Leading up to optometry school, I was excited to learn about the human eye and how it interacted with the rest of the human body. On the first day of school, I was met with a number of important names, phrases and guidance that I was told would help me be successful through the program. However, one phrase emphasized by the dean of our college that stuck out to me was, “Optometry is a legislative profession.” He repeated this sentence over and over, hammering it into our brains like it was gospel, ensuring we would never forget. I was surprised by his determination to make such a point on the importance of legislation in the profession of optometry. I thought to myself, “I signed up to be a doctor, not a lawyer!” However, I quickly grew to realize how important being involved in the laws shaping optometry are for each state.
As a second-year optometry student, I will be the first to admit I still have much to learn about the role of advocacy and how a student can be involved in promoting the legal scope of their profession. However, I wanted to use this short paper to recount my journey with advocacy and share what I have learned over the past year and a half:
- Optometry is a legal profession.
As I discovered very quickly, optometry is a legal profession, meaning the procedures and techniques optometrists are allowed to perform on patients varies based on the states where they practice. The “laws” setting the boundaries for which optometrists can practice are adjusted primarily through the passing of state laws. Because of this, much work is required to promote and push for the advancement (or protection) of the scope of practice in each state. This is a driver behind why having a strong state affiliation is essential for the health of each state’s profession. To take a deeper look into the varying scope of practice for each state, I have included a link to a great resource for comparing among states.
- Lawmakers are people, too.
Prior to getting involved in AOSA, I assumed the individuals involved in policymaking were untouchable or completely out of reach to a student like me. However, I soon realized state and federal law makers are just people looking to serve us and are able to be contacted and talked with if the correct arrangements are made. A directory for each state and federal legislator is available online. I’ve posted a link to an example of one below.
- Even as a student, you can get involved.
While one act may seem small or insignificant, every step you take really counts. Since getting involved at my school, I have had the opportunity to lobby at the state capital, meet with federal senators, help campaign door-to-door for a local state representative, and even discuss with patients state questions that were coming up on the ballot. If I am completely honest, there were times I felt my time and effort pushing for a new bill was falling on deaf ears. However, when my investment of time or energy was met with interest and acceptance, I realized the effort invested into the promotion of the profession was worth it.
As discussed in a previous article by the Michigan College of Optometry trustee (https://theaosa.org/where-do-i-start/), you can get involved by connecting with your school’s AOSA chapter, reaching out to your state affiliation, talking with your legislators and staying up to date on recent optometric news. Life isn’t going to slow down when you leave school, so if being involved in the expansion and protection of optometry is something you want to be a part of, start now! Even if that first step looks like signing up to be a member of AOSA, keep looking for the next opportunity to get involved and make your voice heard in your industry.
It is my hope that the profession of optometry will continue to evolve so that patients will have better access to the best care possible. I believe this can only be done through the combined efforts of students, doctors and legislators working to promote and protect the optometric profession. I look forward to the lessons I will continue to learn about advocacy and hope these small tips will help you grow in your own career and student journey.