Many eye care practitioners have optometry school students working with them in either an informal intern-type of position or formal preceptorship program that is coordinated with an optometry school. But, the intern isn’t the only one who benefits from this experience; often, the preceptor learns along with the student. A senior practitioner might bone up on newer strategies in anterior segment disease detection and become aware of new treatment modalities for dry eye syndrome. The same can be the case with a non-clinical intern, who can be instrumental in helping to promote your practice. A marketing or operations intern can be a fabulous temporary asset to your practice, at minimal or no cost. And, you can get a “mini-MBA” from these often eager-to-teach scholars.

In Need of a Fresh Perspective?
So, how do you go about your search for such an individual? Start with the business or marketing department at a local college. Students are often assigned projects that call for them to be working in a small-business environment. If you speak with the department heads, they will explain how the school makes arrangements for student internships.

I recommend meeting potential candidates first without your staff knowing. Should you decide to bring someone on board, have him or her come in as a patient first. During this “mystery patient” experience, ask them to keep mental notes of their journey through your practice. When placed in this position, an astute marketing or operations student will often come up with lots of feasible and easy-to-implement ideas. One of the bonuses of hiring students is that they are unencumbered by our pre-set contact lens practice boundaries. It’s common to hear things like, “I remember reading a case study from a tire supply store about how they inventoried tires. It’s similar to how you inventory your trial lenses, except what they did was . . .”

Marketing interns often speak even more globally and might opine, “Your model of tier pricing for annual supplies of contact lenses was tested in a similar experiment with an Internet company. They found it worked best with monthly recurring billing instead of upfront payments. Here’s how you could do that.”

Here are some additional benefits business interns might provide:

• Forcing you to see things from your patients’ point of view. This can filter down to scheduling and appointments, office hours, the look and feel of the office, etc.
• Help you plan and execute in-office seminars and ensure that the marketing for them is maximally effective.
• Update your website and put a schedule in place to ensure that when he/she leaves, it stays up-to-date.
• Schedule you for community speaking engagements with appropriate groups. This would also include marketing the events and appropriate follow-up with any interested prospective patients.
• Perform database searches of current patients to look for demographic trends to be used for future marketing efforts. For example, you might uncover a great opportunity for colored contact lenses for your teen population that you never considered.
• Look for competitive opportunities by searching competitors’ websites. This can also be done via phone, and may include, time permitting, “mystery shopping” competitors.
• Set up networking opportunities for you and market them. This would include other physicians and other businesses that might have a common “customer” base. For example, a beauty salon can be approached about doing a makeover program, with you fitting contact lenses for interested clients.

Ensure Lasting Success
Before the internship is over, sit down with the intern and draft up a plan of potential future projects. If the intern’s efforts prove successful, have a current staff member or a new hire shadow this person so that his/her impact on your practice can continue after he/she leaves. Or, if your office is able, consider hiring him or her as a business staff member upon graduation.