After the peaks and valleys of 2020, AOA leaders ready for the next mountain to conquer

February 4, 2021
At the 2021 Leaders Summit, AOA-member volunteers set priorities for the year and launched new initiatives to lead the profession forward.
2021 Leaders Summit

As captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition, Alison Levine braved hurricane-force gales, sub-zero temperatures, unpredictable weather and a sudden avalanche to conquer Mount Everest looming more than 29,000 feet high.

Done right, the dangerous climb can take months to reach the summit and truly tests one’s physical endurance. With a nod toward optometry’s own test during the outbreak of COVID-19 last year, Levine offered some lessons learned in a challenging, frustrating environment during the AOA 2021 Leaders Summit.

“At the time I still really didn’t know if I had what it was going to take to get up that mountain,” Levine says. “But I knew if I didn’t step up to the plate and try then I would never find out.

“And there are times in your life where you just have to step up, even if you feel like you aren’t ready,” she adds.

Levine made it to the summit in 2010 on her second try. But it wasn’t easy. Among the lessons she shared Jan. 29 during the Leaders Summit:

Fear is OK in rapidly changing environments. “It’s just a normal human emotion. Complacency is what will kill you.”

Overcoming obstacles

The AOA handled its share of curveballs in 2020, AOA President William T. Reynolds, O.D., told those attending the Leaders Summit.

About 270 doctors of optometry, optometry students, paraoptometrics, affiliates’ leaders and AOA staff registered for the virtual event. During the summit, AOA committees set their agendas for 2021 based on organizational priorities.

“We wanted to make this event as inclusive and meaningful as possible because we are all working toward the goal of advancing optometry,” Dr. Reynolds says. “We know how hard the volunteers worked across the committee meetings during the past week and a half. Dr. (president-elect Robert C.) Layman and I enjoyed the opportunity to see everyone in action.

“We appreciate the energy this group has and all the work you want to accomplish this year,” he says. “You helped lead the profession forward. Today, as we start off 2021, we are stronger than ever and that would not be possible without the vision and the commitment from all of you.”

Dr. Reynolds pointed out how member doctors helped the AOA secure critical wins. For instance, they showed their value as health care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing emergent and essential care during CDC-imposed safety protocols placed on practices. Dr. Reynolds noted that 60% of the patients who doctors of optometry saw during the early stages of the pandemic would have otherwise sought care in an emergency department or urgent care center if doctors’ optometry practices had not stayed open.

“We also ensured that doctors qualified for government relief funds and provided members with the resources they needed to get through the crisis,” he adds. “It’s thanks to our members’ actions and advocacy at the federal and state levels that our essential physician role has been recognized. It’s incredible to consider that at the end of the year, due in part to these actions, doctors had accessed almost $1.7 billion in federal aid.”

Last year also saw Veterans’ Affairs ease scope restrictions on doctors of optometry in VA facilities that represented a step forward in delivering eye health and vision care to veterans. The AOA also celebrated recent scope victories in Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Massachusetts after long, hard-fought battles that will set up gains for the future, Dr. Reynolds says.

“Today we are seeing colleagues being vaccinated and the return to the new normal is on the horizon,” he says. “Through this crisis, we have been able to assert more than ever before, that we are the nation’s primary eye health and vision providers. We will continue that progress and ensure Americans know who we are and the valuable care we provide. This is our time.”

Alex Bennett, AOSA president, noted the challenges of 2020: the pandemic, natural disasters and social unrest. “However, if history shows us anything, it is that we are not defined by these moments but how we overcome them.”

The AOA acknowledges and values its industry partners for this event: Johnson & Johnson Vision, Essilor, Alcon and Hoya.

Initiatives unveiled

The new AOA/AOSA Opportunities in Optometry Grant program was announced, to help bolster diversity and inclusiveness in the profession. Thirty grants at $500 each will be awarded to students to cover the costs associated with applying to optometry school, such as the expense of taking the Optometry Admissions Test, travel or school applications. Applications open April 5.

The multimedia “See and Be Seen” affinity campaign launching this spring was unveiled. The campaign will highlight the power of doctors of optometry to be true partners with patients in caring for their eyes and overall health and well-being. The AOA is currently seeking members who will participate in this storytelling project designed to showcase the important care doctors of optometry deliver and the high value of an in-person, comprehensive eye examination.

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