Having faith in yourself to lead a practice
Optometrist Gemma Hill speaks to OT about her journey from pre-reg to practice owner
In August 2019, optometrist Gemma Hill began a new chapter in her optical career when she officially took over ownership of Forde Opticians in Glasgow.
Ms Hill qualified in 2016 having completed her pre-reg placement, and later continued full-time at the practice that she now owns.
Speaking about practice ownership, Ms Hill admits that becoming a business owner, particularly three years after qualification, was not always on the agenda.
“I definitely didn’t originally want to become a practice owner. It wasn’t something that I had always been interested in, nor was it a career goal," she says.
"However, a few things happened around 18 months after qualification and I began considering leaving practice to embark on a PhD."
Exploring her options
Having realised that the financials relating to returning to full-time education were not practical at the time, Ms Hill began to explore other paths.
As the sole optometrist in a single testing room practice the majority of the time, Ms Hill slowly took on more management and business responsibility as her boss, Damian Forde, led the group’s second practice.
I definitely didn’t originally want to become a practice owner. It wasn’t something that I had always been interested in, nor was it a career goal
Talking through her career options with an optometrist friend, her peer asked Ms Hill if she had ever considered practice ownership. Whilst the short answer was no, this question got her thinking and, with her boss nearing retirement age, she decided to have an open conversation with him to see if he would be interested in selling.
“The answer was yes,” Ms Hill shared, admitting: “I simply thought, what was the harm in asking and expressing an interest, but never did I think it would be a yes.”
Ms Hill had initially pitched the purchase as a five-year takeover plan, giving her time to grow as an optometrist and learn the ropes from her boss. However, when Mr Forde agreed to sale, his preference was to sell right away. This meant she had a decision to make.
“It was obviously a lot quicker than I initially anticipated. However, when I thought it through I realised that if Mr Forde didn’t have a problem with me being so newly-qualified, why should I. He had felt that I was experienced enough to be practising by myself, as well as making managerial decisions. While I didn’t necessarily have the faith in myself, he certainly had faith in me,” Ms Hill said.
Ultimately, she decided to take the leap.
I was definitely panicky the night before, but when we opened on the Monday, it really was like a normal day at work
The purchase process took around 18 months, from the time Ms Hill had the initial conversation with Mr Forde to being given the keys.
The wheels were started in motion by Mr Forde getting the business valued, after which Ms Hill was able to create a business plan and approach a bank for a business loan.
Speaking about the loan application process, Ms Hill said that she was surprised at how easy the process was. “When I had meetings, they were happy to listen to my business plan and were encouraged to hear about a business plan based in healthcare and from someone who was so young,” she said.
“They were really approachable and really supportive every step of the way,” she added.
On the exchange, Ms Hill anticipated that the solicitor process would be the most difficult part of the process - and she was right. “That was probably the most stressful and draining part of the process,” she admitted.
However, the purchase did go through and Ms Hill was handed the keys to the business on 1 August last year.
Reflecting on the day she officially became a business owner, Ms Hill shared: “There was a bit of a buzz and I was definitely panicky the night before, but when we opened on the Monday, it really was like a normal day at work. However, over the months that followed and as word got around the village where the practice is based, patients dropped cards in to say congratulations and it was amazing to hear how happy they were for me.”
Looking ahead, Ms Hill shared that she would spend the next 12 months learning more about the business and completing work on a second testing room. She added that eventually she would like to take on a pre-reg optometrist and provide them with the opportunity that was afforded to her.