Mary Schmidt of EyeSystems dishes on how to improve your staff training

tips + strategies

Looking for bright ideas? Each issue of The OD Connection will offer up best practices—tips and strategies—in a critical corner of independent practice. This month’s topic: staff training.

EyeSystems President Mary Schmidt, ABOC, CPO, knows a lot about training. With more than 30 years of experience in optical, she is a frequent speaker at alliance staff training workshops.

Here, Schmidt serves up eight top tips and savvy strategies she shares in those sessions with alliance members.

—Stephanie K. De Long


The biggest trend I currently see in training is “emphasis.” Staff training used to be survival mode in style. It was chaotic and what I call a “hummingbird approach,” flitting from one situation to the next. Now I work with practices that have a plan, including annual learning goals with coaching and support.


The biggest driver I see requiring more training is the patient; they arrive with more information, higher expectations, and demand quality and service. From the professional standpoint, if your staff is not prepared, the practice will lose the sale or potentially the patient.


I stress training methods—hearing, seeing, then doing. We only retain a small percentage of what we hear, so “telling” people is not very effective. The old adage “It takes 21 attempts at a new skill to start to get comfortable, and 10,000 executions to become an expert” is very true in our field.


Audio, visual, and tactile–I try to incorporate interesting examples and stories for them to hear, PowerPoint as a visual with lots of graphics and some movement, and, whenever possible, hands-on experiences, team breakout, and problem-solving.


A group can really help. Ideally, though, you also have an internal trainer who has been trained to train—not just someone who is good at their job. Then share the training duties among a team so there is a crossing of styles and information. And, be open to outside influences to keep everyone fresh and motivated.


The training process should be very structured and repetitive. Create a training checklist...mine is 27 pages long. Again, avoid the “hummingbird” technique, where you flitter from one topic to the next without depth.


Most offices dramatically underestimate the time it takes to train. The general rule is 90 days for front desk staff to become competent (not expert, but competent).

Assistants should be developed for four to six months, depending on the technology in a practice and the amount of cross-training. An optician can take at a minimum 12 months; again basic competency nowhere near an expert­—this could take years.


Training is never-ending. However, as an industry, we don’t train well. The more we can duplicate a structured training program versus a crisis-management style, the better we as an industry will serve patients.


One mistake? Not investing in the team’s training. And, that’s one place your group can really help.