Dr. Stephanie Strawn always had a keen interest in health care, but it wasn’t until she had an eye health experience of her own that she chose the field of optometry.
“I’m far-sighted,” Strawn explained. “But when I was in high school, I didn’t know that I needed glasses. I struggled to do my homework. When I got glasses, everything was so much clearer.”
Strawn completed her doctorate of optometry in 2007, graduating from the University of Waterloo. After returning to Kelowna and working at other optometry practices, the prospect of having a practice of her own presented itself — and she quickly seized it.
“I couldn’t give up an opportunity to work with Mark Stickle,” she said. “I’ve been learning so much from him about how to build a business. He’s an optometrist and he has an MBA.”
Strawn’s typical day at her optometry practice typically involves anywhere from 18 to 24 patient appointments, covering topics such as routine eye exams, surgical follow-up care, and emergency eye care.
Strawn says that working as an optometrist is the easy part of her job, as her training and education has prepared her well for optometry. But running a business is a subject that optometry school doesn’t cover in its curriculum.
Most health care practices don’t have retail outlets, Strawn notes, which means she’s faced with the added challenge of learning to run a healthcare practice and a retail store at the same time.
Changing consumer buying habits, new technologies, and emerging health and lifestyle trends mean that optometrists need to be more committed to staying current than ever before — and that’s a challenge that Strawn welcomes.
“The key is to just keep learning,” Strawn noted. “I send my staff to continuing education. We’ve been to seminars in Texas and Vancouver to keep our knowledge up to date. Optometry is only 100 years old, and things change fast — there are always new techniques to learn and new pieces of equipment to buy.”
In addition to her work as an optometrist, Strawn serves as the official Media Spokesperson for the British Columbia Association of Optometrists. Strawn says that she took that role because she’s passionate about educating the public on the importance of eye health.
“My work with the BCAO involves raising awareness about specific topics, usually related to something current like Vision Health Month or Glaucoma Awareness Month. We remind the public about things like the important of having an eye health exam along with getting checked for glasses.
“One of the biggest struggles we have in British Columbia is that sight testing is legal. In other provinces, sight testing isn’t allowed.”
Sight testing refers to the practice of performing a simple vision test to determine what corrective lenses a patient needs, but failing to perform an accompanying eye health exam.
“I’ve seen patients come in on many occasions who think they’ve had eye exams when, in fact, they haven’t. I’ve diagnosed them with progressive diseases and vision loss that could have been prevented. Macular degeneration, glaucoma, retinal detachment…these things don’t show symptoms, and you wouldn’t know you had them unless you got checked.”
Strawn most recently advocated for patient awareness in May of 2016, during Vision Health Month.
Strawn works hard to balance her advocacy work with business’ demands and her personal life, and structures her community work in an efficient manner to maximize her impact.
“I want to make this office the best it can be and still have family time,” she said. “(That’s why) most of the community initiatives that I’m involved in happen through the office.”
Stickle & Strawn Optometry participates in several community projects, including the Re/Max annual Easter egg hunt and ongoing food bank fundraisers.
Strawn says that the key to running a successful practice — or any business — is in having great people skills, and the policies and support to make the best possible use of them.
She says that at Stickle & Strawn, success is measured by staff morale and by community support.
Crowe MacKay’s Women to Watch program is a weekly feature that profiles remarkable women in our community, which will conclude October 16. After terrific response, the nomination period for 2016 is now closed. Watch this space each week to see our remaining Women to Watch.