Many students fail to understand the vital connection between the American Optometric Association (AOA) and the encroachment on our profession by companies such as 1 -800 Contacts and Opternative. I was fortunate enough to be able to ask the current president of the AOA, Steven A. Loomis, O.D., why being involved in the AOA is important. He commented on his experiences on the AOA Board, gave some advice for graduating students, and explained what changing technology could mean for the future of optometry.
Dr. Loomis completed his undergraduate degree from Montana State University, then attended Pacific University College of Optometry. In 1979, he graduated with his Doctorate of Optometry degree, and three years later started his own practice, Mountain Vista EyeCare and Dry Eye Center. Some of Dr. Loomis’ other leadership roles include terms as president of the Colorado Optometric Association and Southwest Council of Optometry.
He has served on many committees as chair of the AOA State Government Relations Center, AOA Health Care Legislation Committee, the AOA Legal Defense Fund Oversight Committee and the Resolutions Committee, as well as the Personnel Committee, AOA Building Committee, Agenda Committee and Executive Committee.
In addition to his committee involvement, he is an instructor at the AOA’s Optometric Leadership Institute, and a liaison for the American Academy of Optometry.
His outstanding service was recognized in 1993 when he was chosen by the Colorado Optometric Association as the Optometrist of the Year, and in 2007, when he was selected to receive the Distinguished Service Award. Also in 2007, Dr. Loomis was first elected to the AOA Board of Trustees. Then, during the 118th Annual AOA Congress and 45th Annual AOSA Conference: Optometry’s Meeting® in 2014, Dr. Loomis was chosen as President -elect.
Why is being involved in the AOA important for both students and practicing optometrists?
AOA is the only organization that advocates for the entire profession. There are other organizations that are attuned to specific interests within the profession, but only the AOA and the affiliated state associations (including AOSA) advocate in every area in which we must be represented.
Optometry is subject to the authority at both the state and federal government levels and it is the AOA that advances the profession legislatively, in the regulatory arena and also in the area of third-party care. Without the AOA, the entire profession would be vulnerable to numerous outside pressures that would most certainly diminish the profession and our ability to care for our patients.
The bottom line is that if we don’t advocate for ourselves, who will advocate for us? The answer is “NO ONE.” But we do have our AOA, and that’s how we’ve advanced to the point we enjoy today. As we continue to move the profession forward and protect our hard-won gains, we have to keep our AOA strong.
What is your favorite part about serving on the AOA Board?
I have been exposed to truly the best and the brightest our profession has to offer. Our colleagues continue to inspire and motivate me to do what I can to lead our profession into the future. The vantage point we have from serving on the Board is unique and normally allows us to see ahead – at least somewhat – and the decisions we make to meet the challenges of the future are always energizing.
What goals are you and the AOA Board looking forward to accomplishing this year?
We continue to work with federal and state legislatures and agencies to protect and to advance patients’ access to quality eye care from their optometrist. That never changes and the task never gets easier. As the Affordable Care Act continues to be implemented, we still have the task ahead of educating both third-party payers and our own members on how to integrate optometry into the primary eye care role that is our destiny.
And we’re going to do all of that while undergoing a major remodeling effort at the St. Louis office. The St. Louis office has not had any major renovation since it was constructed in1968. Optometry was very different in 1968 and we look forward to bringing our facility into the 21st century to mirror the progress of the profession itself.
What is your advice for graduating students who are preparing for job interviews or residency programs?
Residency programs are excellent vehicles for developing further clinical competency in key areas of interest to the graduating student. We have many superb opportunities available to our new colleagues and I think students should examine those opportunities. That said, many graduates opt for going directly into practice after having completed optometry school and passing their Board examinations for licensure.
As graduates enter the profession, it is typical to practice in multiple settings and venues as they look for the right fit. In interviewing, I think that the first order of business is to dress like a doctor; you’re not a student anymore!
Next, be confident but not arrogant, and recognize that just as the graduate has invested a lot in her training, so too has the potential practice opportunity invested a lot in bringing the practice to a point where a new associate is needed. The demographic of a patient population in a given practice tends to reflect the demographic of the doctor(s) providing the care. The new graduate brings the opportunity to broaden that demographic to a younger population if nothing else. I think it’s fair to make that point in an interview.
In your opinion, how will rapidly improving technology impact the optometry profession?
In my career, I’ve seen remarkable improvements in technology that have made patient care better, more convenient and more affordable. That will continue and embracing technological advances makes good sense. What doesn’t make sense is embracing technology that diminishes the doctor patient relationship. The collection of data can take many forms and technology will assist us in doing that better and better. But it is the responsibility of the doctor to interpret that data into a meaningful diagnosis and treatment plan. Diagnosis can never be abdicated to technology.
We greatly appreciate Dr. Loomis sharing his insight and expertise with us. It is my hope that we will always appreciate the tremendous work that the AOA does for our profession, and that every student will contribute by being involved in the AOSA and thus the AOA.