Women In Focus: Dr. Bridgitte Shen Lee

11:51 PM

Great news! In four years when the class of 2020 graduates from optometry schools around the country, they will be 70% female for the first time in history.  But just as more women enter the profession, they are faced with some pretty challenging hurdles to overcome in healthcare.  How are they going to start their own practices in the face of mounting student loan debt? How are they going to keep patients loyal to in office doctor-patient care when faced with competition from online refractive vendors? How are they going to balance starting a career with staring a family?  Can they really have it all?

We are all lucky that we have successful and talented female doctors that have navigated the ups and downs of this profession before us to help guide us through these challenges.  One of the women that has become a true force in optometry through her passion for growing our profession and encouraging young female voices to be leaders is Dr. Bridgitte Shen Lee of Vision Optique. A Chinese American immigrant and daughter of two medical professionals, Dr. Shen Lee considered both medical and optometry school before leaving college.  She selected the University of Houston College of Optometry, and looks back on that decision with full confidence that her choice to enter optometry was one of the best she’s made in her life.  What makes her mindset on optometry different? She refuses to define her profession by what she can’t do. She’s been labelled a path-paver in optometry for owning the space of ocular aesthetics and anti-aging eyecare, embracing the fact that as an optometrist, and specifically a female optometrist, she is an expert.  “Optometry has to claim these areas as ours.  We are the experts for everything related to the eyes, but we have to claim it.”

In speaking with Dr. Shen Lee on the most recent Defocus Podcast, another really clear statement about her character comes across: she’s constantly brewing up new ideas! A quick tour of her resume will show you this isn’t a recent development.  Out of optometry school, she cold started her private practice Vision Optique in 1999 with business partner Dr. Bradley Owens.  In addition to running her practice, she founded iTravelCE  in 2010 as a way to bridge the differences in ocular healthcare between the more newly minted optometric professions of Asian countries with those of America and Europe.  She is also a distinguished speaker, working as an ambassador or consultant for Johnson and Johnson Vision Care, OCuSOFT, Essilor, Guardion Health, and most recently Shire. How does she find time for it all? “My greatest advice for young female ODs is that you can have it all, just not at the same time.” She splits her time at her practice, developing optometry’s future in dry eye and ocular aesthetics through consulting, speaking, and social media, and as a wife and mother to two daughters.  Here are some of her keys to success in balancing work and family as a female OD:
  • Start your own practice! The best way to have flexibility over your own schedule is to be the boss. As an employed optometrist your schedule is dictated by the doctor or corporation you work for, but when you are working for yourself, you can arrange your hours in the office to best suit your needs.
  • Treat your practice like your first child.  Right out of school, Dr. Shen Lee put all of her time, energy, and disposable income back into her practice. The first few years are the hardest and the leanest, but that dedication to the practice in the start lays the foundation for future success.
  • Focus on creating patient loyalty by giving patients a reason to come back every year. One of the biggest mistakes Dr. Shen Lee sees practitioners making around the country is letting a patient that isn't complaining or demanding solutions go without getting education for what she can offer.  Even when a patient is successful in a contact lens, she encourages them to try out the newest technology on the market.  Her practice had grown to around 70% daily disposable lens wear because of her dedication to encouraging her patients try out the best lenses on the market, and she's found this technique is a great practice builder.  Her patients come in asking "what's new?" every year because she has focused on building loyalty and value in her exams. 
  • How does she balance home and work life? “Instead of telling you what I do, let me tell you what I don’t do.  I don’t do dishes; I don’t do laundry.” She spends her precious time at home being present and active in the lives of her family and loved ones, helping with homework, trekking to fencing lessons and tournaments with her daughters,and  just being a mom and mentor to her children.   Getting help for the day to day chores that can steal away precious time is essential for her to have the time to explore her passions in optometry and as a mom and wife.

You can follow Dr. Shen Lee on Twitter and Instagram to get more insight into her vision for optometry.

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