AOSA’s new leaders discuss getting involved, student struggles and the profession’s future

AOSA’s new leaders discuss getting involved, student struggles and the profession’s future

From left, 2016-17 AOSA officers Erick Henderson, president; Lauren Fereday, vice president; Evan Tirado, treasurer; and Christin DeMoss, secretary.

The American Optometric Student Association (AOSA) elected four new officers recently—officers who will serve more than 6,700 students in 23 schools and colleges of optometry in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.

The 2016-17 AOSA executive officers are Erick Henderson, president, of Southern College of Optometry; Lauren Fereday, vice president, of Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences School of Optometry; Evan Tirado, treasurer, of New England College of Optometry; and Christin DeMoss, secretary, of Salus University/Pennsylvania College of Optometry.

Below, tomorrow's doctors of optometry weigh in on student life and the future of the profession. .

Why is it so important to be involved with the AOA as a student?

Fereday: When it comes to making changes and fighting for expansion in our scope of practice, every voice matters. In fact, students can be very influential in guiding optometry in a positive direction. We are the future of optometry, and lawmakers want to hear what we have to say. Through organizations such as the AOSA and AOA, students' voices can be heard.

Tirado: Our time in optometry school passes much quicker than we all expect. Before many students lift their heads to look at the horizon, they will be practicing doctors. It's important for each of us to know the struggles the profession faces now, and the struggles we may face in the future in order to reach our potential.

Henderson: It isn't simply important, it is necessary. The student voice is very strong and, as the future of the profession, we need to take an active role in shaping our own future. .

What are the biggest issues students face?

DeMoss: Finding their niche in the profession and networking with doctors and other students. Luckily, the AOA provides resources to help students in both of these areas. Attending continuing education courses offered at Optometry's Meeting® allows students to explore specialty areas within the profession. Optometry's Meeting also provides an environment conducive to networking and meeting potential employers.

Fereday: The biggest issues students face are the issues of the unknown, especially in regards to current issues such as online eye exams and 1-800 Contacts.

Henderson: One of the major concerns is student loan debt. The cost of a quality education continues to rise, outpacing future income opportunities. This is an issue echoed from many optometry students throughout the country.

Another significant issue for the future is adequately dealing with changes in the health care field. No one can deny the uncertainty of optometry's future. While the Affordable Care Act has helped us in many ways, we do not know what the future will hold.

How can optometry students assist in creating a better future for the profession?

Tirado: There are so many ways to be involved in creating a better future. Join your state association now and get involved, write a letter to your representative in legislature, volunteer in outreach to underserved countries or at home, serve in the military, help a friend who's struggling or serve as a mentor, teach or learn a new language to improve doctor-patient communication, use social media to reach the public in new ways, or develop new technology. 

Fereday: It is very important for students to be able to obtain the highest level of competence in optometry. We need to be able to not only work with others in our field, but also others in different fields, like physical therapy, occupational therapy, etc. The health care system is becoming more interdisciplinary, and I truly believe that is the direction health care is going. So we need the highest level of knowledge in order to represent optometry well and work well with other professions, allowing for optimal patient care.

Henderson: We need to make our voice heard. Students are in a unique position with the opportunity to shape our own future as optometrists. The AOSA, AOA and state affiliates allow students many opportunities to become active within the profession at an early stage. Whether it is attending the Congressional Advocacy Conference and advocating on the hill, traveling to state association meetings, or going to Optometry's Meeting to learn and plan with the AOA, students are included in the advocacy efforts. As such, we are afforded the opportunity to make positive change for the profession.

Students who attend the 2016 Congressional Advocacy Conference are eligible to receive $100 travel grants. Stay tuned to theaosa.org for more information.

February 3, 2016

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