For new students, grants make a difference—so they can, too

November 30, 2021
Since the AOA/AOSA Opportunities in Optometry grant program was announced last spring, 32 grants have been awarded. Awardees from underrepresented minority groups in the profession talked about their hope to make a difference to others someday.
AOA/AOSA Opportunities in Optometry grant program

The seeds of the AOA/AOSA “Opportunities in Optometry” Grant program are bearing first fruits.

Some grant recipients have already enrolled in optometry school, including first-year students Gabrielle Tull at Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University and Ijem Ozodigwe at New England College of Optometry.

Ozodigwe says she welcomed the grant.

“It had a significant impact on helping me acquire the materials I needed to start school, as well as alleviating some of the financial stressors that come with school,” she says. “Because of the grant, I felt like I was able to focus more on the learning being done and I could put all of my energy into that.”

Salus’ Tull echoes the sentiment.

“The grant has helped me tremendously with finances during my first few months in optometry,” she says. “Getting the grant helped to reimburse me for the costs of the OAT, school applications (I applied to four different schools) and travel to take my OAT.”

32 grants awarded in 2021

The grant program, managed by Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation, provides a one-time stipend to students from traditionally underrepresented minority groups within optometry to help defray the costs associated with applying for optometry school. Stemming from the work of the AOA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force and the AOSA Diversity Project Team, the grants represent a concerted effort to not only build diversity, equity and professional leadership in optometry but also encourage expanded access to primary eye care in the U.S.

Thirty-two grants of $1,500 each were awarded in 2021 to students meeting the eligibility and application criteria, as well as an essay requirement, subsequently reviewed by a selection committee. Grant funding is intended to offset fees associated with the Optometry Admission Test (OAT), school applications, professional attire or travel-related expenses associated with interviews. The program was made possible by a generous donation from EssilorLuxottica and gifts from the AOA and AOSA.

Although both students acknowledge that they were just at the beginning of their journeys to become doctors of optometry, they were still eager to pursue the profession and provide increased access to care to patients.

Says Tull: “I chose optometry because of my experience with family members as well as my experience working as an ophthalmic technician. I know that there can be eye health disparities in the Black community. I want to be an advocate in my community to educate others to help prevent future vision loss in my patients/community.”

Ozodigwe says she once benefitted from the care of her own eye doctor and hopes to make a difference to others someday. Her own improved vision gave her confidence and led to a better quality of life, she says.

It was a gift she wants to share with others.

“I chose to pursue a career in optometry because I have a desire to help populations with individuals who may not have had access to resources such as eye doctors,” Ozodigwe says. “Not only have I seen communities lacking such resources, but I have lived in these communities as well and I feel like going to the eye doctor and getting your eyes checked on a regular basis will help prevent and improve potential eye and other health problems.”

Support Opportunities in Optometry

Through the work of the AOA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force and the AOSA Diversity Project Team, optometry’s advocates are listening closely to colleagues nationwide to ensure optometry leads in engaging and encouraging a diverse, equitable profession going forward. Opportunities in Optometry grants are an integral part of the sustained commitment necessary to affect change, and members’ and organizations’ support in this mission is welcomed.

Here are two ways to support the program:

  1. Donate to support Optometry Cares—The AOA Foundation. Your contribution can help offset the cost of study materials, application fees or transportation for an optometry school interview for an Opportunities in Optometry grant recipient.
  2. Learn more about the AOA/AOSA Opportunities in Optometry Grant program.Encourage applicants to visit the Optometry Cares website for eligibility criteria and additional application information. The next round of grant applications will be accepted in 2022.
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