For more than 40 years, Islanders and visitors have made their way to Dr. David M. Finkelstein’s Vineyard Haven office for eye exams, emergency eye care, eyeglasses, sunglasses, and contact lenses. Since 2007, customers have also seen Dr. Ryan Shea, an Island native who graduated from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, UMass Boston, and the New England College of Optometry. Dr. Shea began by staffing Dr. Finkelstein’s traditional Wednesdays off and is now a partner in the optometry office, on track to take over the practice from his former boss.
How did you get started?
I knew I wanted to get into some kind of medicine, but I wanted to be able to move back here. I looked into different professions, and I shadowed an optometrist. It just seemed like a good fit. So, I approached Dr. Finkelstein early on and asked him about optometry. Every time we had some kind of project in [optometry] school, I would come to him with questions about his practice. As soon as I got out, I started working here. We’ve been open on Wednesdays ever since I started. Because that went so well, I asked him, “What would you think about me taking over the practice?”
Recall your first day on the job in 2007?
Our last year of optometry school is all patient care, so my first day here was pretty smooth.
I felt comfortable, I knew the population. I’m from here so it wasn’t as intimidating as it could have been if I had been in another practice. Everybody was so welcoming.
What’s it like to be one of the Vineyard’s only optometrists, after growing up here?
It’s a great feeling knowing that the very same people who helped me grow up are the people I’m helping later in life. It’s a pretty cool dynamic, and I think it helps add an air of trust. They know I’m going to be caring about them because they cared about me. I think in medicine the problem is that people are becoming more of a number and less of a person. [Knowing your patients] adds that personal component.
How many patients do you have?
About 13,000. I don’t know how many are active.
How young and how old are they?
Six month infants, to a woman of 106.
What’s the difference between ophthalmology and your field of optometry?
There are a few differences, but essentially it’s surgery. We don’t do surgery. You have your specialists, your primary care, and your pharmacists. We manage a little bit of everything and guide people if they need specialty care.
What makes for a tough day at the office?
Because we don’t have opthalmology here (on the Vineyard), every day has the potential to be a challenging day. We have to be ready for everything because you never know what’s going to walk in the door. It’s not a practice where all we’re doing is eyeglasses. We’re seeing patients with trauma, we’re seeing people with emergency situations, and we have to deal with it right away. We have to get people on the boat, up to Boston, or over to the Cape, or take a piece of metal out of somebody’s eye. The challenging days are when you get three or four of those on the same day. We see everyone who calls us.
How has business changed since you started in 2007?
In the seven years, we’ve really focused on bringing in new technology to improve our documentation — we have electronic medical records, we have more equipment for diagnostic purposes, and we’ve revamped our optical department with more frame selections. There’s a lot more sunglasses and a lot more glasses.
What are some of the eyewear brands you stock?
Costa, Calvin Klein, Vera Wang, Wiley X, Kaenon. We’re always trying to get new styles, new designs, and keep it exciting for people when they’re picking out glasses. We try to price it so that we’re more competitive than off-Island, so people don’t think they have to go off-Island.
People are always surprised when our prices are better than off-Island for the frames we’re selling. We want to keep the business here. It would get around pretty quickly if you were overcharging everyone on the Island.
But doesn’t everybody kind of expect you to charge more than on the mainland?
Yeah, they do. But I like to prove ’em wrong. They’re going to spend less here.
What advice would you give a new business starting out on Martha’s Vineyard?
Get the word out. Word of mouth here is huge. You need to let people know where you are and what you’re doing.
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