Dr. Mile Brujic is one of the mst recognizable figures in the eyecare industry. As a business owner, prominent speaker, and educator, Dr. Brujic has impacted the profession of optometry in numerous ways. In this engaging conversation, Dr. Brujic shares how he became the prolific figure that he is today. Through relatable anecdotes and approachable advice, he shares many insights that can help all listeners (from optometry students to seasoned practitioners) grow and improve.
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Building A LEGACY In Eyecare – Dr. Mile Brujic
Thank you so much for taking the time to join me here to learn and grow. I am always so grateful for all the support and everything you’ve been doing to help the show grow. I have an amazing guest that I’m super excited to have on here. Before I dive in, and you may have seen it on social media, I posted and something happened on Apple Podcasts. We had a bit of a glitch. All of the reviews and ratings that had been given in 2023 to the show are gone for some reason.
I’m humbly asking, if you don’t mind, please go to Apple Podcasts and leave me a review to help us boost that again so we can get in front of more of our colleagues to share the amazing conversations that we’re having such as the one I’m about to have here with Dr. Mile Brujic. If you don’t know him, he’s an all-star and a living legend in the optometry space. He’s a lecturer on so many boards and contributes to the industry in so many different ways, a fellow NECO grad.
He’s a partner in a big three-owner practice that has four different locations and eight doctors. He lectures on various topics but primarily leans into advanced anterior disease and specialty contact lenses. Some of the fun stuff I want to talk about is he is a guitar connoisseur. He plays in a band. He has thirteen guitars. We’re going to have to talk about that because I like guitars. I don’t know that much about him. He’s also a family man. He has two daughters and is a girl dad like me. I’m excited to dive into all of these different things. Dr. Brujic, thank you so much for joining me on the show. I appreciate it.
Thank you for having me on. I appreciate it.
Honestly, it’s been a long time coming. I’ve been observing you from afar. I know we’ve met briefly and chatted. You were kind enough to invite me to your podcast, but I’ve been excited to bring you on and tap into all the different things that you are doing. One of the first things I wanted to talk to you about is the amount of speaking, consulting, working on boards, all these things that you do, and the impact that you’re having on our profession.
I’d love for you to share, if you wouldn’t mind, how you got to this level. It’s a pretty advanced level. Not a lot of people are going to be at that same level as you. We’d like to learn how somebody like you gets to that level there, and maybe inspire some of us to get a little higher up on what we’re doing as well.
That’s so generous and nice to share. I will tell you how I started to get involved in things outside the office. As a clinician, we’re all involved with things inside of the practice. We’re caring for patients on a daily basis. When I first graduated, I was practicing four days a week in the practice that I’m in right now. This was back in 2002. I thought, “I am going to talk to some independent opticians in the greater Toledo area and see if anybody has a day a week.” There are independent opticians that have an exam room in their offices and opticals.
I started talking to a few of these individuals. There’s one person I met and we started talking a little bit. He said, “Do you ever do any education?” I said, “Not up to this point.” He said, “Would you like to do some education?” I said, “What do you mean?” He goes, “As opticians, we need to have several hours of contact lens education. You seem like a good person to acquire that information from.” I remember thinking about it and talking to my wife about it. It was a whole week-long process. I finally got back to the optician and said, “I’d like to try this.”
I graduated in May 2002. February 2003 was the first lecture that I gave. I remember I was so nervous for the first 10 to 15 minutes of this two-hour talk. I was horrified and nervous. You start getting into your groove and understand how the flow goes. You’re conveying information in an organized way. It’s like you and I having this conversation, only there are more people involved in our conversation.
At the end of the lecture, the person who invited me came up to me and said, “I got to ask you two things. How old are you? Everybody is asking because you look so young.” I said, “I’m 27.” He said, “What? When did you graduate?” I said, “Last May.” He goes, “You’ve been graduated for less than a year?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “If I knew that, I never would have asked you to come here and give this lecture, but everybody wants you back. We do this same thing in November. If you want to come back, we have an opportunity for you here.”
I remember driving home from that event. This was 45 minutes from my house. I called my wife on the flip phone at the time, before there were even any rules about cell phones and cars. I said, “Sonia, I want to do this more.” I realize that I didn’t feel comfortable enough with my clinical experience yet to go and share information with colleagues, from optometry to ophthalmology for that matter. What I realized is I wanted to develop myself in terms of the speaking style that I had. If I was working with opticians and para-optometrics, I knew that I could develop that because I already had a mastery of that information. That was just figuring out how to convey it.
I called every state association’s meeting. I said, “Do you guys have any optician or paraoptometric education? Do you have any openings there?” I remember at the back of the AOA Journal, the Optometric Management, and all the journals that have all the meetings listed, I’d call them one at a time. Most people told me, “We’re all set for this year, but we’ll keep you on the list.”
I remember the first conference said, “We do have an opening. Can you send me your courses?” I had a course. This is the crazy part about it in 2003, it was Dry Eye and Contact Lenses. That’s what my course was called. When you fast forward twenty years to 2023, that’s the massive focus in my practice, advanced anterior segment disease. It drives a big part of that specialty lens. I had to think about 3, 4, or 5 courses. I had to think of titles and summaries. I told Sonia, “I’m going to put these together. If they accept them, I’ll build them then.” They accepted it all. I had to build five courses, and the rest is history.
When you’re in front of audiences that you’re well aware of, you have to be well-prepared for the information that you’re conveying. That feeds back into what you do in the office as well. In my mind, it makes me sharper with the information that I’m providing to patients. I know I’m always giving them the most updated information and people can feel that.
It was feeding back into what I was doing in my exam room. In that same vein, it was giving me more clinical experience to get out there. It was 2006 when I had my first OD lecture. I kept meeting people in the industry. I kept communicating with individuals and sharing with them that this is something I enjoy doing. It kept building from there until the point where we are right now.
That’s amazing. I appreciate you sharing that great story. It highlights so many of the important things that you need to do as an individual who wants to get out there. On top of all those things, you’re a talented speaker. You have a great way of conveying the messages you want to convey. That’s a talent that was innate to you. I’m sure it’s also a skill that you developed over all these years of putting yourself out there.
If you were to tell me 21 years ago that this is what I would be consuming part of my time with, I would have said, “No way. I can’t go up in front of audiences. I’m so scared. I’m nervous. That’s not my deal.” When you pull yourself out of your comfort zone and you test yourself to see what you like, then you find those paths that you never even maybe thought would have potentially existed.
In that same vein too, there’s an opportunity for anybody to do this if you’re passionate about it. Just keep seeking and pursuing those options and opportunities, putting yourself out there, and making sure you’re communicating with people. If you have good ideas to share about clinical insights that you feel you have, make sure you’re verbalizing those things to colleagues and industry people.
Thank you for that wonderful advice. A lot of what you said is consistent with my journey into speaking, advising, and all of this as well. I’m many years behind you, not because I graduated after you. I started much later in my career as far as speaking and things like that. I always wanted to do it but I didn’t know how to get into it. Eventually, similar to you, I just kept putting energy out there. My first talk was to a big group of opticians on contact lenses. Also along the way, I started to pitch myself to conferences and I got the same question back, “Send us your courses.” I was like, “I think I may have one.”
I did the same thing. I wrote a list of courses that I’m interested in that I could potentially develop. I said, “Let’s see what they come up.” A couple of years ago, the same thing happened. They said, “We’ll take all three.” I was like, “I got 3 to 4 months to put this together now.” The thing is it’s weird. I always looked at a good friend of mine over the last few years. I was like, “How are you speaking at all these conferences? How do you have so many different lectures? How do you have the time to put this all together?”
Now, people are asking me that question, and I realize that it’s an addictive thing that happens. You put a couple of lectures together. You get a good response when you’re speaking. You’re like, “I want to put something else together.” You chip away at it. I’ll slowly develop a lecture in a couple of months. I’ll add it to my roster of lectures that I send out to people, and it keeps churning it.
Please correct me if I’m wrong, but the next time you give that same lecture, it’s going to evolve because you realized, “I wanted to say this a little bit differently. I realized I didn’t communicate this as well as I wanted to.” In that same vein, there’s always new information as well. You see that the base or the bones of that lecture are still the same, but you are constantly modifying and fine-tuning it. When you give it again, even though it’s the same lecture on paper, it’s very different in terms of its delivery.
Absolutely. Thank you for that. That’s a great story and great information. I’m still trying to do a bit more and try to get more involved in the industry, but for others who are just starting that journey, a lot of it is putting yourself out there. I love the fact that you are calling all these different conferences and meetings like, “How can I be involved?” That’s probably the most important thing to do. You could be not a very good speaker, to begin with, but if you keep putting yourself out there, slowly you’ll develop that.
This is the other question that I wanted to ask you that I imagine other people ask you too. How do you do all the things that you’re doing? We’re going to get into the music in all of that in a minute. You play in a band, you do all these speaking, you’re attending all these conferences, you’re consulting, and you’re seeing patients. You’re in the clinic right now. How and where do you find the time to do all of that?
I have to quote my senior partner on this several years ago. This statement that I’m going to share with you is the most valuable thing that I could share on this whole show. My senior partner is John Archer. Years ago, he asked me if I wanted to do something. I looked at him and said, “John, I don’t think I have time to do that.” He looked at me and said, “Don’t ever tell me you don’t have time to do something.” Tell me that it’s low enough on your priority list that you don’t want to do it, but don’t tell me that you don’t have time to do it. If I gave you a task or something attractive enough, you’ll probably make time for it.” I sat back in my chair and I thought, “That is exactly right. That is 100% truthful.”
Whenever you’re presented with something, you’re always in your mind saying, “How important is this to me? Where am I going to put this on my priority list?” When you say, I don’t have time to do it, you’re choosing not to do that. You’re choosing that this is a low-priority item right now in your life. It may be something that prioritizes itself as time goes on. It may have had a higher priority in the past, but right now, it’s a low-priority item.
With that said, I prioritized the things that I was most passionate about. When you start doing that, it’s amazing how you can carve out and build time for those things. I will tell you though that all the stuff that I’m involved in right now has been an interesting journey because it didn’t start like this. Sonia and I joke and laugh. In 2003, I had a lecture that I had to get on a plane for and go somewhere. In 2004, I had two meetings that I had to get on a plane and go to. In 2005, I had four meetings. As a young couple at the time, we’ve evolved into this very slowly.
We fast-forward to ten years and it looked a lot different than it did year one, but we had evolved into it. We realized how unique our situation was. When we started talking to family and friends, we took it for granted. Meal is going to be gone this night, this weekend, or whatever. We realized how unique that was. I had that deep-seated support at home. Without that, none of it can happen.
I’m thankful to Sonia for being the backbone behind that and being supportive of it. She said, “Mile, if it ever gets to a point where you don’t want to do it, just stop.” I love that she said that. She also said, “If you like doing it and if you’re passionate about it, I’ll support you.” She’s been a support system. It’s been something that has slowly grown throughout the years that we’ve evolved through as well.
That’s cool that you had that evolution together because it makes it a lot easier to understand. I’m sure there are still challenging times in there where you’re like, “I got to go do this thing,” but you’ve been away for a while, whatever the conversations that happen at home. For the support part, I have to 100% echo. A lot of times, when I get asked the question, how do you do all the different things, which I’m not doing as many as you, but keeping myself busy. That’s the first answer I give, “I’m fortunate to have a lot of support,” and the fact that my wife is extremely understanding.
For me, it didn’t evolve over time. It happened all of a sudden in the last couple of years. In 2023, I was going to 10 or 12 different meetings, which for me is crazy. That’s way more than I was doing in the past decades or whatever. For us, we adopt. We have three kids now, so I’m trying to adjust all the family stuff and the clinic.
Going back to the advice of your senior partner, I feel like people need to write that down. It’s not that you don’t have time. It’s that you are choosing not to make time for that thing. Fine, it’s not your priority. It’s all good. Don’t say, “I don’t have time.” If there’s something that you were super excited and jacked up about and you couldn’t wait to do it, you would get up at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning to do that thing if you have to.
You’d carve out time for it. I love how blunt and honest he was, “Just tell me it’s a low-priority item.”
There doesn’t have to be any emotion attached or it doesn’t have to be a subjective thing. It can be objectively simply put, “This is number six on my list of priorities. I have to make time for the other things.” The next question I have for you though is this. What if you have a few things that in your mind are high priority or whatever the mid-top three things that are your priorities? You got some consulting thing and speaking gig. You also got patients you got to see. Of course, family is important, but all of a sudden, there’s a crunch in the timeline there. Are there times when that happens when you have some conflicts and you have to struggle to prioritize the top few things?
One hundred percent. What I’m going to share with you right now is my perspective on what it means to be a professional. When you’ve made a commitment to something, someone, or an event, that takes precedence. If I’ve said, “I’m going to carve out time at this time on this day to be at this place,” and I’ve looked at my schedule and I’ve made that commitment, then something else comes up that maybe I personally would want to do more. I’ve already made a commitment to this first entity so that sticks. That’s the unmovable part. That’s being true to your word. That’s a high level of professionalism, the way that I perceive it. I try to keep myself as best as I possibly can to that standard.
When you’ve made a commitment to something or someone, that takes precedent over anything.
Those commitments that I have come first. The additional things that come on now have to rotate in between those things or see how we can figure them out. What I’ve found is it’s being open and honest with the individual, whether it be a professional society or a person, “I got a commitment this day, but I want to help you with X, Y, Z. Let’s figure out a time when we can do that.” Other times, if it’s a low-priority item, I’ve started to become much more honest with that as opposed to pigeonholing myself into doing things that I don’t want to do.
I say, “I think what you’re doing is great, but I don’t think it’s the right path for me moving forward, especially where my interests lie in optometry. I don’t think I’m going to be the most valuable for you in this with respect to what you’re looking for.” What I’ve started doing a lot more so with the next generation of people like yourself, “I know 3 or 4 people that would be awesome at this.” They find those people, and those individuals end up calling me and thanking me for making those connections.
I’ll be very specific on one but I’ll leave the names out of it. There’s a large company that produces scleral lenses. They said, “Can you do this lecture?” I said, “I can’t do this, but I know a great person that’s close to that area that can help you out. They’re a rising star.” Sure enough, I called them up. The person who held this meeting called me up the day after and said, “This person is a rockstar. You can’t believe how grateful I am for you introducing me to this person.”
That’s extremely generous of you. There are multiple things in what you said that I wanted to quickly tap into. One is learning how to say no graciously like you have there, “Maybe I’m not the right fit.” You’re taking that so much further and making a recommendation. You’re helping out both parties here. You’re helping the person who has asked you in the first place to come and do whatever they’ve asked you to do by then providing them with somebody who can fill that hole. You’re helping that other person by giving them an opportunity that they may not have otherwise had. That’s incredible.
It reminds me of Ray Dalio. He is one of the biggest all-time greatest investors. Many billions of dollars that he’s invested in whatever. He’s in his 70s or something like that. He’s now at a point in his career where he defined his life in three sections. One is growing, learning, and starting to try to become the thing he wants to become. There’s a part of being that person and becoming successful. The third part, which he says he’s in now, is to help other people become that. It reminds me of what you said now.
I’m sure you still have lots of things you want to achieve, but you’ve gotten to a point where you’re like, “I’m good. I have lots going on. I got priorities.” That sentence doesn’t end there. It goes, “Let me help somebody else to do the things.” That’s cool that you’re doing that. I appreciate that on behalf of those people that you’re doing that for.
There are certain scenarios where there was an opportunity for other people to do that, but maybe they looked past it. I noticed that from the other perspective of not having someone offer me a position like that and understanding that there’s value in being generous to other people in the community. It helps the community grow and it helps you look like a much more generous person.
I’m pretty good at looking at things objectively. I’ve now been in clinical practice for 21 years. I view myself as a person who’s in the middle of their career. When you look at a career that’s maybe going to 65-ish or 66-ish, I’m at that midpoint right now. I’m not the rookie anymore. I’m not a seasoned clinician who is looking for an exit strategy. I’m right in the middle of that if we call 40 years a planned career, so to speak. With that said, things change and priorities start to change over time.
Even when we go to meetings, and you know this too, there’s an energy that youth brings that is very difficult to replicate with elderly clinicians. There is a wisdom that elderly clinicians bring, but there is a youthful energy that’s difficult to replicate. I use this term very loosely, but thinking early on in my career, I was clawing for any opportunity I could have. When I see that in somebody and in a younger clinician, I am overly gracious to that person. I’m attempting everything I possibly can to provide them with whatever opportunities I can. Sometimes I can’t, other than little pieces of advice if they even want it. As much as I can, I always try to at least give back a little bit to those individuals who want to be involved more, and where I see that potential and opportunity for them.
That’s amazing that you’re doing that. It’s beneficial on so many levels to the individual that you’re supporting, whatever the other entity that requires that support, and to the profession as a whole. If we feel that comrade and that support, we’re more likely to then pay that forward to somebody else. That’s only going to help us get better versus becoming more siloed and not wanting to support one another.
I’m glad that you said that. The reason why I did this was because the people before me did the same thing to me. They took a chance on me. They opened the door for me. They gave me an opportunity. For some of them, they saw some of the passion that they had in me. You’re exactly right. I’m so glad you brought that up because it is contagious. You learn from your predecessors. When you see other individuals doing that for yourself, which I’ll be the first to admit, that several have opened those doors for me. If I could even open up one door for a person, that’s going to be a win moving forward.
That’s great. I hope that people who are tuning in will hopefully take that same energy and reach out to others and try to support other people that they know who could benefit from that. Talking about passing down wisdom or supporting the next generation, Optometric Insights, yourself, and Dave Kading. You have a podcast which we’ll talk about a little bit, but you have this entity. You go into schools and you talk to students on different topics. You enrich that next generation with this knowledge that you have so they can come out and be more successful. Tell us a little bit about that, and then I want to share some advice from your perspective for the student and the new grad. We’ll go into that in a minute, as well as how they can succeed.
This is a wild story. Dr. Kading, I don’t even want to say he’s a professional friend. I just want to say friend. We’ve done so many projects together. We are philosophically aligned. This was wild. I practiced in Ohio and he practiced in Seattle. We were at a conference together. This was back in 2006 to 2007. We’re both young bucks at the time. We graduated in 5 or 6 years.
I said, “Dave, I went to these schools. There are these new things called private practice clubs that didn’t exist when I was in school.” He’s like, “I went to a few of those on the West Coast.” I go, “Really? What did you talk about?” We ended up talking about very similar things. I said, “Dave, wouldn’t it be so cool if we had some type of vehicle so that what we’re sharing with the students doesn’t just end with our entrance and exit in the school? If there is something that can sustain that presence with the students.” He said, “Yeah, let’s start something.” That was the birth of Optometric Insights.
What we initially created Optometric Insights for was career coaching for optometry students and emerging practitioners. What we were trying to do globally with this big mission is two things. It’s to accelerate success by sharing with students and young or emerging practitioners the things that we wish we knew when we were in their shoes. That’s our goal. Everything else that we do stems from that philosophy. We had this program where we went into 10 to 12 schools a year. We’d go to the private practice clubs. We’d share with them strategies on what we did right and wrong. That’s sometimes a humbling experience as well.
That’s equally important information.
A hundred percent. I always want to learn from somebody else’s mistakes not from my own mistakes. Let me preface that by saying, “I’d rather learn by somebody else’s mistakes than my own mistakes.” I’m an astute listener. I love listening to people because I want to make sure that I position myself, as best as I can, for success with whatever I do. We share these things with the students. We started realizing that the dry eye space at the same time was evolving very fast.
I’d rather learn from somebody else’s mistakes than from my own.
We said, “Under the Optometric Insights umbrella, let’s create a second program specifically related to the ocular surface.” We titled it SWOS Student Workshop of the Ocular Surface. We go into schools and it’s about 2 to 3 hours of didactic lecture, and then they go to workstations where they get to experience all these technologies firsthand. Some of the schools have put it in their curriculum, which is wild.
We have these two branches. We then said, “Why don’t we start communicating with our colleagues on a lot of these topics?” That’s the third bucket of Optometric Insights, which is the podcast series that you referenced earlier. What I’m most proud of here is we just published our first book. It’s called The Optometric Insights Student Handbook. It was released online on our website on December 12th, 2022. It’s the things that we wish we knew when we were in optometry school, starting with year 1, this is what you should and could be doing to prepare yourself for graduation. Year 2, this is what you could and should be doing, then year 3 and 4.
It’s an eBook with no cost to any students. It’s being downloaded like wildfire. The students are grabbing it and getting a hold of it. You can download it on an iPad or your computer or you can print it up if you want to, however you want to consume that information. That gives you a little bit of the philosophy behind Optometric Insights as to what Dave and I originally created it for, and how it has evolved as well. It’s something that we are both so passionate about.
That’s going back to the previous thing about giving back and sharing information with people, and helping support the industry and the profession. That’s great. You’ve been doing it for years now. I didn’t realize it had been that long. I imagine that the reception to that, both from the schools and the students, has been great. Let’s take the brand new optometry student. In 2023, they’re just starting their first year and their first semester. What are 2 or 3 pieces of advice that you would share with that student that’s going to support them through that journey now?
This is agnostic of what you want to do when you graduate. These are three things that I feel any student in any program would benefit from, specifically optometry. The first is to view your student loans or whatever you have to take as an investment into your future, but don’t abuse that student loan. Take what you need and view it as an investment into the future. If you can get away with taking a little bit less, cut those corners when you can. When you start adding the interest onto these loans over time, it does make a tremendous difference over the long haul, depending on whether you’re at a 5, 10, 15, or 20-year repayment plan or whatever you decide that to be.
The second thing I would advise any student is while you’re in school, it’s never too early to start preparing for what you’re going to be doing after graduation. Oftentimes, I’ll talk to third and fourth-year students. I’ll say, “What do you think you want to do after graduation?” There’s a question mark. “I’m not sure yet. I haven’t started looking.” This isn’t at the beginning of their fourth year when we’re asking these questions. This is February, March, and April when graduation dates are in May of that year.
My advice to you is to start doing things early to prepare for your future after optometry school because it’s never too early to start doing that. What we’ve found working with thousands of students is the earlier you start thinking about it, and sometimes it’s nothing more than communicating with individuals in the early years. The more you start doing that, the more intentional you are after graduation and the greater the chances are that you’ll end up practicing in the setting that you envision yourself wanting to practice in, as opposed to feeling like, “I have to do X, Y, Z for the first few years.” You don’t have to do anything. You choose to do those things. The sooner we start planning for it, the better we’re able to do it.
The third thing, and this one starts to get difficult, but you start to hone in more on this one as you get closer to graduation. This third one for optometry is important. Try your best to figure out what region of the country or the world you want to practice in. The reason why Dave and I always feel like that’s one of the most important things as a student to do is once you feel like, “I got this area and this is why I’m doing it,” it could be because of family. I moved to Ohio because I’m one hour from the international border where Detroit crosses into Windsor, Ontario, Canada. I’m originally from Windsor, so I wanted to be close to family, but I wanted to practice in the US.
With that said, I sought out opportunities within Northwest Ohio because I knew the distance was very close to that international border. For a scope of reasons at the time, I wanted to be practicing in Ohio, but I knew that was the location that I wanted to be in. As soon as you know the location, you can then start honing in on what you feel the opportunities may be. Start talking to individuals directly in that environment to get a feel for what optometry seems like in that region or area.
That’s amazing advice. I didn’t know you’re Canadian.
I’m originally from Windsor, Ontario.
I like you even more now.
Americans, do not take that aggressively.
No offense. I love all my American friends too. Canadian originally, there’s going to be a little extra love for that. Amazing advice. I hope all students, whether you’re early on the first couple days of your first year or if you’re a couple years in now, all of that advice is relevant. Please take note of that. Let’s talk about the person who just graduated a few months ago and now is in the first couple months of their work life. What advice would you have for that person?
This is now transitioning, so now you’re out. I’m going to assume too that the individual is now somewhere practicing, whether it be their own office, an associate at a private practice, a corporate setting, or a hospital. Whatever it is, that individual is now out in the real world and they have an opportunity. I did some things very well early on. I did some things that I wish I would’ve done a little bit differently. It’s taking a look back and saying, “If somebody told me this when I was walking out, I would’ve been in a less uncertain zone.”
The first thing and this is arguably one of the most important things because when you graduate optometry school, you know what it’s like to live like a student. There’s no transition. You haven’t lived any other life yet. When you finally graduate, there’s going to be a massive temptation to buy a nice brand-new car, and I know we’re going to get to the guitars. I told all my classmates, “Nice cars, but that’s not the thing for me. When I have some money, I want to buy a nice guitar.” I don’t necessarily want to buy a nice car, but you’re going to have that urge.
You’re going to feel like, “I’ve worked for four years. I’ve put my dues in. Now it’s time for me to start reaping some of those rewards.” The longer you can delay that, the better your long-term outcomes are going to be. If you could take those first few years and pull that urge back to getting that big mortgage. Pull that urge back to get that nice brand-new car. Pull that urge back to start spending a lot on yourself because it’s easy out of optometry school. You know how to live like a student. Continue doing that for the first 2 or 3 years out of optometry school. I promise you, it will pay you massive dividends.
Unlike a seasoned clinician, you start realizing very quickly that you have financial flexibility because you’re now committing to the loan payments that you have to pay back if you’ve taken student loans. You’re starting to save some money and some flexibility because your salary or your compensation will increase over time. You start very lean and you continue that for the first two years to give yourself some level of financial flexibility. That’s advice one.
The second piece of advice, make sure you have a good account. I’m not talking about H&R Block. Not that I’m putting down any of those services, but you need somebody that you can pick up the phone and say, “Here’s an opportunity, or here’s a situation, or here’s something that I’ve been told. Is this something that’s going to benefit me?” I have started on a quarterly basis. Every time I have a financial question about how it’s going to have tax implications, I write it down in a book. Quarterly I meet with my accountant and I say, “Josh, somebody told me this. Does this apply to me?” They’ll say, “Yes, it does. That’s a great idea,” or “No, it doesn’t, and here’s why.”
That recalibrates things for the same reason that the curious patient will come in and say, “I saw this on Google. Is there any reality to this?” Our job as a professional is to put things into context for them and even sometimes why they may have seen that. That’s the accountant’s job for us. The third thing is to make sure you have an attorney with whom you can ask questions and with whom you can have a free-flowing conversation. Those are the three in my mind for a young clinician graduating. Those are arguably the three most important things that you should be considering as you get out into the real world.
Amazing advice. I imagine the first one is probably the hardest. You come out and you’re like, “I’m making money now and I want to buy the thing.” You want to hang out with your friends and do the things that everybody else is doing. That’s challenging. I’m thinking back to early in my career, most of my friends did not go to optometry. At least when I came back to Vancouver, I was the only optometrist in my group of friends. Many of them had finished school years earlier or started a business years earlier. By the time I’m done optometry school in my late twenties, they’ve already made some money and already bought some stuff. I want to be where they’re at.
It’s tough. It’s not easy. That’s a psychological thing that delayed gratification is beneficial in so many areas of our lives. Maybe none more important than what you said. Thanks for sharing that. I hope the students who are in school right now take some value from that. The new grads take some value from that.
I want to switch gears a little bit or cords a little bit. That’s not a very good segue. I want to talk about your guitars and your music. We talked a lot about work. Let’s talk about some of the fun stuff. It’s too bad that you’re not in your studio there because when we recorded the Optometric Insights episode, you had all the guitars in the back. When I logged on to that conversation, I was like, “Wow.” Tell me about the guitars. When you got out of school, the first thing you wanted to buy was a guitar.
When I’m sitting behind that thing, they think it’s a fake background. I took six months of guitar lessons when I was in fifth grade, and then I stopped. Some kids gravitate to other things. When I was in high school, I realized I wanted to start playing again. We had a really old acoustic guitar. Mom said, “If you get straight A’s, I’ll buy you an electric guitar with a little practice amp.” I got straight A’s that semester. She kept her word and she got the guitar. I was always passionate about music, but I never played music regularly.
There’s a Serbian instrument called the Prim, which is like a little mandolin. I played that for a little bit in 7th and 8th grade. When I got to high school, those were the formative years for a lot of us, high school and college. I caught the bug and it was in the era and the days when Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Green Day were the big iconic bands at the time. I started mimicking those bands and following what they were doing. I’m surprised how many people have picked up a guitar at some point in their lives, but then they stopped playing. I never stopped.
Somebody at some point in your life taught you the basics around it, but you stopped or you got to a point where other things were a higher priority to you. I kept guitar always as somewhat of a priority. Even if I’d go a few weeks without picking it up, after that few weeks, I’ll always pick it up even if a little bit, to keep the fingers moving and to keep things fluid. When you have more time, you spend more time on it. When you have less time, you spend less time on it, but I never dropped it.
Fifteen years ago, one of my best friends now here in Bowling Green was an emergency patient. This is not going against HIPAA laws. He told me that I could share this story. I treated him for a red eye. He came in for a follow-up visit. He said, “I can’t believe how quickly my eye got better. Do you like the Tigers?” I said, “I guess. Why?” He’s like, “Do you want to go? I got four tickets and I can’t go tomorrow.”
I said, “What? How much do I owe you?” He is like, “You don’t owe me anything. Take them and have a good time.” We started talking after that. He plays guitar and we started playing here locally together, and the rest is history. The bottom line is I’ve always had a passion for music. When I started playing in high school more regularly, I never stopped it. My passion for guitar and music kept growing from there.
That’s amazing. Super cool. I always love when I speak to somebody and they have a hobby that they’re passionate about and that they continue to do, whether it’s guitar or carpentry. It’s something that they do that is creative in a way that’s not just eye-care or business. I think that’s great. I’m sure it supports your brain in helping come up with other ideas and things that you do at work. What’s the most expensive guitar that you own?
The most expensive one is probably right now my Gibson Les Paul, which was a $5,000 guitar.
What is your favorite guitar?
That varies. That’s like asking, “What’s your favorite song?” Right now my favorite guitar is the newest guitar that I bought. It’s a Paul Reed Smith electric guitar, and it’s a gorgeous guitar. To give you perspective, it’s the style of guitar that if you know Santana, that’s the style of guitar that he plays. It’s a beautifully engineered piece of equipment.
When I picked it up to play it, I realized I should have had this a long time ago. It fits my playing style. That right now is my favorite one. It varies. I have a Gibson SG. That’s like the Angus Young guitar from AC/DC with the two little horns on it. Sometimes that becomes my favorite. Sometimes there are acoustic guitars that I play more. It depends on where I am and what kind of music I’m playing most of the time.
The personality that you’re channeling at that time.
That’s exactly right.
Not that this is relevant to the guitars, but if you were to ask me my all-time favorite song, it’s always the same answer. If I have a song that I like right now, you’re right, that will change, but Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal is my all-time favorite song. The Bad album is my favorite album of all time. That’s always going to be the case. Man in the Mirror and Dirty Diana. There are so many great songs on that album. We’ll get a little closer to wrapping up. Dr. Brujic, there are a couple of questions I ask everybody at the end of every episode. Before I get to those, I want to ask, how can people connect with you? What if somebody wanted to ask you some questions, where can they reach out?
The best place is www.OptometricInsights.com. We have email trails on both of those. Optometric Insights is very socially active as well. If any of the students are interested in the book, there’s no charge for it. There’s a link right off of our website. You go right to the student handbook, put in your name and your graduation, we’ll send it right to your email.
On Instagram, it’s just @OptometricInsights.
That’s also our Facebook and all of the other socials as well.
The last two questions that I ask every guest, and this is the first one. If we could hop in a time machine and go back to a time when younger Mile was struggling with something, you’re welcome to share that experience if you’d like to. More importantly, what advice would you give to yourself at that time?
High school was a little bit of a tougher time for me. The advice that I would give myself is don’t worry, keep your chin up. Things are going to get better. The things that you have the toughest time with right now, be cognizant of those things because that will be your passion to develop. The things that you’re strongest at are out of the things that you’re weakest at right now.
Be cognizant of the things that you have the toughest time with right now, because that will be your passion to develop the things that you’re strongest at out of the things that you’re weakest at right now.
Just to give you perspective, I was a shy kid. I wasn’t an outspoken kid growing up. Doing these types of things would’ve frightened me three decades ago. It would’ve been like a total thing coming out of my shell. I would’ve probably lost sleep over it. I’ll give myself advice that it’s okay. Try and get through it as best as you can, and things are going to get better. Now that’s what I spend most of my time doing. It is communicating with patients in the exam chair and also with colleagues like yourself.
That’s great advice. I was having a conversation with somebody and there were a lot of people. That person was saying the same thing. They were quiet in their shell, didn’t know how to break out of it, and something happened along the way because they kept at it. The next thing you know, they blossomed into the person they are. That’s great advice. Last question. In everything you’ve achieved to this point in your life, which is quite a lot of things, how much of it would you say is due to luck, and how much is hard work?
Anybody that you ask, where you’re looking to that individual and ask them, “How did you get to this level?” The humble individual always says, “I got these lucky breaks.” When you look at them, listen to them, talk to them, and follow them and you say, “Tell me how this all happened,” you realize that their path is different. When you look at the iconic best athletes in the world, I have friends who sit back and say, “That guy is a naturally gifted athlete.” Yeah, but when you look and you say this individual steps on the court two hours before any of his teammates do, every single time they go. After the game, not only are they not relaxing but they’re also doing other things to provide media support. That’s somebody different than the individual who walks in, punches the clock, and leaves.
I’m fortunate enough that I’ve had so many people help me along the way. The support from individuals and not being thankful for that would be missing a piece to all of this. In that same vein, I’ve worked hard for everything. It’s interesting. I had an opportunity coming out of optometry school with an ophthalmology practice. 9/11 happened in my fourth year. The same ophthalmologist called me. He told me, “We don’t have a spot for you anymore. Sorry.” That was the end of the conversation. I was stuck. I realized from that point forward that I want to be somebody who’s a business owner so that I can do my best to control my destiny.
There are always factors outside of what we can personally do. You’re grateful when things work out your way. I wanted either the success or the failure of what happens with the practice at the time to be on my shoulders as opposed to somebody else saying, “We don’t need you anymore, so you’re gone.” From that point forward, I’ve taken that same level of responsibility with every single thing that I do moving forward. Is there luck? Yeah, I’m certain there is. Everybody pulls the A’s sometimes. I don’t want to discount the level of work that goes into every single thing that I do because I’m passionate about it. Whenever I do anything, I want to make sure that it’s at the best level possible.
I love it. Great answer. Thank you very much. Any other final words of wisdom you’d like to share with us?
Just keep doing what you’re doing, Harbir. I see everything that you’re doing and your group of peeps are doing. Keep developing and building your passions because eye care and optometry need these types of forms. We need the things that you guys are doing at Vision Expo West. Keep up the great efforts and the work, and keep developing yourselves as well. You’re the leader now. I want to say you’re the next generation of leaders, but that’s not the case. You guys are the leaders now. You guys are the ones that are carrying the flag forward. Make sure you keep staying true to the things that you’re most passionate about, and make sure you’re doing things that are in the best interest of your patients in the profession.
Thank you very much. I appreciate that. Just like you, we’re standing on the shoulders of the people who came before us and gave us the opportunity. Thank you for doing that and being so supportive of your peers, the next generation, and so on, and helping the industry grow. I’ll say thank you on behalf of the rest of us who are getting to do what we want to do because you, Dave, and others have done the right things along the way as well. Thank you so much, Dr. Brujic, for being here. I appreciate it. This is one of my favorite conversations. I’ve been looking forward to having you on. It’s been wonderful. It’s been everything I expected it to be. Thank you very much.
Thank you to everybody who’s tuning in to the show. Don’t forget to share this. Put a link on LinkedIn, send a screenshot to your friends, and please do leave a review as it helps the show to grow and helps to reach more of our colleagues. Thank you all so much. I’ll see you again in the next episode.
- Dr. Mile Brujic on LinkedIn
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About Dr. Mile Brujic
Mile Brujic, O.D. graduated from the New England College of Optometry in 2002. He currently resides in Bowling Green, OH and is a partner of a multi-location group practice where he sees patients in Bowling Green and Lima, OH. He practices full scope optometry and has special interests in ocular disease management and challenging contact lens fittings. He is an active member of the Rotary Club, and is involved at many levels with organized optometry. Dr. Brujic began speaking shortly after graduation and has lectured at the local, state and national level on contemporary concepts in eyecare.