Why Advocacy

'If we don't step up, someone else will step in'

At Optometry's Meeting® 2019 Deanna Alexander, O.D., and Clarke Newman, O.D., were recognized as the AOA's Advocates of the Year for their exceptional and tireless advocacy on behalf of the profession of optometry.

Dr. Alexander was recognized for her many years serving as chair of the AOA's State Government Relations Committee before becoming chair of the Health Care Alliance for Patient Safety. Dr. Newman was honored for his leadership and direction as chair of the AOA's Federal Relations Committee (FRC). In an excerpt from AOA Focus, the doctors speak about advocacy and how and why members should get involved.

Why is advocacy so important to the profession of optometry and patients?

Dr. Alexander:
Optometry and health care are continually evolving. Advocating on behalf of our patients and our profession keeps us moving forward. If we as a profession don't step up and ­find our voice, someone else will step in and define­ how we take care of our patients.

Dr. Newman:
As a legislated and regulated profession at the state and federal level, the quality of care we provide to our patients depends as much on our scope and access as it does on our training. We are a small profession that is not included in the medical clique. We have to ­fight for everything we have. It is my duty to serve, just as I believe it is every optometrists' duty to serve. There are many ways to serve the profession, and all are valuable. I choose to serve in advocacy for the Texas Optometric Association and the AOA.

When you meet a policy maker, what do you tell them about optometry?

Dr. Alexander:
I explain that we are the primary care doctor for eyes. Often legislators do not understand our level of training and our doctoral level of education. Our profession has evolved rather quickly over the past 30 years, and many policy makers do not understand how we integrate into health care. I also emphasize that optometry is critical for access to care. I grew up in a rural, small town in Colorado, where we had a family doctor, a dentist and an optometrist. This strength of being on the front line of taking care of patients cannot be overemphasized.

Dr. Newman:
Doctors of optometry are highly trained at nationally accredited schools and colleges of optometry and are licensed in every state. We are held to the same standard of care as ophthalmology, and we excel at meeting that standard. Every legislator and regulator should be an advocate for every patient by demanding that doctors of optometry be licensed to the highest level of their training and have access to all Americans who wish to see them for their eye care.

How can a member become an advocate for the AOA?

Dr. Alexander:
The easiest way to become involved as a member is at the state level. States are always looking for volunteers in the legislative arena. As you become more experienced and con­fident in your volunteerism, then moving to the national level will be an easy transition. So many of our issues dovetail between the state and federal level. We are always looking for patient stories to support our efforts in patient advocacy. When there is a call to action on an issue, respond to the request. And when someone in your state asks you to help out, say yes. It takes a lot of us to move a grassroots effort, so involvement by many of us is critical.

Dr. Newman: Service on the FRC requires two things: a wonky passion for all things legislative and regulatory and a lot of experience. We try to balance the committee with younger voices who have had experience and success at the state and local level with the longer-serving members who have been around the block 30 times. What FRC does is just too important to optometry-experience counts. It also helps to be politically wired in. The last quality is a willingness to be part of a team that relies on the strengths of every member, whether we are talking about the volunteers or the highly trained and highly regarded AOA staff in Washington, D.C. The staff lives, breathes and eats this stuff on our behalf. They are fully invested.

January 8, 2020

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