Q&A with James Doyle, Independent Ophthalmic Business Owner with over 15 Years of Experience in Healthcare Administration

Getting his start in healthcare administration in the Navy, James went on to earn his MS in Healthcare Administration and Management at Rosalind Franklin University in Chicago in 2012 – but he didn’t stop there. He also holds Six Sigma Green Belt Certification (SSGBS), American Board of Opticianry Certification (ABOC), oh, and in his Navy days he also earned a Field Medic 8404 Rating from the US Navy Hospital Corpsman School. A very impressive set of credentials by anyone’s standards.

In the years since, James has worked his way up in ophthalmic administration, taking on more and more responsibility at bigger and bigger companies. Most recently, he made the leap to go into business for himself, taking over as owner of EYE.Q Optical in Port Washington, Wisconsin. He’s been running the business for the past three years, and has consistently increased sales by over 20 percent year over year.

James is as likable as he is ambitious. We were lucky enough to get him to sit down for a conversation about what it’s like making your way in the world of healthcare administration, and what his successive degrees have done to help him continually advance in his career and put him in the position he’s in today – independent owner of a successful ophthalmic business.

Q: You received your MS in Healthcare Administration and Management six years ago. Since then you’ve worked as an operations manager at a $3 million ophthalmic practice, as a general manager at a $3 million vision outlet, as an account manager at $6.5 million medical billing company, and currently as a manager/owner of an optometric business. How has your master’s degree in healthcare administration and management opened doors for your career?

James Doyle: I’m glad you presented it in that structure because just based off numbers you can kind of see how it helped me.

What it doesn’t say is that before I started working on my master’s, actually it was about a $100k practice. So I went from $100k – which is when I started working on my master’s – and by the time I was done with my masters I was at a $1 million practice, and when I finished my master’s I went to $3 million. And after a couple years of that, $6 million. So you can definitely see how I feel it helped; just looking at the numbers basically.

Obviously as those sort of numbers go up, the workload, the responsibility – things like that – go up. Your time management skills, things like that; efficiency has to be what you would expect from a position like that. And that’s where I think the master’s degree really helped me, in terms of working efficiently through all of those operations.

Q: So your master’s degree in healthcare administration gave you the professional skills you needed to move up to the next level?

James Doyle: Exactly, exactly. There’s a direct correlation between patient satisfaction and the number of patients. Obviously in this day and age everybody’s competing to survive and to have as many patients as they need to see.

And that’s kind of really where the master’s degree has helped me out; gaining more patients through marketing and patient satisfaction. Really just keeping an eye on the numbers and monitoring that. It’s worth it.

Q: Would you recommend a master’s degree in healthcare administration to anyone, or only to certain types of people?

James Doyle: I would say to anybody interested in trying to improve healthcare in the future. In my class there was everybody from doctors and nurses to people like myself that are more technically based.

You know, there’s a need for – in all walks, just like most things – training. Diversity is a good thing, and healthcare administration is no exception. The more walks of life and different backgrounds, things like that, I think the better the future will be in understanding what sort of tools and things like that we need to try to get to the people on the front line and improve healthcare in the future.

Q: How did you end up going into the healthcare administration field?

James Doyle: It was just a one-off assignment in undergrad where I was learning about studies on healthcare and learning how much opportunity there is to improve efficiency and patient safety; you know, things like that.

While all healthcare clinics aim to help people and save people, there’s a lot of adverse reactions and things like that. I guess I’ll call them necessary evils. Things like nosocomial infections for instance is a big one. You go to a hospital to get better and you come home worse, you know, because of little tiny invisible bug.

So it was learning about things like that that really spiked my interest.

Q: So are you doing what you expected to be doing since going into the healthcare administration field?

James Doyle: That’s a funny question. Like most things, it didn’t pan out – or hasn’t yet. I’m not doing exactly what I thought I would be.

I’m actually living my dream. I didn’t think I’d be living my dream. I thought I’d be – it sounds corny but it’s very true – I thought I would be working at a hospital crunching numbers and and improving healthcare efficiency; things like that. Which is again, what initially spiked my interest.

But I’ve been in ophthalmics – opticianry is my main background – and I got into that in the military as a field medic. Kind of as a fall back when I was stationed in Virginia they said, “why don’t you go through this course. It’s a nine-month course and it will give you something to fall back on.”

And the two have paired very well. The further my continuing education grew and my master’s degree – things like that – the further my managerial and things like that went, as we discussed earlier. And a few years ago I was in the position to open my own practice and sort of be my own boss, which I think is most people’s ultimate dream.

I just didn’t think it would happen this quick. I thought there would be more time in the field. I’m not doing what I signed up to do, but I am doing my – in fact – my ultimate dream. My end-goal dream. I just thought it would be another 10 years or so before I’d be in a position to open my own practice.

Q: You got your start for where you are now as an enlisted service person in the Navy. Can you talk about how this experience led to healthcare administration? Would you recommend this as a good route for people who want to go into healthcare administration?

James Doyle: That’s another great question. I think that the military; there’s all sorts of opportunities. If there’s one thing the military is not short on it’s opportunities.

Same thing with the master’s degree. This wasn’t the route that I necessarily planned. Like I said, the military put me on this path basically. They kind of started me in administration too by giving me extra admin duties. You know, coordinating schedules, keeping track of schedules, and helping to make sure that clinics are run efficiently. Things like that.

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That also piqued my interest in healthcare administration. Without being in the Navy I don’t know if I would have had that opportunity. So I would absolutely recommend the military for this route.

Q: So you could easily transfer the skills you picked up in the military over to the civilian world?

James Doyle: Correct, yeah. Very good point. I think the military has been much more mindful of that recently. They’re trying to. No matter what your job is they try to set you up a little better when you get out; give you important tools and things like that. That’s just my opinion. I don’t have any hard evidence on that, but definitely healthcare administration is a great opportunity for transferable skills to the civilian sector. Absolutely. A lot more opportunity than I feel I would have gotten anywhere else.

Q: What would you recommend as an undergraduate degree for someone thinking about going into the field of healthcare administration?

James Doyle: I guess it would depend on where they wanted to end up. Like I said, in my class there was everything from doctors to nurses, and then people like myself who were more technically-minded and a little more towards the business-end of the spectrum.

So I guess it really depends. Healthcare administration is kind of unique in that there’s so many different facets. From whether you’re making sure the organization is financially healthy to making sure the patients are actually healthy.

Mine, I guess, has been a little bit more in the finance-end of things, and a business background helped me out a lot in that. So yeah, I guess there are definitely at least two routes that I would recommend there: either going the medical route – more science based – to a more business or finance-based.

Q: Can you expand on the different aspects of the healthcare administration field from what you’ve seen in your own experience?

James Doyle: Sure, sure. Like I said, I didn’t get as much hands-on experience as I’d like, but from what I’ve seen there’s definitely – I grouped it into two basic focuses; either the financial side. The organization-viability side. To being more focused on the health of the actual patient.

And from there there’s a lot of different roles and positions and everything that makes it work. From accounting to all the people who crunch the different numbers. Statistics and things like that. And then of course helping to make decisions and recommendations on improving either efficiency for the end result of the patient experience and the overall health of the patient versus the health of the organization and making sure that there’s enough funding to provide the level of patient care needed to assure the optimal outcome of the patient’s stay.

Q: In your experience, how have you balanced patient needs against financial requirements and management demands?

James Doyle: I did see a little bit of that in a couple clinics where I worked where it basically came down to, “you can’t do everything.”

Obviously you’d like to be able to do everything to ensure, for instance, that patient satisfaction is through the roof, but five-star service isn’t always an option. Especially to start-ups or maybe an organization coming out of a financially difficult situation, for instance.

You definitely have to be a little, I’ll say, conservative. Things like that, fiscally. A little scrappier from a management standpoint. And often times that is the case. You’re trying to pay all the bills, pay all the employees, and just do the best you can with what you’ve got.

Unfortunately that’s becoming more and more evident and more and more of a challenge with the situation we’re in now with healthcare. The GDP. Things like that. Just basically trying to be as efficient as possible while providing the best patient outcome and patient care, while still being mindful of the budget. The budget’s not going to go away. It’s just learning how to do better with it, basically, is what everybody’s trying to do.

Raising the price on healthcare doesn’t work. You see that’s the position that we’re in now. And if there’s ever a time that we understand that it’s now. The price can’t just continue to go up.

Q: So you would say the current national healthcare situation puts healthcare administrators in a tight spot?

James Doyle: Absolutely, absolutely. That’s why I think the demand is just going to keep increasing for healthcare administrators because there is an ever increasing need on improving efficiency and things like that.

Q: You have several certifications. Would you recommend any of those to people who are going into the healthcare administration field?

James Doyle: The Six Sigma for sure. That’s really helped me learn to make the most out of things like evidence-based management and find out what’s working. Basically it sort of trains your brain how to focus on the optimal outcome while not discounting the un-optimal outcomes.

Basically taking the whole picture into consideration and focusing on the target.

Q: Can you explain what exactly Six Sigma certification is?

James Doyle: It started with…I believe Motorola started it in the ‘80s. And it just kind of grew. It was a giant corporate secret almost. Where only the corporate giants knew about it, and knew the tricks of the trade I guess you’d say. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s it then sort of became more well known and these days even people like myself can do it.

I did it through Villanova University. But there are a few that I think you can do it through. It’s pretty interesting stuff. It’s a lot of statistics, number crunching, and things like that which was exactly what I felt like I needed more of.

Q: In your experience, how much is healthcare administration about increasing efficiency versus balancing government regulations like OSHA and HIPAA?

James Doyle: Anytime there’s new regulations and things like that. That’s a perfect example of where a hospital, for instance, will have to go out and buy all new computers to make sure that they’re up to code with the privacy setting. Things like that.

Talk about a financial setback. Meanwhile you’re still only at 3.5 stars trying to get above a four-star to compete with the other hospital down the street, and still see all the patients that you need to see to keep providing healthcare to the community.

Government regulations. They’re one of those necessities that unfortunately come with a price. But also improve the overall care and patient experience, no doubt. That’s why they’re there. But definitely and obstacle for healthcare administrators and a challenge. Often times a challenge, which is how you’ve got to look at things in the healthcare administration business.

You can’t look at them as a burden or something like that. You have to look at them as an opportunity. That’s another way the master’s and this line of business has sort of trained my brain to work. They’re not problems, they’re opportunities.

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced when it came to considering a master’s degree in healthcare administration?

James Doyle: I think everybody looks at the price with interest, because most of us use loans. Like you said, I had the GI Bill but unfortunately that was pretty much gone by the time the master’s came along. So it was definitely a little number crunching there and a little nail biting and things like that.

At the end of the day I came to the decision that I’m just going to learn as much as I can and take away as much as I can from this experience, and make sure that – as much as I can – to make sure that I get as much out of the degree as I possibly can. Which like I said just means learning as much as I can about healthcare administration. Obviously the more you know the more it will help you in your path, whatever that may be.

Q: Did you experience any unexpected advantages after you earned your master’s degree in healthcare administration?

James Doyle: Oh boy, I’d say the time management thing. You know, when I got my master’s I was working full-time. Actually I was working full-time and I was working really for two different brands. It was the same company under the same umbrella, but it was two different brands.

I was doing the clinic management thing – being a manager – and then I was also sort of a liaison for a healthcare and insurance company. I was working a lot. And doing the master’s. So I had to learn time management. It’s not easy. It’s not the most difficult thing out there for sure, in terms of degrees. But like everything else it’s the checks and balances and making sure you make time for your family and things like that.

I would say after going through that, my time management skills have greatly improved. Both professionally and personally. I guess that would be the biggest unexpected silver lining.

Q: What preconceptions did you have before you started your master’s in healthcare administration program? Did those turn out to be true?

James Doyle: Like I said. I’m not where I thought I would be. Which is, like I said, a good thing. I’m actually doing my end-result dream and kind of was able to take a shortcut here almost so. That’s one preconceived notion that went out the window: that I was going to be crunching numbers and looking at spreadsheets all day. Things like that.

A lot of it did turn out the way I thought. Using evidence-based management to improve efficiency…the reason I wanted to get into the field. But I guess the preconceived notion that I would actually be doing that today is not that clear.

Q: Have you encountered any surprises in this field since going into it?

James Doyle: Just how much everything costs. Like I said, something comes up and you’ve got to buy new computers. Or you have to start – in eye care for instances – we had to start taking patients’ weight and blood pressure. Things like that. And how much all these extra tests and things add to the overall patient care and resources needed and employees needed to do that sort of thing.

Just a few more tests; how much of a difference that makes. That sort of thing is still in the early stages of being mandated in Wisconsin where I’m at. But it’s definitely been interesting.

Q: What advice would you give to a student who is just starting out and thinking about getting a degree in healthcare administration?

James Doyle: I would say…like I said, if there was one thing that I focused on and that sort of helped me when it came to committing to taking on more student loans and things like that it was, just getting as much out of it as you possibly can. Soaking up as much things as you can.

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I did an internship at a medical clinic while I was going through my master’s degree and that sort of helped bring everything home; to understand the big picture. It wasn’t paid but it paid for itself. Just like most things.

I would say focus on aiming for the experience that you would like, maybe instead of the biggest paycheck or things like that. Once the master’s degree is done, what experience do you want to gain? That’s the most important and will always pay for itself in the end.

Q: Do you have any last things you would like to say regarding your experience in the field of healthcare administration?

James Doyle: Like I said, we touched on it a little bit. This is a really interesting time for healthcare administration. There’s a lot of challenges, or “opportunities,” right? Opportunities to improve efficiency whilst improving patient care. It’s going to be interesting to see what sort of things will come along and the decisions that will have to be made by healthcare administrators.

Again, I think that we’re finding that the need is just going to increase. The demand for healthcare administrators is just going to keep going up.