Meet Joel Ciolek, PA-C
Supply and demand tells us that when there is less of something you are more desirable. A rare gem. A great find.
Joel Ciolek is just that: an ophthalmology PA, one of less than 80 practicing in the field of ophthalmology PAs in the US, a trailblazer, a thought-leader and a true friend to the PA profession.
How to Get Into Ophthalmology
Shake a lot of hands and make a lot of phone calls. Joel Ciolek, as an undergraduate on the east coast, crossed paths with a new friend, the son of an ophthalmologist. This ophthalmologist changed the course of Joel’s career.
His early exposure, shadowing, and working in an ophthalmology office as a technician, his path led to physician associate. Throughout his training Joel was determined to become a PA in ophthalmology, despite not seeing a role model in that field to set his sights on.
Joel is now that role model, one of less than 80 PAs in the United States practicing in the ophthalmology specialty, paving the way for others.
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Ophthalmology vs. Optometry
Ophthalmologists attend 4-years of medical school and then an ophthalmologic residency. Optometrists attend optometry school and take a less surgical approach to training.
Scope of practice is similar clinically with some distinct and important differences. Optometry doesn’t do surgery and focuses on the optical side of optometry – think glasses and contacts, corrective lenses and more. Ophthalmology scope includes medical and surgical care of the eye.
Trailblazing the Field as a PA
Citing patience, persistence and passion for the field of ophthalmology. He spent the first year as a certified physician associate working family medicine. During this time, Joel cold called over three hundred ophthalmology clinics pitching himself as a partner in their practice.
After 299 No’s and 1 single Yes, Joel became a practicing PA in the field of ophthalmology. Being the first means that practices in the field might not “get it” or be looking for PAs to work in that field.
This process required so much vulnerability and persistence to get that one yes and in this episode Joel reminds us that we only need one yes to move forward.
Joel founded OPAC (Ophthalmology Physician Assistant Consulting) to serve ophthalmology PAs, students and ophthalmology practices. He helps with contract negotiations, integrating and onboarding physician assistants at practices domestic and abroad.
Looking to negotate effectively but ophthalmology isn’t your specialty? We’ve got you covered there, too. Make sure to download the PA Pay One Sheet to help you prepare for your next negotiation. I also offer 1-on-1 Negotiation calls to help you strategize your approach and give you effective tactics to use so your admin team doesn’t turn a blind eye on your request.
The Power of Community
When there are only eighty total PAs in the country working in your specialty, it’s pretty easy to feel alone. It’s unlikely that there are other PAs in your practice or even in your town.
What you’re lacking is that community and connection with other ophthalmology PAs. Joel started that as a grassroots effort and now has formalized the community of ophthalmology PAs in a specialty organization through the AAPA: the Society of Ophthalmology PAs.
Unique Ophthalmology Aspects
Ophthalmology is specific and unique, but if you’re performing surgery, you’ll find some overlap with hangups that other surgical specialties run into when negotiating. The field of ophthalmology is vast and varied, so your compensation and ability to generate income will largely be impacted by your specific field of practice, panel of patients, and the format of your template.
If you are looking for support for ophthalmology-specific contract negotiations, understanding how to pitch yourself to a practice, and becoming a highly effective PA operating at the top of your license to the fullest potential in this unique field, consider engaging Joel’s consulting services.
Also, plan to connect with Joel on Instagram where he shares about life, travel, ophthalmology and more.
Burnout is Ubiquitous
Here’s the thing about burnout. It can happen to any provider in any field. Joel shares how swimming helps him to decompress, process his day, and complete the cycle of stress. He uses swimming as a bridge between him wearing his PA hat at work and turning into a person so he can show up well at home.
Burnout isn’t simply a psychological phenomenon. There are real, stress-related physical manifestations of burnout. We carry this burnout as insomnia, other illness, tension and more.
Being burned out doesn’t simply affect us, it has an impact on our patients, our families and relationships, our health and wellness.
Hindsight is 20/20
Looking back on our careers, both Joel and I believe that asking more questions when interviewing for or taking on a new job is better. Clarifying the details and making sure that you understand the contract, specifics and compensation package as a whole.
Be Curious and Brave
Ophthalmology might not be your thing, but there’s an area of medicine that is interesting and uncharted. You could be the first (or one of the first) PAs to break into that field and blaze the trail, just like Joel did.
Simply because you don’t see other PAs reflected in that field doesn’t mean that it’s not possible. What it means is that you need to leverage your grit, persistence and lean on your passion to make it happen.