'Opportunities’ grants offer students and profession means to grow

October 25, 2023
The next generation is ready for more—more access, more information and more people with more experiences to inform and guide the health care field. With over 20 Opportunities in Optometry grants awarded in 2023, this year’s recipients have identified more opportunities for growth in eye care.
OiO Grants

Since launching Opportunities in Optometry grants in 2021, over 70 grants, totaling over $100,000, have been awarded to students preparing to enter optometry school. Over 20 Opportunities in Optometry grants have been awarded in 2023 so far, helping traditionally underrepresented minority groups within the profession apply for optometry school. 

When asked why they believe it's important to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in the field of optometry, this year’s grant recipients gave the AOA and the profession a lot to think about.  

What Opportunities in Optometry grant recipients had to say 

For Raymond Jackson, growing up in rural Missouri gave him a clear view of what eye care needs to take the next step into the future of personalized health care:  

“I understand through experience the significant impact minority representation has on a medical environment. Expanding the lens of representation within optometry is crucial for the development of the field to be versatile in its ability to provide personalized health care within any community,” Jackson says. 

“The power of relatability is complimentary to this idea as it adds a comforting tone to settings some may find foreign or stressful; the optometric setting is no exception to this notion.”  

Educating patients about the importance of eye exams is just the first step in a long road of needed equity. Amador De La Cruz knows there’s still work that needs to be done to truly provide inclusive spaces:  

“Every patient is required to fill out medical forms, and yet not a single office offered the forms in Spanish. With the Latinx community being the largest minority population in the U.S., it was unfortunate to witness the lack of accommodations for Spanish-speaking patients,” De La Cruz says. 

“After receiving their forms, the patients were immediately confused, and shortly after I would receive a face of despair. These patients knew I was a part of their community and would look to me for guidance and support. Without hesitation I would translate the entire forms, that way the patient understood the terms and conditions of their visit.”  

In Jasmine Voss’ words, “it is only fair” for the field of optometry to more accurately reflect the communities they serve:    

“I believe that all groups regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation should be equally represented in all fields despite those attributes because they were given and not chosen,” Voss says.  

Voss’ own personal experiences further drive those points:  

“Dr. Stephanie Johnson-Brown was one of my optometrists and visual therapists. As an African American child served by an African American optometrist, she made me feel as though every visit was a worthy visit. She helped me to understand the importance and beauty within as well as behind my lenses,” Voss says. 

“She not only inspired me to pursue this field as a career but also mentored and guided me through this journey. As I hope to do for someone else one day.”  

Ana Sanchez Gutierrez also saw a potential version of herself:  

“A third-year Latino optometry student performed my eye exam, and this experience left a profound impact on me, making me feel represented as we shared backgrounds and struggles both inside and outside of education, which inspired me to delve deeper into optometry,” Sanchez Gutierrez says.  

For other recipients, like Jasmine Pierre, the lack of representation is easy to see and has been chiseled into motivation:  

“I have never received care from a Black doctor regardless of their health care field, and though some may find that demoralizing, I use that as motivation to become an optometrist that young people of color can look up to,” Pierre says.  

In addition to sharing their personal experiences, recipients called out the global inequalities that create barriers to health care. Recipients like Regina Florestal see the glaring gap in accessibility and are eager to build communities that value and embrace diversity, while catering to the needs of the underserved: 

“Growing up with Haitian immigrant parents, I witnessed the health care disparities both in Haiti and globally. The aftermath of the 2010 earthquake revealed the shocking lack of medical access in Haiti, which persists even after a decade. This inadequacy of health care services leads to escalating rates of poor health outcomes,” Florestal says. 

“Unfortunately, Haiti is just one instance where impoverished communities face barriers in accessing basic nutrition and adequate health care.”  

Growing momentum 

In 2021, the AOA and the AOSA launched the Opportunities in Optometry grant program, supported by Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation, to help promote diversity and equity within the optometric profession for generations to come. The grants are made possible through the generous support of the AOA, the AOSA and members of the profession.  

Stemming from the work of the AOA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Advisory Committee and the AOSA Diversity Project Team, Opportunities in Optometry grants represent a concerted effort to not only build diversity, equity and professional leadership in optometry but also expand access to primary eye care across the nation.  

The 2023 grant recipients will start school between fall 2023 and 2025, respectively. This year’s recipients include: 

  • Abigail Ramon 
  • Afiya Thompson 
  • Amador De La Cruz 
  • Ana Sanchez Gutierrez 
  • Andrea Mike 
  • Bettyza D. Velasco Araujo 
  • Brionna Cunningham 
  • Cassandra Cedillo 
  • Crystal Bryant 
  • Jasmine Pierre 
  • Jasmine Voss 
  • Kadjatu Barrie 
  • Nathan Gutierrez 
  • Olivia Richard 
  • Raymond Jackson 
  • Regina Florestal 
  • Rooa Abdelmagid 
  • Starr Mann 
  • Tatiana Hatcher 
  • Victoria Robinson 
  • Xavier Guerrero

Help support Opportunities in Optometry  

The AOA DEI Advisory Committee and the AOSA Diversity Project Team have committed to paving a path toward a broader, more diverse and equitable profession, and Opportunities in Optometry grants are an integral part of that sustained pledge.  

At Optometry’s Meeting 2023, AOA President Ronald L. Benner, O.D., on behalf of the association, signed the “13% Promise” with the Black EyeCare Perspective leaders, further demonstrating the association’s commitment to activate solutions to advance the profession and thoroughly support all diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.  

The profession can help support these efforts to encourage underrepresented minorities to join the family of optometry and expand access to primary eye care across the nation—here’s how: 

  • Donate to support Optometry Cares—The AOA Foundation. Your contribution—which can be made directly toward the Opportunities in Optometry grant program—can help offset the cost of study materials, application fees or transportation for an optometry school interview for a grant recipient. 
  • Help spread awareness of the Opportunities in Optometry grant program. Know someone who might benefit from an Opportunities in Optometry grant program? Encourage applicants to visit the Optometry Cares—The AOA Foundation website for eligibility criteria and additional application information. The 2023 Opportunities in Optometry grant application is currently open until Dec. 1, 2023. The application can be found here. 
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