Actions speak louder than words

January 11, 2022
In June, the AOA House of Delegates approved a resolution amending the Optometric Oath to include more diverse and inclusive language. AOA President Robert C. Layman, O.D., explains why this step is so important to ensuring the AOA’s commitment to a more diverse profession.
Robert C. Layman, O.D.

Excerpted from page 5 of the November/December 2021 edition of AOA Focus.

Ever for the most seasoned and professional among us doctors of optometry, there are few times in our early careers that leave lasting memories like the milestones we share.

To name a few, there’s the joy—and relief—we experience after passing our boards and getting licensed to practice. There’s the first time we slip on those bright-white coats—that symbolize we’ve earned the privilege of working in clinics with real patients. There’s the sense of pride and accomplishment after our first day in practice, beginning our career journey.

Or maybe, for many of us, it’s the first time we solemnly utter The Optometric Oath and truly sense the weight of our professional responsibilities:

I affirm that the health of my patient will be my first consideration.

Pretty impactful, isn’t it? Although we say it annually in the AOA House of Delegates at Optometry’s Meeting®, speaking it never gets old. For doctors of optometry, the oath is our North Star.

Perhaps in a testament to how well it was written and is embraced, the oath had only been modified once in 35 years. That is, until this past June, when the House of Delegates, AOA’s legislative and policymaking body, voted to tweak it. Significantly.

The oath was amended and some new language added. Aside from a few minor changes (American Optometric Association to AOA and optometrists to doctors of optometry), the other amendments were more consequential, or at least that is the aim. The AOA, which has been a leader among national professional organizations in fighting for expanded patient access to the essential care our doctors provide, as well as for full adherence to a single standard of eye health and vision care, sought to make an even stronger statement and commitment.

The changes:

I will provide professional care for the diverse populations who seek my services, with concern, with compassion and with due regard for their human rights and dignity.

 I will work to expand access to quality care and improve health equity for all communities.

These amendments to Resolution 1847 do not mark a change of direction for the AOA—in 1972, the House of Delegates passed a resolution putting a priority on its process for recruitment, admission, enrollment and retention of individuals from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Yet this new action can spur us to be even more intentional in our diversity efforts.

Our profession, the family of optometry, will be better for these amendments. Ultimately, in a profession where people of color are underrepresented and public access to health care matters to one’s quality of life, the AOA seeks to grow the profession and patient access through the various actions we have taken this past year. Establishing the Opportunities in Optometry grant program, which together with the American Optometric Student Association awarded 32 grants and counting to budding doctors of optometry from underrepresented groups, will help remove barriers to entering the profession. The result will be greater diversity of thought and creativity and improved outcomes for patients.

For the AOA, these are more than words. Like the North Star, they will guide us into a more diverse, equitable and inclusive future. The AOA is home to all doctors of optometry, and I cannot stress enough that we can effect change and grow as a profession only if we advocate together as family members.

Send questions or comments to Dr. Layman at president@aoa.org.

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