With rallying cries and spirits brimming, the profession's next generation of leaders flooded the U.S. Capitol's West Lawn for a one-of-a-kind opportunity to immerse themselves in all things optometry.
The inaugural AOA+, sponsored by Johnson & Johnson Vision, AOAExcel® and Essilor, united more than 2,300 students and new doctors in Washington, D.C., for a distinctive primer in professional advocacy with real-world career readiness pearls from AOA members, networking and mentoring opportunities, and applicable financial planning advice to support optometry's future as they hit the ground running.
And hit the ground they did.Marching feet, cheering voices and swaying signs that read, "optometry is essential care," and "eye exams save lives," AOA+ opened with fanfare Wednesday during a stirring rally on Capitol Hill. Outgoing AOA President Andrea P. Thau, O.D., remarked on the record-breaking attendance and the crowd's pure, exuberant passion for representing patients and their profession.
"There are just a few things in life that you can characterize as awesome, and this is definitely one of those moments for AOA and for me," Dr. Thau told those gathered. "Having more than 2,300 students and new doctors here in Washington, D.C., and seeing you today rallying as part of the AOA family is exactly why we started the AOA+ program this year."
Optometry's champions in Congress addressed the rally on the importance of professional advocacy and remaining politically active despite the apparent fissures in government, today. The bipartisan speakers included U.S. Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).
Providing a background to AOA's weeklong advocacy efforts as part of AOA on Capitol Hill 2017, the rally primed dialogue surrounding optometry's priority federal issues amid ongoing debate about health care reform, including:
- Ceasing abusive, anti-doctor health and vision plan policies with the bipartisan H.R. 1606, Dental and Optometric Care Access Act;
- Safeguarding doctors' of optometry full physician recognition and inclusion in physician-level programs;
- Upholding existing laws that assure access to in-person, comprehensive eye examinations, including the health plan-based pediatric essential health benefit and the ban on discrimination by ERISA and other plans against doctors of optometry on the basis of licensure; and,
- Ensuring patients' safety from unsafe telehealth schemes and services.
Off the Hill
Following the rally, attendees returned to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for a pair of New Doctor Panels with moderators Justin Bazan, O.D., of New York, and Amanda Nanasy, O.D., of Florida. Comprised of exemplary AOA-member doctors who recently made the leap from optometry school to successful practice, the New Doctor Panels fielded questions from the audience about what it takes to navigate that tricky transition. The panels delivered real-world practice pearls and step-by-step tips for what to do upon graduation, in addition to speaking on the importance of continuing the AOA+ momentum into volunteer and leadership opportunities.
Rounding out AOA+, students and new doctors also heard from keynote speaker Alexa von Tobel. The young entrepreneur and best-selling author, von Tobel presented easily applicable financial planning advice that will help mitigate climbing student debt and prepare for the future.
The agenda concluded with a networking and mentoring opportunity called Leadership Link. Hundreds of AOA members volunteered to pair up with attendees to serve as a lifeline resource in their fledgling careers and to aid in pursuing future opportunities in the AOA and affiliate volunteer structures.
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.
At the 2021 Leaders Summit, AOA-member volunteers set priorities for the year and launched new initiatives to lead the profession forward.