Profession’s leaders primed for states’ opportunities, challenges in 2020

January 22, 2020
Presidents’ Council 2020 convened affiliate leaders and staff for professional development and an open forum with the AOA on opportunities, issues affecting the profession.
Presidents' Council 2020

Success isn't guaranteed through sheer determination alone; effective leaders know it takes a concerted, thoughtful approach that best utilizes the resources available. And that's not just a maxim.

The Race to the South Pole,  an early 20th century pursuit that boiled down to competing expeditions by Norwegian Roald Amundsen and British Capt. Robert Falcon Scott, is a perceptive case study in leadership. Such was the picture that Chris Wroten, O.D., AOA Federal Relations Committee member and Presidents' Council moderator, painted for nearly 170 volunteer leaders and affiliate staff at Presidents' Council, Jan. 16-18, in Houston, Texas, as a preamble to the leadership-oriented meeting.

For their parts, Amundsen and Scott couldn't have more polarizing leadership styles, Dr. Wroten underscored. Amundsen, an accomplished explorer relying on the experience and skillset of his team, meticulously planned his Antarctic expedition but chose a calculated delay when weather posed an unnecessary risk. Scott, an ambitious naval officer, trudged headlong without proper preparations on what would become an ill-fated venture. Ultimately, it cost Scott and most of his team their lives.

"It's a stark contrast in leadership styles and the resulting outcomes," Dr. Wroten shared with attendees. "Keen preparation that included seeking and heeding advice from other experienced explorers, as well as paying attention, combined with solid leadership decision along the way, led to success and a safe return for Amundsen."

Although lives aren't hanging in the balance, Dr. Wroten's point on professional leadership resonated among the optometric leaders. Convened annually as an affiliate leadership development and orientation, professional networking and strategic planning opportunity, the Presidents' Council strives to enhance the effectiveness of volunteer leaders with resources that equip them to help advance the profession, both nationally and at home.

Here's what happened at the optometric leadership forum:

AOA casts vision for 2020, beyond

Chris Wroten, O.D.-Presidents' Council
Moderator Chris Wroten, O.D., uses an early 20th century expedition to the South Pole to inspire attendees at Presidents’ Council, Jan. 16-18, in Houston, Texas.

In opening Presidents' Council on Thursday, AOA President Barbara L. Horn, O.D., provided several updates on key AOA initiatives and priorities in the new year, including the AOA's nationwide eye health awareness campaign, #2020EyeExam, and the national and state efforts to fight back against plan abuses targeting doctors and patients.

"Through increased public awareness of optometry and advocacy focused squarely on going after the harmful payer abuses that restrict access to the essential care we provide, the AOA and state associations are making this a historic year of advancement for our practices and our profession," Dr. Horn said. "By working together to implement the #2020EyeExam campaign, persuading more Americans than ever to see their family optometrist for a comprehensive eye exam, and advocating for tough, new pro-doctor laws, such as the Dental and Optometric Care Access Act (DOC Access Act), we're going all out to put a nationwide spotlight on optometry throughout 2020."

Elaborating on a cornerstone of the #2020EyeExam campaign, the employer pledge program now has nearly 40 participating employers that reach more than 350,000 employees. Dr. Horn challenged affiliates and volunteers to get the word out, enlisting more employers as the year progresses.

So, too, Dr. Horn announced the AOA will roll out resources to help support new, patient-centered connections with local care providers, grounded in the AOA's updated diabetes guideline, and soon available through the AOA's forthcoming website redesign. All these components culminate in the multi-channel, public relations campaign—#2020EyeExam—that encourages Americans to start caring for themselves by their eye exam and making it a part of their annual health care routine. This public encouragement is central to the AOA's Save Your Vision Month campaign in March, where the AOA will announce new partnerships and drive additional engagement and media coverage.

"We are charging ahead and partnering with all of you to get this message out," Dr. Horn said. "What do we ask of you? Join the conversation and the initiative; share the visuals on your social channels; get the word out in your communities; use the #2020EyeExam hashtag; and, join in getting your fellow doctors engaged in enlisting employers in the pledge. Because when we all work together, we will make an impact."

Providing an update on the AOA's advocacy priorities, Dr. Horn discussed concerning federal legislation to expand Medicare coverage for refraction and contact lens fittings. This underfunded, unworkable new vision benefit could harm doctors and patients, and the AOA's Federal Relations Committee and staff have actively engaged legislators since the beginning. Although passed in the U.S. House, the bill is unlikely to pass the U.S. Senate in current form. Still, the AOA remains vigilant.

Additionally, Dr. Horn reminded volunteers to encourage their legislators' support on AOA's priority legislation, H.R. 3762, the DOC Access Act,  and H.R. 3975, the Contact Lens Prescription Verification Modernization Act,  while also preparing affiliates for a resurgence in veterans' care challenges and doubling down on a zero-tolerance policy for abusive plan practices.

Visit the AOA's Legislative Action Center or contact the AOA's advocacy team for more information about how you can help ensure optometry is heard in Washington, D.C.

Additionally, the AOA's State Government Relations Center (SGRC) provided affiliates a broad overview and updates from the fledgling 2020 legislative session, now with at least 33 states convened. This session could prove one of the busiest ever for affiliates nationwide with issues ranging from drivers licensing and children's vision measures to scope expansion, the SGRC notes, yet affiliates are better prepared than years prior to see success in states' legislatures.

In other news, the AOA also updated affiliates and volunteers on AOAExcel®'s group purchasing organization adding optical products , including contact lenses, frames and lens materials, to help members be more competitive.

Equipping affiliate leaders

The Presidents' Council not only serves as a forum between the AOA and affiliates on priority issues affecting the profession or association but also an opportunity to provide leadership development and volunteer orientation. Among these opportunities, affiliate leaders and staff collaborated in best practices breakouts to share workable solutions or voice challenges in their respective states or associations, as well as several topical sessions useful for affiliate organization or leadership, including:

  • An Executive Directors summit.
  • Volunteer leadership orientation.
  • Advocacy primers in state legislative and third-party issues.
  • Association challenges.
  • Leader-to-leader meetings.

This leadership development continued into Friday's keynote address with leadership consultant and inspirational speaker Pam Boyd. The owner of Dramatic Conclusions consulting firm, Boyd spoke to "optimal, drama-free" engagement among volunteers and associates by espousing effective business communication and management strategies.

"The opportunity to develop leadership skills, to network with other leaders in optometry, to provide input to AOA and to hear what's going on elsewhere in the profession creates an atmosphere that's very conducive to enhancing the effectiveness of our staff and volunteer leaders in attendance as they seek to advance the profession—one of our main missions," says Dr. Wroten.

"I know I always leave encouraged and inspired by these great leaders in optometry, from all over the country, who are so passionately striving to make our profession all that it can be."

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