Optometry’s Role in Public Health
by Emily Pike, MPH, UMSL Class of 2014, AOSA National Liaison to APHA
(Read this article in Foresight online)
What is Public Health?
Public health is the practice of preventing disease and promoting good health within groups of people, from small communities to entire countries. Public health examines ways to deliver quality care and provide better health outcomes.
What is the American Public Health Association?
In existence since 1872, the American Public Health Association (APHA) is the oldest organization of public health professionals in the world. APHA aims to protect all Americans from preventable, serious health threats and works to assure universal access to community-based health promotion and disease prevention activities and preventive health services in the United States. APHA provides a collective voice for public health, working to ensure access to health care, protect funding for core public health services and eliminate health disparities.
What is the Vision Care Section of the APHA? Why is it important?
The APHA created the Vision Care Section (VCS) and recognized the importance of optometry in the provision of vision care in 1979. The mission of the VCS is to promote health and well-being with emphasis on vision and eye health through interdisciplinary partnerships. The VCS serves as an advocate to ensure equality in, and access to, vision and eye health care, and to ensure inclusion of vision in public health policy. Since that time, the VCS has written numerous resolutions that have helped promote the optometric profession and have pushed for optometry’s integration in the larger health care system. Several key resolutions have been fully supported by the APHA, including optometric inclusion in Medicare, use of therapeutic pharmaceuticals in the delivery of eye care, licensing for visually impaired drivers, standards for UV eye protection, glaucoma screening and management and comprehensive eye exams. Most recently, APHA leaders helped to advocate for comprehensive eye exams as one of the pediatric essential health benefits under the Affordable Care Act.
The Vision Care Section is primarily made up of optometrists, but also includes ophthalmologists, nurses, health educators, health planners, vision screening administrators and non-MD hearing specialists as members.
Why is public health important to optometry?
Public health helps health care consumers and other health care providers better understand optometry’s ability to impact the overall health of the patient. Public health is concerned about ensuring access to quality vision care for all members of the community and recognizes our profession’s role as primary eye care providers. As stated above, public health helps promote optometry’s inclusion within the larger health care delivery system. Preventive eye care can prevent vision loss, ultimately saving money and improving productivity and quality of life.
How can optometry students get more involved in public health?
1. Join the APHA as student members. For more information, please visit http://www.apha.org/about/membership/. More information about the Vision Care Section can be found on the section’s website: http://www.apha.org/membergroups/sections/aphasections/vision.
2. Promote eye health and disease prevention. Participate in vision screenings and health fairs. Set up community presentations on vision related topics. Plan and promote events around national health observances, such as AMD/Low Vision Awareness Month in February, Save Your Vision Month and Workplace Eye Wellness Month in March, Sports Eye Safety Awareness Month, Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month and National Public Health Week in April, National Healthy Vision Month in May, Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month in August, Eye Injury Prevention Month in October and Diabetic Eye Disease Month in November.
3. Pursue a public health degree. Several optometry schools offer joint OD/Master of Public Health (MPH) degrees, including UC-Berkeley, SUNY, MCPHS, UAB, Nova Southeastern and Salus. Several recent notable optometrists who hold a public health degree include Mel Shipp, OD, MPH, DrPH, outgoing dean of The Ohio State University College of Optometry and also immediate past president of APHA and Ron Hopping, OD, MPH, FAAO, who is the immediate past president of AOA.
The AOSA recently announced its first ever Public Health Scholarship for those interested in pursuing an MPH. This scholarship is being offered in conjunction with Salus University’s Public Health distance learning program. Five qualified candidates per quarter who have a passion for learning more about public health will be awarded up to $10,000 throughout the life of their MPH degree. For more information, please email Bob Foster, Executive Director of the AOSA at firstname.lastname@example.org or William Monaco MPH, OD, PhD, Special Assistant for Program Development at email@example.com.