s the only one I can do without needing him to come in.
I’m ABO-certified, American Board of Opticianry certified; it’s a big test, so I can work anywhere. I can own a Lens Crafters that does eyewear but doesn’t have a doctor employed there. I have to do continuing education, 12 units every three years. Not a huge amount. But I’m still learning all the time and I love the education because you pick up one or two things every single time. You learn things: you learn how to be patient with patients and you learn tricks for how to speak to patients and get them ready for everything on the phone. Sometimes it takes a minute to make appointments so everyone’s prepared when they come in, especially since COVID.
I go to Transitions classes one once a year. I’m an Essilor Expert, too – it’s a company that does our lenses and we get to do a seminar once a year and we get continuing education there. I love going to those seminars because they teach you so much. So I’m a Transitions Specialist and an Essilor Expert. I had a difficult patient once so I got all my badges out: “Ok, how can I help you?” I think he felt like I didn’t know what I was talking about.
I think I’m pretty ok where I am right now. I did do the ABO about ten years ago. I didn’t have my ABO when the doctor hired me. I also got an office manager certification so the doctor’s been on board with helping me with stuff like that. We also have reps that come in and show us new stuff all the time and so we’re always learning. The labs will give us a call and say, “There’s a new anti-glare coating coming out and it’s going to replace this one,” so they’ll come bring us lunch and we’ll sit for an hour and listen to them. We’ve been trying to do monthly meetings here with the doctor and just go through all the different things we need to learn and know.
I’ll say, “These are women’s frames on this side of the room, these are men’s frames over here, they’re a little bit wider. You’re welcome to look on both sides,” and I kind of let them go for a moment. I’m not a pushy person and I want to see what they’re looking at. They wanted a clear frame or a metal frame that their best frame has, and then they put it on and it doesn’t look good on them. So then I go, “What are you looking for?” And they’re like, “I want a plastic one without the nosepiece.” So we start trying them on and I honestly do not look at the price tags when I’m first starting out. I’ve never ever been like, “Oh, you gotta look at these Guccis over here.” We have them, but I let the patients look around first. You want square? Ok, let’s try this on. Trying on is the best thing because then I can see if their nose is thin or flat. When you have a flat bridge, you need nose pads so it sits correctly. With our masks, because of COVID the last three years, a lot of the plastic frames sit on top of the masks and it would fog up more than the ones with the nose pads. Little things like that. Anybody can wear a round frame, but you have to get the right size, the right thickness, the right shape, the right color. So we just start trying on. We all know our inventory well enough because we’re out here every day. It’s pretty rare but if we have someone who doesn’t like anything, we can always order. I’m pretty familiar with all of our manufacturers that I can go on the website and start looking and, “Ok, let me try this one, this one, this one,” and I’ll order them for a patient. You treat a person who has a nothing prescription, like a minus one, and they want a really big frame, that’s awesome and they look really cute. But the person who has a minus ten, you don’t want that huge frame because it’s going to be so thick on the side, and you have to be able to tell them that, too. I have patients who have really high prescriptions and the really big frames are popular right now. Do you know how thick that’s going to be? We have little tricks to show patients, “With your power, this is what it’s going to look like.” On a plastic frame, it’s going to hide a little bit of the thickness. That’s why the plastic ones look better than the metal ones because you can see all the stuff on the side. You don’t know what it’s like to see that little kid who’s never had glasses before and they light up because they can see! And somebody who hasn’t had a good pair of glasses in many years, it’s fun to watch them put their glasses on, the smile on their face is awesome.
But there are so many options, and that’s just frames. There are also lens options. We have to know what type of lens, what material: there’s regular plastic, there’s polycarbonate, there’s the mid-index, there’s a high-index, they even have a super high-index now. All the different coatings: anti-glare coatings, scratch coatings. Which anti-glare coatings are better? Sometimes there are different colors; I’ve had patients return their glasses because the blue anti-glare coating we got for them is… blue. They all have a color to them on the anti-glares. And the Transitions, we haven’t sold a lot of them but there are like eight new colors on all these Transitions, they turn purple and blue and gold and brown. That’s just single vision, and then you have progressive. Hundreds of progressives out there. And then you have to know how to charge the patient correctly on their insurance. It takes a couple of weeks to get paid by the insurance company. They charged X so we have to make sure we’re charging Y and sometimes we have to eat a little bit to get the right amount charged for the next person. But you can’t do that all the time. It’s not easy.
I love working with contacts and teaching patients how to wear contacts. That’s one of my things. Every once in a while we’ll have a patient come in and discuss with the doctor that they’re interested in contacts, the doctor will put them in the contact lens room, I’ll go over the fees and what we do, and then I’ll put the contact lens on the patient. The doctor will check their vision, and then they have to take them out and put them on themselves before they can go home. Sometimes, if we can’t get the contact lens on the patient, it turns into a personal accomplishment when we finally do it! Do I have to go get my coworker to hold your eyelid? I remind patients, “Breathe, just breathe,” because having someone stick their finger in your eye is not normal, so you’re going to blink. It’s ok, your eyelid is doing what it’s supposed to be doing, it’s protecting your eye. You have to just talk to them and relax them “What are you doing for dinner tonight, do you have plans for tomorrow?” After that first one, the other one is even easier. In all the years I’ve worked here, I’ve probably had two failures and honestly they just couldn’t do it. There’s just that person that cannot stick their finger in their eye. We’ve done some pretty young kids, I think the youngest is about 10 and that’s a little bit of a challenge. In school we did it on each other – opened the eye, stuck it in, took it out. And I didn’t wear any eyewear at that time. But over the years it just gets easier and easier. Every once in a while, though, there’s that patient that after 20 minutes I feel like I’m sweating and I’m holding their eyelids… and then I’m like, “Doc, you have to help me.”
The turnaround here is insane. Denise, my coworker, has also been here 18 years, but everyone else… the optician turnaround is usually two to four years. It takes me two years to get them trained! It really does. Through the pandemic, it was awful. We had a lot of people that would come do the interview, come to work for one to two days, and then quit. That happened three times. No one wanted to work, they were all getting those rebates or whatever so it was really hard to find somebody. I’ll do a first interview and the doctor will do the second interview, so that’s usually how we do it. But we have a good group right now, everyone’s working really well together. And you need that.
Me and Denise really work well together. There’s an age difference between us, she’s probably 15 years younger than me. But when we’re working, I know what she’s doing before she does it, she knows what I’m doing. A patient will walk in, I’ll say hello, she’ll get their paperwork, I’ll put them in the back… we complement each other a lot. There’s never been a vacation problem, we talk to each other, we’ve never really had any work-related stuff where she couldn’t get time off or I made her work certain hours, because we communicate very well and if she needs something, she’ll let me know. I always tell her, “If it works for the office, absolutely.” I try my best to lead by example. I’m in here way before I’m supposed to be. If I start at 9:30, I’m here before 9:00 just to get some extra stuff done and I’m not hourly, I’m salary.
We’ve gotten to the point where Denise and I can hear him click his pen and we know he’s almost done because he’s putting it in his pocket so we finish up what we’re doing because we have to be out here ready for the next patient because he’s going to bring them out. Or we’ll hear, “Come on over this way,” and we know he’s coming out of the room and we hear his footsteps in the hallway. It’s funny because we’ve learned over the years, we’ve gotten used to where he is so that we can be where we need to be. Sometimes it’s complex when we have several patients; not only do we have the annual patients, we have patients coming to pick up their stuff, every once in a while we have outside orders like when someone got a prescription somewhere else and they just want to fill the prescription order, so we have those patients in here, too, and the phones are ringing and patients are waiting…
I do very much enjoy this. I think I fell into a really good fit for myself because I like being the office manager. When I first started, I wasn’t the office manager, he just hired me as an optician and I worked my way up. I love the sales side but I can help a patient if there’s a red eye situation or an allergy situation. Even during COVID, we were still open; I worked all through COVID and I would come in twice a week to dispense things and ship stuff to patients because I had hundreds of glasses when we closed down! We’re a necessity, people need to see. I think it’s a good fit because I’m on both sides, medical and retail. I have relatives who work in a pediatrician’s office and they do the same thing every day even though it’s different children. But here, it’s different every day and I like it.