While more work is needed, AOA shares progress made toward diversity, equity and inclusion
Change takes effort, and the AOA and members have been pushing to help address the issue of underrepresentation of minority groups in the association and the profession.
Since July 2020, an AOA task force has been committed to looking at what the association can do to help support growing a more diverse AOA and profession. AOA Trustee Jacqueline M. Bowen, O.D., has chaired the AOA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force, which also includes AOA Trustees Steven T. Reed, O.D., and Lori L. Grover, O.D., Ph.D. Dr. Reed, AOA Secretary-Treasurer, has been succeeded by Trustee Teri K. Geist, O.D., on the task force.
“Building a profession and association that feels inclusive to all of its members requires acknowledging the profession’s history, including times when it did not always reflect those values,” said Dr. Bowen, who provided an update at the 2021 Optometry’s Meeting®, during the 124th Annual AOA Congress, on how the AOA is working to encourage and support underrepresented populations. “As a profession, we have been consistently committed to continuous improvement and we know that we can take the same concerted effort to help drive the progress we have made in building a strong, diverse community of doctors who are ready to address patient needs.”
AOA addressing underrepresentation of minority groups
While noting organizations can take steps to be more inclusive and that no single entity can move the needle alone, the AOA has made strides toward reducing underrepresentation.
Among AOA efforts noted by Dr. Bowen were:
- The AOA Leadership Institute, a project of the AOA Leadership Development Committee, attempts to grow a diverse group of future leaders by giving young doctors of optometry tools and encouragement to become future leaders in their local and state AOA affiliate associations and the AOA. This year, 130 doctors of optometry, from diverse backgrounds, are taking part in the year-long institute.
- Educational courses on the subjects of diversity, equity, inclusion and cultural competency were part of the educational offerings at Optometry’s Meeting. “The AOA recognizes that diverse opportunities and courses are in demand and an education track we will continue to advance,” Bowen said. An AOSA Pop-Up Session included open dialogue among attendees on the same subject.
- A recently published special report including interviews with Black AOA members about their personal experiences in the profession.
- The Opportunities in Optometry Grants program, a collaboration between the AOA and AOSA, awards one-time stipends to future optometry students from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in optometry. The first grants were awarded in May of 2021 to five deserving applicants.
- The AOA Congress passed two amendments to existing resolutions last week: One amendment highlighted the need to address gaps in access to optometric education for members of groups traditionally underrepresented in optometry, and the second consisted of changes to the optometric oath, adding a commitment to health equity in all communities.
- The AOA Board of Trustees and staff have undergone training and education on the subject of diversity, equity and inclusion.
- The AOA helped promote “Impact HBCU,” a forum by Black EyeCare Perspectives to raise awareness about the profession among students at historically Black colleges.
Dr. Bowen also recognized the efforts of State University of New York College of Optometry and the Optometric Physicians of Washington for their seminars and webinar series on diversity. “Providing a profession-wide forum for discussion of DEI issues is a vital step to begin the process of change, and no single organization can move the needle by itself,” she said.
The concerted efforts can make a difference.
“This is important because with a more diverse profession, we will realize expanding excellence in patient care,” Dr. Bowen said. “Doctors must possess skills that allow us to relate to people from all backgrounds and walks of life. It’s critical we have a diverse profession to serve our diverse population.
“It inspires creativity and problem solving,” she said. “As an association and a profession, greater diversity allows us to bring different life experiences, skills and insights to light and help solve future challenges, leading to greater innovation, creativity and strategic thinking. It also increases engagement. For AOA to continue to flourish, it is important that it is viewed as a welcoming place for all doctors of optometry. The diversity of individuals entering the profession has grown tremendously over the years, and all those individuals have a home at the AOA.”
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