Developing tomorrow’s leaders, today

February 15, 2023
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?

AOA plus you equals a brighter future for patients and the profession—it’s a simple formula at the heart of an impactful program, continuing to make inroads for optometry’s next generation.

Launched in 2017, the AOA’s and the American Optometric Student Association’s (AOSA’s) ambitious initiative to bring 2,000+ students and newly graduated doctors of optometry to Washington, D.C., invited the profession’s future to directly engage the AOA and leverage the power of membership.

It was called AOA+.

Be it career readiness tools or professional life hacks, critical networking opportunities with optometry’s leaders and legends or feeling the power of speaking with one voice and seeing that advocacy in action

in the halls of our nation’s capital, that special Optometry’s Meeting® experience showed—in a very tangible sense—the value of connection. The value of membership.

“As our students and new graduates embark on their new optometric careers, AOA+ gives them an opportunity to connect with experienced, seasoned doctors who may later become mentors; many of them are leaders who share their insights, advice and support to the upcoming generation,” says Nhung Brandenburg, O.D., AOA Membership Development Committee chair. “These valuable friendships often lead to young graduates becoming volunteers and potential leaders who will go on to advocate and advance our profession.”

Optometry is better and stronger together, and the data bears this truth. As of 2021, 55% of those students participating in the 2017 AOA+ and 66% of participating doctors continue with their membership. It’s a resounding marker of success and an indicator that AOA achieved meaningful and ongoing engagement.

Since 2017, AOA+ has flourished, becoming a comprehensive program to help the next generation take their next step. But now it’s AOA+ that will take its next step.

In 2023, the AOA and the AOSA envision a bigger, bolder and more ambitious AOA+. Once again combining the power of Optometry’s Meeting, June 21-24, in Washington, D.C., with the AOA’s single-largest annual advocacy event and centerpiece of optometry’s federal advocacy efforts, AOA on Capitol Hill, AOA+ is realigned to deliver an even more impactful program. The AOA and the AOSA will help 3,000 students, new doctors and optometric educators attend AOA+ through travel grant opportunities, because such an experience simply can’t be missed.

AOA+ is about preparing our profession’s future for a future profession. In the upcoming March/April issue of AOA Focus, several new doctors who participated in that inaugural 2017 AOA+ share what the experience meant for them and their volunteer trajectories. Here’s a sneak peak.

What lessons or experiences from AOA+ in 2017 influenced your professional or personal trajectory upon graduation?

“One of my first experiences was attending an AOA+ Leadership Link, and I still think back to all the doctors who were willing to share about any and all topics that came up. It was fun to learn from doctors across the country who were practicing in a variety of settings. Through this example, I knew I wanted to pay it forward in the future and stay involved.” -Annabelle Storch, O.D., AOA New Technology Committee chair

How do you see the AOA+ experience helping orient the next generation of optometry?

“Seeing my good friend—and at the time AOSA President Andy Mackner—speaking on Capitol Hill to hundreds of optometrists and future optometrists definitely made a lasting impact. Being among many of my colleagues who were also ready to do the work to promote optometry has provided great motivation in my continued involvement in the AOA committee structure. There was so much positive energy at that event, I didn’t want it to end for anyone at graduation. The AOA Leadership Institute—that I have had the privilege to work alongside the AOA’s Leadership Development Committee to help create—has been a great example of creating a platform to capture the same spirit of looking to continue growth for the future of optometry.” -Jodi Pederson Baker, O.D., AOA Leadership Development Committee member 

AOA+ isn’t only about optometry students. In fact, optometric educators are invited to participate in the experience, too. What can faculty gain from AOA+?

“The AOA+ initiative is a unique experience for optometry students, residents and new graduates alike, but there also is a component for our faculty. This program truly takes our professional involvement to

the next level. As educators, we know we have a direct role in shaping the future of this profession, and ultimately, the primary eye health care that doctors will provide their patients. Toward that end, Optometry’s Meeting will offer an opportunity for educators to take exclusive and intensive education in the office-based, medical eye care procedures that can be passed down to our students with confidence as the AOA and state affiliates work, concurrently, to advance optometry nationwide. That’s what makes this experience such a comprehensive, impactful opportunity—it’s not just about the education but also learning the advocacy skills and building the connections that will be necessary to keep optometry forward-looking on behalf of our patients.” -Padhmalatha Segu, O.D., AOA Faculty & Student Membership Liaisons Committee chair

Can’t-miss events at #OM2023

Optometry is better and stronger together; that’s why the AOA is committed to delivering a comprehensive experience for all optometry students, educators and new doctors that can be impactful for your career. Learn what it takes to stand up and be counted alongside the AOA as an advocate for optometry. See how AOA+ can help you shape optometry’s future with these unique experiences available for students, educators and new doctors at #OM2023.

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