On today's episode, we are continuing our Women in Healthcare series with a conversation with Brooke Jakovich, Senior Vice President of Operations for Total Vision, which is a private equity-backed network of optometry providers in California.


Morgan Ribeiro
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    Morgan: Welcome to PointByPoint. This is Waller's Chief Business Development Officer and the host of the podcast, Morgan Ribeiro. On today's episode, we are continuing our Women in Healthcare series with a conversation with Brooke Jakovich, Senior Vice President of Operations for Total Vision, which is a private equity-backed network of optometry providers in California.

    For those of you that haven't tuned in to other episodes in this series, these interviews are with women who are leading the way in the healthcare industry. We've interviewed chief medical officers, COOs, development officers and investors. And in these conversations, we are talking about the various roles that female leaders play in the healthcare industry, the pressures they face, mentorship, the changes they are driving forward within each of their organizations and much more.

    There's no shortage of topics for us to discuss today given what is the focus on diversity and equity and inclusion. So Brooke, with that introduction, welcome to the show.

    Brooke: Thanks for having me.

    Morgan: Total Vision is a fairly new entity, which has banded together successful private optometry practices to thrive in that ever-changing eyecare industry and the company has quickly grown to 41 locations in under three years. Phenomenal growth. You have nearly 15 years of experience in the eyecare sector and you were the first team member to join Total Vision in the company's inception in 2018. So can you tell me more, about your background and your current role at Total Vision?

    Brooke: Absolutely. I'll start with just a little bit of my background. I like to focus on business building in the eyecare space. I've got a proven track record in healthcare multi-site doctor business, which is a fun, yet challenging field to be in and experience with building this business in both organic - building our existing locations - and in rapid acquisition.

    So with the acquisitive growth, the piece that I get most excited about in order to do this in a more sustainable way is to do that through creating strong cultures. Building sustainable high-trust teams and accountability and continuing to build talent in these rapidly growing organizations.

    So prior to starting at Total Vision, I spent my last 10 years in ophthalmology holding various leadership roles. And I got a very diverse experience working my way from the ground up from a more management background to launching our cataract service line, a medical division where we're able to grow our medical revenue from a more elective-based ophthalmology organization to a bigger medical base.

    So we grew from just less than 1% of our total revenue to over 26% total revenue. So it was fun to layer in a lot of those medical aspects into this ophthalmology group.

    And then served as the head of operations for the organization that was also growing through acquisition - welcoming independent, private ophthalmology locations into our group.

    And just a few years ago, met our founding doctor of Total Vision and heard about his vision and was really inspired about the ability to impact independent optometrists. Optometry faces even more challenges than the average healthcare provider, because they also deal with the retail as part of their business as well.

    So I just was totally inspired by the ability to support independent optometrists and band them together the vision of this organization, and then the ability to build it best-in-class from the ground up. So I joined on as the first employee just under three years ago. And I still recall working out of my car for the first few months as we rapidly added 15 locations and even onboarded our first hire after me - our head of HR - in a hotel lobby.

    So it's been quite the journey to see where we're at today, and my focus is to continue to lead the operations at Total Vision, continuing to acquire and integrate those practices into our organization.

    Morgan: How was your organization impacted by COVID? I know optometry, you talk about how it's at the intersection of healthcare and retail, obviously greatly impacted particularly at the beginning of lockdowns. Are you still seeing challenges as a result of the pandemic? Are things primarily back to normal?

    Brooke: Yeah, so we were pretty impacted by the initial COVID hit. We were forced to reduce our operations to a central or emergent eye care only. And for those that know optometry, a big percentage of the business - about 75 to 80% - is more routine eye care.

    And we still worked to keep our practices open and we kept our locations open to serve our patients' needs through that time. And we also had a mission of keeping patients out of the ER so that way we could serve their emergent eye care needs. However, it was a difficult time because we weren't able to see a lot of that routine preventative type of eye care.

    Now it's great to see that we've been able to scale our business back up. And I think " new normal" is not really a term for us as much as you hear it every day, because normal is not exactly in our vocabulary when you're adding a lot of locations. And when you've had to build the organization from the ground up.

    And so for us, it's just continuing down the path of just a high amount of priorities and initiatives while navigating just a new landscape. I think some of the challenges that continue to hit us as many businesses is it's a new staffing climate. There are different laws and regulations to be mindful of with the workforce and more sick leaves to have to staff for being in a multi-site business. We're impacted by that and then the supply chain is actually hit us more than I think most forums in healthcare, because a lot of our materials on the frame and lens-side are coming from overseas. And so there was an impact and we're still feeling some of that.

    Morgan: And like you said, we're not back to the way things used to be, and we may never go back to the way that things used to be. I'm sure that impacts as you try to strategize for the next 18-24 months and what that looks like for the company. Can you talk more about what the next year and a half looks like for the company and what you all are planning to do?

    Brooke: Yeah, I think we did a good job of using even that brief slowdown period to prepare ourselves for our continued growth. And so what the next 24 months looks like for us is continued acquisition and partnership. There's just a huge need out there for independent optometrists to have a support system so they can offload a lot of the administrative and extra burdens that come in with managing your own practice.

    Optometry is also unique in that there's a lot of vertical integration happening in the market. It's a unique market because you've got retail, you've got healthcare and then you've got just a highly competitive market and consumers as well. Consumers buy and do business differently than they've ever had before.

    The next few years for us are continuing to build our platform. We didn't come from an initial platform before we were private equity-backed and it all happened organically with practices uniting and then us building the systems and infrastructure from there. So we continue to put more foundation in place. We've already started, for example, we have a small distribution center operating right now, and we look to expand those operations to help better manage frame boards.

    Getting our systems optimized - we're just about there to get all of our practices on the same systems, both from electronic medical record and practice management systems. And then I see us just continuing to turn the dial. A big piece of how I built my career is culture and building the team, investing in talent, giving our team members and our leaders at our sites the tools to be successful, and that ultimately will produce results.

    Morgan: So no shortage of things to do. And I think it's always interesting. One of the great things about working in healthcare is that it's, it's always evolving, it's always changing and I'm always curious to learn, how folks got into the healthcare industry and in your particular position, how you got into healthcare operations? Did you always want to pursue a career in healthcare, or was it more happenstance?

    Brooke: I was always intrigued by medicine and health and wellness in general. But my falling into healthcare did happen a little bit by chance. I played softball at Cal State University Fullerton. So I was a pitcher there for four years and I had my own side business of doing private pitching lessons.

    And I had the opportunity to take a great job at the time, just out of college, I was actually going to relocate to San Francisco. And as soon as I was right on a threshold to take that opportunity, I got a call from one of my student's fathers and he said, I have the job for you. And so he offered me a position right there and that kind of started my pathway into ophthalmology.

    And ironically enough, I started calling on optometrists and some of those practices have since joined our organization. So I feel like I've come full circle.

    Morgan: That's great. Yeah, you never know where those opportunities are going to come from. And you mentioned that you are, you were a softball player in college.

    Do you think that your experience as a collegiate athlete has impacted your career and the sort of opportunities that you've had? And of course, the opportunities as leadership.

    Brooke: I think it has more than anything else just prepared me to transition from the field to the workplace. It's an amazing experience to go through college and play a sport.

    And I'd say the same thing for any athlete out there, or someone that has the passion and discipline to do something day in, day out like that. So I think for me, it's more of discipline and work ethic combined and taking that from whatever I've done previously into the new endeavor.

    One of the quotes that has been most motivating for me encompasses talent. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. And so that quote has always been a motivator for me because when I got into the college arena. For sports, the talent there is just a whole different level than what you experienced before. And so I always had to work extra hard in order to continue to be competitive in that arena. And so now seeing that on the career front, I've learned that it's a combination of both talent and it's about work ethic, and you've got to have both in order to be successful.

    Morgan: Absolutely. And it's really helpful to know your background and more about the organization as we switch gears and talk more about the key theme of this podcast series.

    Over the last several years, there's been increasing attention on the lack of women in leadership roles within healthcare organizations. And I think this is a really positive step that we're having the conversation and that we're trying to figure out how we can make positive steps towards advancing more women in the healthcare industry, but we still have a lot of progress to make.

    Women make the majority of healthcare decisions for their families. They make up the majority of the healthcare workforce. And yet women still fill a small fraction of healthcare executive roles and I was recently reading a McKinsey study that stated that the proportion of women in the healthcare industry decreases as the responsibility level of the job rises.

    Any reaction to those statistics and just about the makeup of women in healthcare leadership roles?

    Brooke: The first advice I'd say for anyone that's looking to get into the field, I think it's such a rewarding field to get into. All business is about people and relationships. But what healthcare adds into there to that dimension is the ability to impact others.

    And I think that's what I get so inspired about while working with our team members. And creating that environment for us to have a positive impact on people's lives. So we try to view ourselves as - when we inspire better vision, we can create happier lives. And that's an important purpose for me.

    So I'd encourage any women or anyone out there to explore a field in healthcare, but the statistics that you share are out there. And it's important that we recognize both men and women, the tendencies that people face and so I think in order to really close the gap, it's really about both ends coming together to not necessarily attack the results, but recognize the tendencies. And I think that's where I've learned personally how to overcome. I look back at opportunities where I saw how I sold myself short or where I see my peers or others that I interact with that aren't as willing to raise their hand until they're 100 percent qualified. That was big for me. I personally didn't have an issue in my career raising my hand. I had no problem taking on that next challenge, but where I found myself is when it was really confidence for how I was able to verbalize my abilities or experience.

    And so recognizing the tendencies where you may have self-esteem or self-doubt or just personal feelings while taking on a new role or responsibility, I think recognizing those from both ends. Both if you're leading a team or if you see others on your team that need the support can make a big difference.

    And I recall one story I'll share. I was in an interview for a position that I was really excited about. And someone asked me if I had run a call center before, or if I had experience with call centers. And I remember not having a direct response to the question.

    And when I looked back at the scenario, I realized, wow, I did oversee a call center for about six months. And so while it maybe wasn't as much experience as what the role entailed, it was experience. And I saw myself selling myself short and I asked my myself at that kind of look back, would my male counterpart say the same thing?

    And I know I'm overgeneralizing and the gender piece doesn't always play into a factor, but to recognize your own tendencies or be more self-aware have time for self-reflection is probably the best advice I could give anyone out there because the more self-aware you are, the better you can lead with confidence and be more likely to say yes.

    And so I'd say whether you're a woman leader, male leader, whomever you might be, if you're seeing that play out in the workplace, I think we all have a responsibility to say something about it or to encourage others.

    Morgan: And that's a great lead-in to my next question, which is, if you're talking to a young woman who's looking to pursue a career in the healthcare field, particularly healthcare administration, what advice would you have for her?

    And what can we do to improve these statistics?

    Brooke: I think going back to reflecting on your journey, reflecting on your story and being more self-aware or self-reflective about what your natural tendencies are because everyone is a little bit different. And it's helpful to hear the stats.

    What a woman might feel more often than anyone else but at the same token - counteract those feelings. Come from a place of confidence and strength, and again, recognize what you do or don't do from your past and that is how you can change your future.

    Morgan: Absolutely. I know for myself and my career and sort of the path that I've taken is not what I predicted for my career at all. And it oftentimes is having those sort of your cheerleaders, right? Whether or not those are formal or informal mentors or people that see you're the right fit for this opportunity, maybe sometimes before you even see it for yourself.

    And, did you have any mentors who helped guide you early in your career? Or even have a mentor today that continues to encourage you whether or not those are formal or informal mentors.

    Brooke: I've been very blessed to be introduced to mentorship early on in my career. And so I experienced both formal and informal relationships that helped me in that regard.

    I've got a small leadership group that I meet with on a regular basis from all different walks of life and career paths. And so that's my more formal structure with some executive coaching.

    And then I've got some informal. So I've got mentors and trusted relationships that I rely on. And I think both of those have really helped me shape my career, helped shape my decision-making and give me a more worldly view from my own career experiences. Because we only have our own career path of the jobs that we worked in, but the more we talk with others that have had different experiences, you'd be surprised the similarities that we all experience. And so I'm a huge fan of mentorship, leadership discussion amongst peers and others and building a trusted support system around you.

    And I think that ties back to being more self-aware because these groups or these relationships that I have - they also helped me see my blind spots. So as I'm working with them or talking about challenges and I've got someone to help me problem-solve. These are smart individuals. It has really helped me even see some blind spots that I didn't recognize because we all have them.

    Morgan: Absolutely agree with that.

    So you've mentioned a lot about your career and you've progressed really quickly and you continue to take on increasing responsibilities. At the same time, you are also the mother to two young children. Can you speak more to that particular experience? And do you have any advice for women who might be in a similar position - still wanting to be a mother, and at the same time, continuing to grow in their professional lives?

    Brooke: I guess the first thing I'd like to say is it is possible to have a fulfilling career and raise a family and I'd put like an asterisk there. It takes a village because I really couldn't do what I do without my husband who has just been so supportive. And then my mom who does a lot of the childcare and has done it for both of my boys.

    And I had my second son in 2020. So last year during all of the COVID craziness and our business was just ramping back up from the forced reduction in operations, and I couldn't jump back into what I'm doing or even do what I do on a daily basis without the support system all around me.

    Morgan: I have to agree. COVID certainly made us all reevaluate what our support system looks like. And you added another child to the mix and in the midst of all that. And it really truly does take a village. And I think that dedication to both career and family, I always say, I don't know that there's necessarily a balance. There's usually one thing heavier than the other. There's no kind of 50-50 split, but sometimes one is more than the other. And I think as some of these conversations that I've had too, is working in an organization that is supportive of that. And I do think that one of the things that has come out of COVID is that hopefully there's more understanding out there that getting your work done and also managing your home life at the same time and being able to achieve all that you have set out to do in your professional life.

    Brooke: Yeah, if I would probably advice on that, I still continue to work on myself is to get clear on what's most important in your life, not just your career. It's hard because we talked earlier about work ethic and discipline, and I tend to go more on that work side to a point where sometimes it's even too much, but I think the more I come back to get clear on what's most important in my life. And I was even about to take a career across the country and thank goodness I didn't because I realized really quickly that I can't do it without my support system around me.

    I can't have that fulfilling career. And I don't know that I'd have the same happiness if I didn't invest the time to get clear on what was most important. So I'd say for anyone out there that's looking to move up and continue to advance their career, it's possible to do it.

    However, you have to be clear on what's most important because there's a lot of things that you can be successful at and that example where I was going to take this, in my mind, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I thought was the right fit. But when I evaluate my entire life experience, I realized it wasn't the right fit for me, even if I could have been successful at it.

    So I think it's important to say no to those opportunities and say yes to the ones that that work. And that's why I'm so excited to be where I'm at today with the team and the support system. And not just at home, but at the office that allows me to be a mom and still have that successful, fulfilling career.

    Morgan: That's a really good point. I think finding out what's not the right fit is just as important as those things that you do say yes to. And sometimes those decisions get a little harder if you do have a family at home and having to say no to the things that maybe 10 years ago you would have said yes to, and those priorities do change over time.

    Brooke: This is the hardest thing and I'm still working on it - giving up control actually gives you more success and freedom. And it doesn't mean that I'm not in the details - we're still in a startup type of business - but giving up control both personally at home and here has also helped with that balance.

    Morgan: So true. A really good point. Anything else that you'd add for our listeners based on our discussion today?

    Brooke: We are all designers of our own life. And so you can design the life that you want and it's hard work and it takes circle back and purpose and vision and all of those things that seem like hard to do when you're in the rut of just such a high volume of busy work.

    But I would challenge all of us to continue to design our life and be happy.

    Morgan: Great. Thank you Brooke, for joining us today. I enjoyed our conversation.

    Brooke: Thank you. Appreciate it.

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