Developing a new generation of optometric leaders

February 25, 2021
In a virtual kick-off, the AOA launches Leadership Institute with 130 doctors of optometry from across the country. A project of the AOA Leadership Development Committee, the Institute is a yearlong program designed to grow and support the next generation of leaders in the profession.
AOA launches Leadership Institute

Outstanding leadership and leaders don’t just happen.

Toward that end, the AOA launched the inaugural class of its AOA Leadership Institute on Feb. 24 with 130 doctors of optometry. They were welcomed to the virtual event by Andrea Thau, O.D., chair of the AOA Leadership Development Committee formed in 2018 to inspire a generation of leaders.

“Believe it or not, this evening feels to me like the birth of a baby,” Dr. Thau says. “Two and a half years ago, the very visionary AOA Board of Trustees envisioned the idea of creating a Leadership Development Committee that was charged to help prepare the next generation of future diverse leaders. Over the span of the past two and a half years, the entire committee worked hard to develop this program.

“We want to be able to encourage each and every one of you to be the best that you can be,” she adds. “To give back to our beloved profession, to help move it forward. I, for one, am a second-generation optometrist and I grew up watching the transformation of our profession. It was the efforts of my father and his colleagues that helped deliver the profession to the level I inherited. And then colleagues in my generation have worked hard to bring the profession to the level that it is at now. Now it’s your job to carry it forward to the next generation.”

Tap on the shoulder

The yearlong virtual Leadership Institute accepted nominations from state affiliates and schools and colleges of optometry. The first class represents a diverse pool with gender, race/ethnicity, age (five to 10 years removed from optometry school) and geography evident in its membership. Leadership potential also was a consideration in its selection.

The purpose of the Leadership Institute is:

  • To encourage diversity within the future leadership of optometry and the AOA.
  • To provide training and personal growth opportunities.
  • To provide leadership opportunities on local, state and national levels.
  • To strengthen relationships between AOA, faculty and affiliates.

The program is designed to give these doctors of optometry the tools they need to become even more engaged leaders. Sometimes people need the tap on the shoulder, the encouragement and the support to step forward and lead, Dr. Thau says. The hope is that they will grow professionally and personally and become, as a result of the Institute, more involved with their local affiliates, state organizations and the AOA.

“When they tap you on that shoulder, we hope you’re going to step forward to share your talents with all of them,” Dr. Thau told the class on Wednesday night. “We hope to activate and empower each and every one of our program participants.”

Expanding doctors’ professional networks and their spheres of influence also are aims of the institute, supported by AOA Visionary Supporters Johnson & Johnson Vision and Essilor of America.

Words of encouragement

On Wednesday, doctors received words of encouragement from Teri K. Geist, O.D, Board of Trustees liaison to the Leadership Development Committee, and from its other committee members.

“I am super excited alongside everyone here,” said James Hardie, O.D., who practices in Michigan. “We’ve really put a lot of thought into this, and I can’t wait to see what future leaders you become and help drive our profession forward. Enjoy.”

Breanne McGhee. O.D., who practices in Louisiana, added: “This is definitely the first step toward leadership, so you all definitely deserve a round of applause.”

“As we all know, leadership is not something that you are born with,” said Nathaniel Roland, O.D., president-elect of the Oregon Optometric Physicians Association. “It’s something you might have a tendency for, but it’s something that you work to refine the rest of your life. This is one step toward accomplishing that.”

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Learn more about the doctors of optometry seeking to serve on the 2023-2024 AOA Board of Trustees before their election at Optometry’s Meeting®, June 21-24, in Washington, D.C.

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Early-bird registration is available through Friday, March 31, so lock-in your low, AOA-member rate for four days of industry-leading education, networking, practice solutions and entertainment in the nation’s capital.

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In 2017, the AOA and the American Optometric Student Association launched an ambitious initiative to bring 2,000+ students and newly graduated doctors of optometry to Washington, D.C., to promote career readiness and success, foster professional aspirations and develop the next generation. Called AOA+, the initiative is returning to Optometry’s Meeting® 2023, bigger and bolder than before. Six years later, what do those inaugural participants say about AOA+ as a catalyzing moment in their careers?