Laser-eye clinic with an eye for business

Small Business Inside Track Q&ADr Arthur Cummings, owner and medical director, Wellington Eye Clinic

Dr Arthur Cummings: “My next goal is to expand the medical side by having a specialist for every condition.”

Dr Arthur Cummings: “My next goal is to expand the medical side by having a specialist for every condition.”

 

For many of us, choosing the career we want to follow is a painstaking sequence of trial and error, leading us eventually to a job in which we thrive. For Dr Arthur Cummings, it was a case of a friend’s recommendation that set him on his career path in ophthalmology.

“Back in South Africa, where I’m from, a very good friend I’d go swimming with told me that I should specialise in ophthalmology. By this point, I had my path in urology laid out, but I took a week’s leave and spent it in my friend’s clinic.

“From the first day, I knew it was for me. The technology associated with ophthalmology is so fascinating, constantly improving and makes the environment really exciting to work in.”

Although he had conducted cataract, retinal and laser surgeries before, he had yet to study a fellowship in laser, and a position at the Wellington Clinic in Dublin caught his attention. In 1998, with his wife and two young sons, he moved to Ireland for 18 months. Eighteen years later, he’s still here.

“My wife didn’t want to move back. She enjoyed going for a jog, letting the kids walk to school and there was a future for them here.

“And I enjoyed the job: there was immense job satisfaction from this kind of work. I was introduced to the latest technology, and working at a clinic that has a great reputation in both Europe and America.”

Public perception

Prime Time

“Our business took a huge knock, even though the report was only based on three papers, one of which was eight years old. At the end of that year, after an extensive review across 50 countries, Nice reviewed the report and said it was probably the safest procedure in medicine.

“But the media wouldn’t publish the final report – at all. We got advice on what was the best course of action, and we were told to wait for the storm to blow over, which took a year.”

Both this and the recession taught Cummings the value of having more than one string to your bow.

“Eighty-five per cent of our business was focused on laser surgery, and 15 per cent on serious medical conditions of the eye. When that report was released, and again when the recession hit, this really affected us because laser is a luxury service.

“Although business decreased by 40 per cent, the medical branch of the business, such as dealing with cataract surgery, didn’t suffer at all.”

The clinic had to cut back on salaries and look at new ways of serving the public.

“We brought in a warranty for laser surgery, so that if you opted for the treatment and your eyesight decreased to the point where your vision no longer meets the driving standard, then we then we would correct it at no cost. We also partnered insurance firms, offering a 15 per cent discount on laser surgery to their customers. By aligning ourselves with them in this way, we assured people of the procedure’s safety.

“Laser refractive surgery is viewed as a good barometer for the economy; oftentimes, economists use it as an indicator of people’s disposable income. At the moment we have seen an upturn, but it’s not as big as in the apparent economy.

“My next goal is to expand the medical side of the business by having a specialist for every condition. I’m quite a big believer in if you’re doing something, if you’re tuned into it, the more you improve and the better you become.”

The technology renaissance has also given the business a boost, offering easier procedures with improved outcomes. “Lasers are the best they can get. In the next 20 years, they will improve about 1 per cent more, such is the quality of them at the moment. Lenses are still improving drastically from year to year, and we will be interested in their research and investment in the next few years.”

The business is also on the lookout for a replacement for Cummings’s partner, who retired in December 2014.

Commenting on the difficulty of hiring people in the area of ophthalmology and laser surgery, he says: “We’re in a field where, if you think for one minute the patient’s lucky to see you, you don’t have the right attitude. We feel lucky when a patient comes to see us, which I’m told is not a common attitude in medicine.”

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