Advocacy

We Are Legislated

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: 

  1. 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. 

https://www.optometrystudents.com/legislative-list/ 

  1. 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.  

https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative#:~:text=If%20you%20know%20who%20your,the%20U.S.%20House%20switchboard%20operator. 

  1. 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.  

  1. Go!

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.  

Advocacy

Local Action

Regardless of how you feel about the outcome of this year’s presidential election, I’m sure most people will agree that it’s a stressful time to live in the United States. That single day in November feels like it will set the tone for the next four years of our lives and we all have our own ideas about what’s best for ourselves, our family, and our country.

As student optometrists I’m sure you are already aware, or soon will be, that our future profession is heavily intertwined with the legislative process. But when we advance the optometric profession’s scope of practice, it often has nothing to do with what’s going on at the federal level. For example, the American Optometric Association’s major breakthrough in Arkansas, allowing optometrists to continue doing procedures like a selective laser trabeculoplasty and injections, was all done at the state level. The implications for this outstanding result will have ripple effects on the national level, however, as the precedent has been set.

Change starts at the local level and spreads. Continue to pay attention to focus on the big picture, but engage with what you can actually have an impact on. The future of the profession is decided by state and local politics. Some states, like Arkansas and Louisiana, are permitting optometrists to perform laser procedures, while Massachusetts just recently allowed optometrists to pharmaceutically treat glaucoma.

This means we have to pay attention to far more than who is currently sitting in the oval office. Get involved in your school’s AOSA, enroll in the AOA when you graduate, pay attention to local politics, and be sure to fill out your entire ballot the next time you vote!

Advocacy

Why Advocacy?

Advocacy: not exactly the first word that came into our minds when we decided to become doctors of optometry. Most of us decided on optometry because we wanted to help people, not argue with them. Yet, why are we constantly talking about advocacy, and why is it that we must advocate so much, when it feels like our colleagues in other health professions do not have to? Well, the truth is, they do. It is easy to look out at the world and think that our own circumstances are unique, and in some ways they are. However, when it comes to advocacy, every profession must advocate for themselves in some way. Some health professions must advocate that they are the specific medical specialty that should be doing a procedure within their own communities. Others, such as optometry, must advocate to help create/change laws that more accurately reflect our capabilities as doctors. This is why we advocatebecause at the end of the day, no one knows what a doctor of optometry can do better than a doctor of optometry 

Then why is it that so many of us feel such distain for the word? Well, I think that one of the main reasons is that a lot of people have a distaste for politics in general, and a word like advocacy makes most of us think of politics. That is not all that being an advocate means though. The Oxford English Dictionary defines advocacy as, public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy.”  Advocating for our profession means that we show it our support, but that does not necessarily mean you have to be involved in the political world. While yes, it would be amazing if everyone had the desire to go out and lobby for our profession, that is just not in some people’s comfort zone/skill sets and that is fine! Being an advocate for optometry can manifest in other ways. Staying up to date on the current issues facing our profession, voting for people who support our cause, or even just discussing some of the issues we face with your friends and family can all have positive impacts for our profession.  

However, if you are on the fence about becoming even more involved with advocacy, let me assure you that there are many opportunities out there for you! The AOSA and AOA do an outstanding job with educating and providing us with opportunities to present our profession to people in a positive light.For example, in September I was a part of the Virtual AOA on Capitol Hill event where we as students got to meet with politicians and staffers to discuss some of our concerns within the field. At first, I was nervous and thought that I would screw up or say something wrong, but the AOSA did a remarkable job briefing us and providing us the information that we needed to competently speak to these representatives. Another really interesting takeaway I got out of this event was just seeing how much politicians and people in general value and respect our opinions as future doctors of optometry. I know it is hard to believe when most of us are so young, but we worked very hard to get where we are, and people know and respect that.

I hope that if you can take anything away from this, it is that every one of us is important to the future of optometry, and if we want it to continue to be the best it can be, we all have to be good advocates and show people what we’re capable of.  

 

Advocacy

Where Do I Start?

If there’s one fact that I’ve heard time and again since entering optometry school, it’s this: optometry is a legislated profession. As a student, being asked to be an advocate for our profession can be a daunting request! Thankfully, there are plenty of easy ways that optometry students can get involved in advocacy today. 

 

Get involved with the AOA and AOSA: The AOA and AOSA are here to serve optometrists and optometry students by advocating for the profession and the patients they serve. Aside from career resources, being a member provides access to advocacy-related news, webinars and in-person events. AOA on Capitol Hill is an excellent advocacy opportunity that is right around the corner! When there’s a call for action in the profession, the AOA will give you the tools and information you need to be a strong and educated advocate. 

 

Get involved with your local and state affiliates: Our schools often make this one very easy for us! Participate in events hosted by these organizations to learn more about why advocacy matters, and what exactly we’re advocating for at the moment. These are the conversations that may end up affecting you the most, and it’s never too early to start listening and learning. 

 

Don’t be afraid to talk to your legislators: This may seem intimidating, but it’s easier than you think and can be very meaningful! Last fall, students at the Michigan College of Optometry experienced Capitol Day hosted by the Michigan Optometric Association in Lansing. Students who participated had the opportunity meet with their senators. If you’re wondering about what you might talk about, one easy topic of conversation is the scope of practice. Current thirdyear and AOSA member James Carpenter recalls his experience, stating “I really enjoyed going in and talking with our legislators. It’s the kind of experience that really opens your eyes to the importance of having a professional organization to help keep politicians informed on our issues.” 

 

Keep yourself up to date on current optometric events. This might sound like a no-brainer, but you may need to take a couple steps to make this task a little easier for yourself. A good place to start is subscribing to email updates and following social media accounts of professional organizations like the AOA, state affiliates, local affiliates or reputable pages like OptometryStudents.com. And you don’t have to limit your sources to just your home state! Learning about the scope of optometry in other states can help give you a better sense of where the profession stands on a national level. 

 

Promote the profession. You don’t have to be on the floor of Congress to call yourself an advocate! Educating patients on the importance of eye exams with their doctors of optometry is an important form of advocacy that we can easily do on a regular basis.  

 

Advocacy is so important to our profession, and hopefully these tips help inspire you to call yourself an advocate as well.