How To: Become an Advocate for Optometry

Recently, I've been thinking about the optometric profession and the role we play in supporting it - optometrists and optometry students alike. We’re at a major crossroads in the field of optometry. There is no shortage of battles we are currently facing: private versus commercial practice, refraction apps and digital disruptors, online contact lens companies, insurance plans, the use of advanced technologies (such as laser privileges), ...the list goes on.

Optometry is a legislated profession. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), this means that "the decisions made by local and national politicians have a direct, and often long-lasting, effect on optometry. The rules set forth in federal and state legislation have a broad impact on what optometrists can and cannot do with regard to patient care and the overall practice of optometry." Essentially, our future ability to practice depends on the actions we take today.

Even though our profession has advanced significantly compared to where it was decades ago, we still must fight to defend our scope of practice and to continue progressing as our society and patient needs change. Keep reading to learn what steps you can take and societies you can join in order to become an advocate for optometry.

Photo credit: OptomEyesLife

Here is a list of ten ways you can become an advocate for optometry:

1. Join the American Optometric Association The American Optometric Association (AOA) is the leading authority on quality care and an advocate for our nation's health, representing more than 44,000 doctors of optometry (O.D.), optometric professionals and optometry students. The AOA is a federation of affiliated state associations, the Optometric Society of the District of Columbia, the American Optometric Student Association (AOSA), and the Armed Forces Optometric Society (AFOS).

Photo credit: American Optometric Association

2. Join Your State's Optometric Society In conjunction with the American Optometric Association, your state optometric society advocates on behalf of its members before legislators, third-party providers, and other professional organizations to protect and expand the scope of practice at both the state and federal levels.

Your state's society offers leadership roles including, but not limited to, serving as an Officer, Trustee, Committee Chair, District Officer, or Young OD Regional Representative.

To find out more about your state's society, visit here.

Photo credit: OptomEyesLife

3. Join Your Local District's Optometric Society

Each state's society is subdivided into district societies, based on location. Societies typically meet throughout the year and provide a great way to connect and socialize with local colleagues. Continuing education (CE) credit may be offered at local meetings and state-wide conferences.

Did you know that optometry students can join the AOSA and state optometric societies for FREE?

This is a great way to become involved with your profession and meet future colleagues. Some state societies offer benefits such as free registration to continuing education conferences, as well as access to volunteer and summer job opportunities.

4. Become a Leader in Your Local District's Optometric Society

Each local district offers leadership roles including, but not limited to, serving as a President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer. By committing to a year (or more) of service, you may receive certain benefits, such as complimentary membership or discounts for continuing education.

5. Join the AOA-PAC The American Optometric Association Political Action Committee (AOA-PAC) is a voluntary, nonprofit, unincorporated committee of doctors of optometry. This committee is not affiliated with any political party or any other political committee. Click here to learn more about the AOA-PAC's direct, grassroots lobbying efforts.

To make a financial contribution to the cause, donate here.

Photo credit: AOA-PAC

6. Lobby on Capitol Hill The AOA hosts an annual Congressional Advocacy Conference in Washington D.C., where more than 600 optometrists and optometry students travel to Capitol Hill to lobby for the profession by meeting with Members of Congress from every state.

AOA doctors and students can help educate their elected officials in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives about optometry and AOA-backed legislation by visiting the AOA's Online Legislative Action Center.

7. Become a Legislative Keyperson Keypersons are volunteers who form a relationship with a state legislator in their district. These relationships come in many forms, such as neighborhood, school, church, professional, civic, or political. The goal of the Keyperson Program is to have at least one keyperson assigned to every member of Congress.

For more information on the Keyperson Program, visit here.

8. Write to Your Legislators

Stay up to date with current legislative issues and the impact they have on your profession. Write to your representatives and senators about your stance on the issues, offering feedback and suggestions; every voice matters!

9. Volunteer in Your Community

If you are unable to make a commitment on the state or federal level, you can still make a difference within your community. Community involvement examples include in-kind and financial donations, sponsoring a sports team, visiting schools on Career Day, volunteering at a local charity organization, hosting a community event with an educational presentation at your office, or participating in a vision screening. Get the word out to your patient base about the importance of optometry and our role in primary eye care.

10. Take to the Internet

We're fortunate to live in a time when the internet has made our world so much smaller. Get on social media, start writing a blog, record videos, or whatever else your heart desires to engage with the public. Be a positive voice for optometry.

We need to protect and expand our scope of practice at both the state and federal levels, for our sake and for the benefit of patients across the country. Through the voices of passionate, dedicated individuals, we can work together to build a stronger future for optometry.

Share your thoughts in the comment section below for others in the community to read, and connect with OEL on Instagram @OptomEyesLife and #OptomEyesLife.

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