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Southern College of Optometry: Birth of a Strategic Plan

One of the biggest challenges that the Southern College of Optometry has faced has been raising awareness in the Memphis community of who we are and what we do.  Within optometry, we’re nationally recognized as an institution at the pinnacle of the profession, both in the quality of the education we provide and in the leading edge facilities and technology we offer to our students and patients.  Our challenge was how to educate the local community about the services we provide and the impact we have right here in our own backyard. 

In order to meet this challenge, we restructured our strategic plan to prioritize this goal, assigned staff to the task, and took several specific steps toward raised awareness. 

Make Connections:
For example, we sought out new community partnerships to increase our local impact (e.g. the Memphis Grizzlies, Jewish Family Service, etc.), worked in collaboration with our partners in the Memphis Medical Center and Colleges of Memphis initiatives, worked with local funders to lend credibility to our mission (e.g. the Plough and Assisi Foundations), and increased our media presence. The results from these efforts so far have had a positive impact on our success, and on the community as a whole, and we plan to continue growing community awareness so that we can expand this success.

Define and Share Key Information:
There are several key pieces of information that we began to share about SCO that non-industry people might not have known, but that always seemed to pleasantly surprise them when they found out.  For example:
  • We are one of only 21 graduate optometry programs in the country, and are widely regarded as one of the best.  In fact, a past president of the American Optometric Association has referred to SCO as the “Harvard of optometry schools.”
  • Our clinical facility, The Eye Center, is the largest facility of its kind in the country.
  • Our clinical programs provided over $1 million in uncompensated eye health and vision care services to the Memphis community during the last fiscal year.  Much of this uncompensated care was provided to Memphis residents who would otherwise have faced challenges in receiving the eye health and vision care they need.
  • Our academic program specifically focuses on Service Learning, and we require that students give volunteer service hours as a requirement of graduation.  Interestingly, most of our students give many more service hours than is required of them, even taking time during their semester breaks to travel to remote areas to provide eye care.  Our goal is to turn out practitioners who “pay it forward” in the communities where they ultimately live and work, and it seems to be working!

By sharing these sometimes surprising statistics, we were able to not only explain why SCO had reached such a level of national recognition, but also to educate the community on how our college and students interact with the community in so many ways, especially outside of traditional eye care. 

Routinely Reevaluate:
The business of optometric education is expanding, with several new schools opening in recent years.  If we expect to remain a top institution for optometric learning, we cannot rest on our laurels.  Instead, we’re actively engaged in anticipating the evolution of the profession, so that we can stay on top and remain competitive in the coming years and continue to draw the very best optometry students to Memphis.  We already have the best clinical facility for optometric learning, and we’re opening our new state-of-the-art academic facility next year to enable our distinguished faculty to teach our didactic program most effectively. We’ve also developed a robust Quality Enhancement Program (QEP), emphasizing Service Learning, and this program will grow dramatically in the coming year. 

Each year, we review our Strategic Plan in the context of current industry demands and make adjustments as necessary to stay in front of the pack, never satisfied to be “average.”  This commitment to Process Improvement for the benefit of our students will enable us to succeed in the future, despite the changing landscape of our industry.

-- Dr. Richard Phillips

Do you have a strategic plan for your business? What challenges have you faced, and in what ways have you had to alter your plan to compensate? Comment below.

Southern College of Optometry was established in Memphis, Tenn., in 1932. SCO is an independent, not-for-profit institution of higher education with nearly 500 students from 40 states. The Eye Center at SCO serves nearly 80,000 patients annually, helping make the college one of the top in the nation for clinical optometric education. SCO’s Community Outreach Program reaches more than 12,000 children through vision screenings provided annually to Shelby County, Tennessee, students in public, private and charter schools. For more information, please visit or

Dr. Richard W. Phillips serves as President of Southern College of Optometry, a position he’s held since his appointment in 2007. A Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry, Dr. Phillips was named “Optometrist of the Year” in 1998 by the Tennessee Association of Optometric Physicians. He is a member of the Association of Memphis Colleges and Universities and served as an Executive Committee member for the Tennessee College Association. He serves on the Board of TICUA, the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association, and serves on the Executive Committee of the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry.  In 2011, he was inducted as a diplomat for the interdisciplinary National Academies of Practice.

Why did SCO begin the process of discontinuing a partnership with Memphis City Schools? Why are they no longer providing eye services to Memphis School Children?
12/20/2012 11:02:25 AM

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The latest news from the Greater Memphis Chamber. For more information, contact Director of Communications Christina Meek at (901) 543-3504 ( or Communications Specialist Jenny C. Fish at (901) 543-3558 (