5 Ways to Grow Your Professional Network as a New O.D.

You've graduated, passed your licensing exams, and landed a great job, but once you're out of school and practicing in the real world, how do you develop working relationships with other eye care professionals? Whether you’re looking to strengthen your referral network, seeking advice from a mentor, or searching for a business partner, making the right connections can open doors to amazing opportunities that can help advance your career.

​Here are five ways you ​can connect and network with other ECPs, both locally and beyond:

​+ no. 01 Join LinkedIn

LinkedIn is an online site used for professional networking, connecting, and job searching. Once you sign up and create a profile you can start to build a valuable network of contacts, including professional and personal contacts—colleagues, co-workers, former classmates, and other people in your industry with whom you know. You can use LinkedIn as an online resume to showcase your professional accomplishments, write publications or share relevant articles, or let others know how to reach you for career opportunities.

+ no. 02 Attend Networking Events

The eye care industry has excellent conferences and trade shows that provide you with ample networking opportunities. There you can meet fellow ECPs from all over the country, continent, and sometimes even the world! If traveling is not an option, there are also local meet-ups and society organizations that host regular events that are great for connecting with colleagues in your area.

+ no. 03 Attend Local Optometric Society Meetings

Speaking of society organizations, your state society's local district is the best way to meet and connect with colleagues in your area. Check your state society's website for a Young OD program. In NC, you can join the NCOS Young OD Program if you've been practicing for 10 years or less. The Young ODs Program was created as a way for younger NCOS members to “connect and network, collectively share and embrace present issues facing young OD’s and optometry as a profession, and to start getting involved in the Society.” You can join the group on Facebook and look for upcoming events in your area.

New OD Tip: Always Bring Your Business Card

We’re living in the Digital Age, but business cards are still a thing. Whenever attending networking events, always bring a stack of business cards with you. It gives the impression that you are prepared, professional, and committed to making new connections. You never know who you're going to meet—or the opportunities those encounters may lead to. When you receive another person’s business card, jot down some notes from your conversation to refer back to when you follow up with them.

+ no. 04 ​Volunteer for Leadership or Service Roles

Networking isn’t all about what others can do for you; it’s also about what you can do for others. Be willing to share your knowledge, expertise, and connections when you see an opportunity. Helping someone may motivate them to return the favor. Offer to be more involved in your local district society, state society, or other industry organizations. Examples include applying for a leadership position, joining a committee, attending Legislative Day, or becoming a keyperson for your district.

Sign up to volunteer your time and skills with service organizations, such as your state's chapter of VOSH-International, in which you can participate in outreach programs and mission trips with colleagues.

+ no. 05 Create and Cultivate Your Brand on Instagram

While previously perceived as a social media app for personal use, Instagram is growing in its practical use as a powerful professional platform. Instagram has become a space to create and promote your own business (or brand) and connect with like-minded individuals on a global level. On a personal note: Instagram has helped me to develop an ever-expanding network of colleagues, access to resources, and career opportunities—many of which have been in ways I never thought possible throughout optometry school nor as a newly graduated optometrist.

Building a strong professional network is something that you should always be working on. Networking can be a powerful tool for creating the kinds of connections that stay with you throughout your professional life. All it takes is connecting with the right person who just might lead you to the next step in your career path.

How do you meet and connect with others in the eye care industry? Share your networking stories and tips with us in the comments below!