Where did you grow up?
I was born in the Ukraine, at the time was the Soviet Union. We emigrated when I was age 4. We went to Austria, Israel, Belgium, Miami, and finally New York. Starting from age 13, I’m a New Yorker.
How did you get involved in youth symphonies and orchestras?
I grew up with classical music in the house. I tried to get my son into private schools because New York City has horrible public schools. He refused to participate in evaluations, so he didn’t get into a single school. Someone suggested I get him tested for autism. Being upset as a new parent, I said I can’t do anything about the autism, but maybe he’s musical. So, I started him studying the violin at age 3. He is now a violinist; he’s not autistic. As we did that, I started participating in his musical career. I’m on the board of the Interschool Orchestras of New York.
Why private practice and not academia or industry?
I needed to make money—I had a huge debt with no money, and I needed a job. So I interviewed at an optical a block away from my house. I knew from a young age I couldn’t work well for someone; I needed to be independent. In academia you almost always have a boss and you have to conform, which I don’t like to do. When I took the job, my only condition was that I would be an independent contractor. I saw my own patients, and I kept my own patients and my own fees. When the optical sold to a bigger corporation, the new owners came in and said, “We want you to practice this way.” That’s when I took off.
Previous Optometry Times Q&A: Bryan Wolynski, OD, FAAO: Owner of Glasses on First in New York City
What was it like opening cold in uptown Manhattan?
I feel that I opened warm. I worked for 14 years at that optical, and when I left to open my own practice, those patients followed me. When I opened at the optical it was cold because I was seeing maybe one patient a day. I didn’t have the same financial risks because I wasn’t paying the rent. The only risk was I don’t see any patients, I don’t make any money. The very steep curve of learning how to run your own business I did at someone else’s expense.
How does an uptown Manhattan practice compare with an office park practice?
I never felt disrespected like many people do in retail optometry. Patients never came in and said, “I need to speak to Viola.” They always called me “Doctor.” There was a very different feel the second I opened my doors on Central Park West. Patients come in with an entirely different level of respect which I didn’t even know existed. Now I really feel like a real doctor.
How hard was hiring an associate, and how did you make it happen?
I love having an associate; I thought it would be awful. [Laughs] Optometry can be very lonely; we’re all working in our little dark lanes. Having someone in your office to bounce ideas off makes you a more confident doctor, and it makes it more fun to come to work.