AOA Leadership Institute graduates ‘agents of change’ for optometry

December 15, 2021
The new, year-long program designed to grow and support the next generation of optometric leaders celebrates a successful year and looks ahead to the next class.
AOA Leadership Institute

Devin Sasser, O.D., always knew he’d be an active, engaged member of the profession. But a nomination to the inaugural AOA Leadership Institute was more than just an opportunity to get involved. Frankly, he’s much more choice about his words.

“I saw it as a chance to springboard myself back into action and into doing the best I can to both promote and progress the profession,” Dr. Sasser says of seizing this chance to hone leadership attributes that could immediately help advance optometry.

One of 123 doctors of optometry graduating from that inaugural AOA Leadership Institute class of 2021, Dr. Sasser, a 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri-St. Louis College of Optometry and a practitioner in Silver Spring, Maryland, says the unforgettable experience has given him the confidence to take a leading role in the profession’s future.

“I was given the unique opportunity to work alongside a diverse coalition of fellow leaders as we sought to discover and develop the skills necessary to be agents of change within our profession,” Dr. Sasser says. “I was able to create lasting bonds that will undoubtedly prove paramount in my continued journey in leadership.”

And that’s precisely the goal.

‘Investing’ in our future leaders

Launched in February, the AOA Leadership Institute welcomed a diverse group of doctors of optometry for a year-long leadership development workshop that fosters and energizes the next generation of optometric leaders. This inaugural class, nominated by 44 affiliates and 18 different schools and colleges of optometry for their leadership potential, graduated with a dictate to champion the profession in much the same way that preceding generations had elevated optometry to what it is today. The AOA Leadership Institute aims to:

• Encourage diversity within the future leadership of optometry and the AOA.
• Provide training and personal growth opportunities for candidates.
• Provide leadership opportunities on local, state and national levels.
• Strengthen relationships between the AOA, affiliates and schools and colleges of optometry.

In addition to demonstrating the skills necessary to become even more engaged leaders, the AOA Leadership Institute, supported by AOA Visionary Supporters Johnson & Johnson Vision and EssilorLuxottica, also expands doctors’ professional networks and spheres of influence to encourage cohesiveness and empower them to get involved at every level.

Andrea Thau, O.D., chair of the AOA Leadership Development Committee, calls the inaugural AOA Leadership Institute an “enormous success,” seeing participants’ skills and confidence emerging over the course of the past year.

“By investing in our young, future leaders who are 5 or 10 years out of school, we are cultivating a culture of leadership that will yield dividends for decades to come,” Dr. Thau says. “We are so excited to empower our participants with the skills they need to succeed as a leader. It will be of great benefit to the AOA and our entire profession.”

Already, Catherine Johnson, O.D., can say the lessons learned throughout the program have had an immediate effect, both inside and outside her Louisiana practice on the daily. Skills, such as personal branding, negotiating and public speaking, are invaluable to getting a confident leg up in her career, while the collaboration with other like-minded and motivated doctors will prove equally impactful in the years to come.

“I am grateful for the friends made, the knowledge gained and the confidence instilled after completing this training,” Dr. Johnson says. “I am thrilled and honored to have been able to participate in the AOA Leadership Institute.”

Now, as the inaugural class departs, a new cohort of 107 doctors of optometry take their seats for the impactful program. Beginning in the new year, the 2022 program once again seeks to prioritize diversity and that spark of leadership qualities that could come to define our profession in the years ahead. Know someone who fits these traits? The AOA Leadership Institute seeks candidates who are:

  • Active AOA members.
  • Five to 10 years in practice.
  • Show interest or potential in leadership roles.

If you would like to nominate a doctor of optometry or apply for the 2023 AOA Leadership Institute, please contact leadershipinstitute@aoa.org. Nominations and applications are reviewed by a committee of doctors, advocates and leaders of optometry.

“I hope that every graduate of the AOA Leadership Institute will use their newly honed skills and become an active, engaged leader at their state level,” Dr. Thau says. “I hope that they will maintain the relationships formed with the other participants and support each other as they rise in their state leadership, and later, hopefully, at the AOA level.”

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