Advocacy

What to Expect from AOA on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., on April 24-26

AOA on Capitol Hill

Are you joining our fight for optometry?

In less than a month, doctors and optometry students nationwide will convene in Washington, D.C., to meet with lawmakers and fight for our profession. AOA on Capitol Hill, April 24-26, is the AOA’s single-largest annual advocacy experience and the opportunity to get immersed in the issues affecting optometry. And, for the first-time since 2019, we have the chance to deliver these messages, in-person, on Capitol Hill.

The past two years of virtual, AOA on Capitol Hill programming looped in more students than ever before, but that also means this will be the first chance for many of us to experience, first-hand, the impassioned energy and debates that happen at the AOA’s advocacy event.

So, whether you’re already packing your business attire and getting hyped following #EyesOnTheHill2022, or just want to keep tabs on what’s happening in Washington, D.C., keep reading.

What can I expect from AOA on Capitol Hill?

AOA on Capitol Hill is the single-largest annual advocacy event and a cornerstone of the AOA’s federal advocacy efforts with over 500 advocacy-minded doctors and optometry students in attendance. Optometry students will join alongside doctors on Sunday and Monday, April 24-25, in listening sessions, presentations and other special events that are oriented to preparing attendees for potentially meeting with their federal representatives on Tuesday, April 26. Not all attendees will be able to meet with their legislators; however, the information provided can help optometry students get actively involved in the profession and know more about advocacy as we begin our careers. Optometry students are the future of this profession, and we have a responsibility to our colleagues to keep the profession thriving.

This year, optometry students also will participate in a number of student-specific events, such as a special track of education, an AOA+ Leadership Link opportunity and an AOSA Student Recognition Reception.

What events do I need to attend to receive my travel grant from AOA?

There’s a lot happening at AOA on Capitol Hill this year, so don’t feel overwhelmed by the agenda. To satisfy the requirements for the AOA’s travel grant, students will need to attend the AOA on Capitol Hill Welcome Reception, 6:30-8 p.m. ET, Sunday, as well as the day’s programming scheduled for Monday, including the AOA+ Leadership Link and AOSA Student Recognition Reception that evening. Please note: For virtual attendees, recordings will be available on AOA EyeLearn in the days following AOA on Capitol Hill. Viewing the student recordings of AOA on Capitol Hill will fulfill the virtual AOA on Capitol Hill requirement of Leadership Society.

When will I receive my travel grant?

Students will need to submit a W-9 form, and if you have not been contacted yet or provided with this form, please contact the AOA’s Member Services at memberservices@aoa.org. This helps expedite receiving your travel grant. All grants will be mailed to the address provided on your W-9 following AOA on Capitol Hill.

To ensure there are no bumps in the road with receiving your $425 travel reimbursement, keep in mind that you will provide receipts showing payment of any of the following: airfare, lodging, ground transportation, or parking.  Keep in mind food and drinks are not part of the $425 travel grant, but several meals and social functions are provided throughout the meeting!

How will I know if I have been scheduled for a Hill visit?

You will be receiving a notification from Advocacy Associates regarding the timing of your Hill visits. You also will be receiving an email from AOA staff confirming which state you have been matched with.

What issues are we discussing? Are there prep materials?

This year, AOA on Capitol Hill occurs in conjunction with the AOA Payer Advocacy Summit, an alignment that focuses our advocacy strengths on third party payer issues affecting optometry. Advocates will learn about and build support for an AOA and American Dental Association-backed, bipartisan bill, called the Dental and Optometric Care (DOC) Access Act, H.R. 3461/S. 1793. You can read more about this legislation here.

Additionally, advocates will work to avert impending Medicare pay cuts and urge Congress to reform the Medicare pay system, as well as emphasize the need for federal regulators to refocus their efforts on stopping online contact lens seller abuses.

Attendees will receive fact sheets and materials on-site about these and other issues discussed during the event.

How can I access the recorded sessions from AOA on Capitol Hill?

Select portions of AOA on Capitol Hill, including the morning and afternoon legislative briefings, will be available for viewing on AOA EyeLearn, April 25-26. A full recording will be available in the days following the event. Reference the user guide for more information about accessing the AOA’s professional development hub.

Please note: For virtual attendees, recordings will be available on AOA EyeLearn in the days following AOA on Capitol Hill. Viewing the student recordings of AOA on Capitol Hill will fulfill the virtual AOA on Capitol Hill requirement of Leadership Society.

Is there a place where I can find all the information for AOA on Capitol Hill?

Yes, the AOA has an event app for AOA on Capitol Hill that includes event information, social media, agenda, fact sheets and other relevant attendee documents for your reference while on-site.

To access the app, download the “CVent Events App” in the Apple or Google Play store. Open the app and search “AOA on Capitol Hill 2022,” then download the event. Enter your first and last name and email address that you registered with to gain access to the app content.

How can I follow along with what’s happening?

Follow the news and excitement from AOA on Capitol Hill on our event social wall or contribute to the conversation using the hashtag, #EyesOnTheHill2022, on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Advocacy

I am a doctor.

Before I began my journey as an optometry student, I had come to the realization that our profession lacked the social recognition that other health care professionals have. Growing up, I had very little interest in optometry until I got to college. Why? I simply didn’t know the profession existed for 364 days of the year. The one day of the year where I remembered optometry was a thing was when I was forced to get an eye exam to be able to compete for my school’s sports team. I didn’t see optometrists at my school, on media representation, or even academic fairs held by schools to get students interested in health care. This lack of exposure is the reason I believe that there are so many misconceptions about optometry among the public. However, one misconception needs to be actively addressed for our profession to continue to thrive and grow: 

 “Are optometrists real doctors?”  

Not only has this question continued to follow me throughout my time as a student, but it also has followed many optometrists who are well into their professional careers. My instinctive reaction when I’m asked this question is to become defensive—I believe that my reaction is completely justifiable, especially with all the sacrifices I’ve made to obtain my doctorate. As time goes on, more people continue to question the legitimacy of optometry as a health care profession and my ability to treat patients. I was sick of the uncomfortable tension that formed every time I was asked this question due to my inability to properly handle the question. Despite being flustered or even angry the first few times I was asked if I was actually becoming a doctor, I slowly learned how to handle this question with grace. Hopefully by educating one person at a time about the true potential of our profession, it will begin to shift the public’s image of optometrists. 

What did I do to change the way I approached this question when asked? First, I must put myself in the person’s shoes. The general public who have no experience in health care tend to have a difficult time differentiating between ophthalmologists, optometrists and opticians. I like to take the question with a grain of salt and educate the person, ensuring that I am completely qualified to examine their vision and eye health. Depending on who asked, there isn’t a need to go on a long tangent. Something as simple as, “Yes, I am a board-certified doctor of optometry who is licensed to do a wide range of things during eye exams. Anything outside my scope of practice like surgeries will need to be referred out.” Sometimes, that would be adequate, but there are times where disclosing your schooling and training would further solidify your qualifications to the person. There will be times when someone may have an issue with the utilization of “doctor” in your name or practice. Doctor is a title given to anyone who holds a doctorate. If you state that you are an optometrist, full transparency has been disclosed and you choose to honor the title that you are federally recognized by.  

Although educating one person at a time will eventually have its positive effects, what can we do on a bigger scale to change the perception about us in the community? As I mentioned before, the lack of representation was a big issue. Dentistry had a massive change in their career prospects after a series of high-quality commercials were aired in 1995. Optometry lacks the implementation of marketing and advertising strategies that other professions have. Our community needs to think bigger on the macroscale on how to educate the public about our profession. The AOA is currently working on campaigns toward increasing the amount of exposure to the public about optometry. One successful campaign that reached billions included pro-surfer Caroline Marks, showing how optometrists were the unspoken hometown heroes for many. However, it’s also up to individual optometrists and optometry students to drive those messages into the homes of our patients as well. As we all continue to push for our profession to be shown in the limelight, the misconception about our ability and scope of practice will start to resolve. 

Advocacy

The Most Valuable Non-Optometric Lesson I Learned in Optometry School

Representatives in every organization exist for the purpose of solving both everyday and major issues that interfere with everyone’s workday and to brainstorm ideas to make our workplace better. Our main workplace during these past four years has been optometry school. Student representatives are an essential component of the school’s ecosystem to ensure our student experience, both in learning and having fun, is fulfilling. There is a role for every personality whether it is social media, event planning, accounting, student representation and more.  

Advocating to make your learning environment better is one of the most satisfying experiences you can go through as a student because you can see the direct results of your hard work in the lives of your fellow students and future generations. As both theory and practice learning are evolving at a swift pace, even more so during the past year with online learning, it becomes even more important to bring our ideas to the faculty’s attention and advocate for student rights. It might not always be a clear-cut path, and it is not always the perfect result we were expecting, but doing something is always rewarding. All those small victories are worth it and make our lives better. Not everyone is comfortable with public speaking or dealing with authority figures, and that’s OK. However, the more you try, the better you get at it and the easier it becomes. Being involved in the team that works to make your school better, often the student association, means you are not alone in this.  

Through talking with fellow students, I have realized that many people don’t get involved by fear of being late in their schoolwork or not having time for themselves and their family and friends outside of school. In my experience, it’s all about how you go about it. The teams you work with, the people you meet, the fun you have being involved make the school experience so much more enjoyable. By not studying 24/7, when you sit down to do your schoolwork, you are more rested, and your mind can focus on it 100%. However, this is true for any activity you do outside of school! Volunteering in your local organization for the cause that you hold dear can only make you more productive when you get back to your schoolbooks.  

Another way to make sure you do everything on time and not burn yourself out is to embrace having an agenda and keeping it near and updated. This is true for both schoolwork and leisure activities.  

Finally, an important part of being an active part of your student community is knowing your boundaries regarding workload and advocating for yourself. When you need some rest, say so, and the other members of your association will be able to help you out.  

Advocacy at the school level can give you good insight on how to go about advocating for optometry after you graduate. Moreover, advocating for our profession can start right during school with organizations like AOSA and events such as AOA on Capitol Hill. Amazing blog posts on Foresite can give you very good idea if you’re curious about it!   

As much as I am excited to finish optometry school, leaving the student association after all these years is going to create a voidI hope some elements find you and give you a new perspective into school advocacy and self-care, two concepts that sound so opposite but must coexist. We will remember far more the experiences we have, the friends we meet and the goals we accomplish rather than our grades. wholeheartedly encourage you to get involved and make the most of your four years in optometry school.  

Wishing you all an awesome student experience,  

Cristina  

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://theaosaprod.wpengine.com/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.