Seamless transition ahead for AOA leadership

June 11, 2018
At Optometry’s Meeting® 2018 in June, the AOA will swear in its 97th president.
Christopher J. Quinn, O.D. & Samuel D. Pierce, O.D.

At Optometry's Meeting ® 2018, the AOA presidency will transition as sure as spring will turn to summer in June. In a Q&A ahead of this transition tradition, AOA President Christopher J. Quinn, O.D., and President-Elect Samuel D. Pierce, O.D., talk about the AOA's triumphs and challenges on the advocacy front and their leadership styles

What do you consider the AOA's biggest successes over the past year?  

Dr. Quinn: The truth is, it's not always the big successes that are a mark of accomplishment but more importantly it's the small, day-to-day achievements that advance the profession. The victories are too numerous to count and this is AOA's biggest success—continually making the case for doctors of optometry and our patients. This takes an incredible amount of work, not only to maintain the status quo, but also to change it. But our relentless pursuit—from our advocacy efforts on the federal level to the state-by-state fight by affiliates—to advance patient eye health and vision care has made a difference. Whether to legislators, health policymakers, regulators or payors, AOA is fighting every day on behalf of our profession. 

I am in awe of the strides AOA has made to help address threats to our profession and patient safety. The AOA's support of the Think About Your Eyes campaign has made a difference in driving millions of patients to for care. We advocated for America's veterans and the doctors they rely on and the care they earned in service to this country.   

Dr. Pierce: On March 7, 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) held a contact lens workshop in Washington, D.C. This workshop was scheduled following our members sending thousands of letters to the FTC voicing opposition and concerns over its misguided Contact Lens Rule proposal. It was great to see AOA members from every state in attendance, showing the FTC that we stand for the health and safety of our patients, and delivering the message that there is more to contact lenses than the retail/delivery component. Also, our advocacy efforts with members of congress and the senate resulted in FTC Commissioner candidates being asked direct questions about the Contact Lens Rule proposal in their confirmation hearings. 

AOA on Capitol Hill in April was a huge success as AOA keypersons and optometry students from across the nation attended informative sessions about our federal legislative agenda and then made personal visits to their members of Congress and the Senate. Further, getting 95 co-sponsors (to date) for the Dental and Optometric Care (DOC) Access bill is a great accomplishment and a testament to how hard our members and our advocacy teamwork to achieve our legislative goals.  

What challenges and opportunities lie ahead for the profession that members should be aware of?

Dr. Quinn: Opportunities abound. Only optometry is suited to address the gaps identified in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report, which estimated that almost 16 million Americans live with visual disabilities that are correctable. We must continue to educate the public and policymakers of the tremendous cost of visual disability and the tremendous cost-effectiveness of getting patients to receive care from doctors of optometry. While we work to address the problem of access to refractive care, we must continue to move the profession forward toward the provision of medically necessary eye care services. The strides over the past 40 years have been remarkable but the need to continue this path is no less compelling.  

The unfettered contemporary practice of optometry is only currently recognized in a handful of states, so much work needs to be done in updating state laws to reflect the modern education and training of doctors of optometry. It's a challenge that only can be met by grassroots engagement in the political process in concert with state affiliates. 

There is only one standard of care, that which is delivered by a comprehensive eye exam. We can't allow the segmentation or deconstruction of the eye exam to be mistaken as acceptable health care. The threats to the doctor-patient relationship created by untested and unsafe technologies that hide behind the cloak of telehealth will continue. Comprehensive care needs to be protected from profiteers who would segregate optometry from health care by controlling patient access and interfering with independent doctor decisions.

Dr. Pierce: The challenges and opportunities for the profession are great, but so are the rewards for being in the greatest health care profession on the planet. Even as the profession evolves, technology also is evolving. As we move forward, we need to embrace technology that maintains or raises the standards of care for our patients, and we need to continue to fight technology that threatens the health and safety of our patients. 

With changes in technology, it is time for us to take a hard look at our optometric practice acts across the country and evaluate where we are with respect to scope of practice language. There are too many procedures that we should be able to offer to our patients but can't because of antiquated optometry laws. The AOA stands ready to assist state associations as they evaluate where they need to be, and what it will take to raise the bar for optometry in their states. 

We continue to have membership challenges as the demographics of the profession evolve. The value of membership far exceeds the dues investment, and we need to do a better job telling our story. Without the AOA and our state affiliates, optometry does not exist—it's that simple, yet far too many doctors of optometry don't realize that truth and choose to be on the outside looking in rather than be active members engaged in the profession and having a part in moving optometry forward. Regardless of the mode of practice, whether federal service, corporate practice, large group practice or single doctor practice, the need for AOA and our state associations to advocate for our profession and our patients has never been greater.

How does service on the AOA Board of Trustees for so many years, before becoming president, prepare you for the top leadership post?  

Dr. Pierce: Unless you have served on the AOA Board of Trustees, it is hard to imagine and be aware of all the issues dealt with daily. Representing over 40,000 members is a tremendous responsibility and can never be taken lightly. The board is responsible for setting the direction of the profession and, at the same time, must also be sensitive to the current needs of our membership. It takes time to assimilate all the information that comes before the board, and it takes time to "see the big picture" of how all the pieces fit together. There are approximately 30 committees in the volunteer structure, and it takes several years to be adequately exposed to the scope and function of each committee. I've also had the privilege of serving on the AOA Board of Trustees with 10 different presidents, which means 10 different styles of leadership. I believe I have learned many valuable lessons from each one. My personal goal is to lead with humility and respect for every member of the board, but I also believe I can be strong and decisive when the need arises. 

Dr. Quinn: I've served on the board since 2008—it was great preparation for becoming AOA president. Maturation and experience are both required to be an effective leader and there are no shortcuts to achieving both. The broad spectrum of challenges the profession has faced in the past is excellent preparation for dealing with the challenges still unknown. Experience also provides important insight and context and a certain degree of wisdom that colors important decision-making. As a former state president (New Jersey) and an AOA volunteer for more than 25 years, I'd encourage others to get involved with their local affiliates and become active in the AOA, whether it's through their affiliate, the AOA volunteer structure or donating to AOA-PAC.    

What are your expectations about what the next year will hold?  

Dr. Pierce: I believe we will see a tsunami of activity across the country, as a large number of states take a hard look at their current optometry acts and evaluate what needs to be done to raise the bar for optometry. AOA's State Government Relations Committee will be ready, willing and able to assist in a multitude of ways to help affiliates prepare for the future of the profession. The AOA Third Party Center (TPC) will continue to make tremendous progress across the country with its Successful Eyecare for Employers (SEE) program. I also believe that, because of TPC's efforts, we will see more and more health plans integrating comprehensive eye exams into their medical plans. On the advocacy front, we will still have to fight bad technologies that offer consumers inferior experiences and do not meet the standard of care. We will continue to push state and federal agencies to enforce patient protection laws.  

What will you miss about serving as president?

Dr. Quinn: The people I have been able to work with. I've been on the board for a decade and after I step down in June, I will continue as immediate past president. Over that time, I have had the privilege of working with an incredible team that is committed to our profession's continued success. It starts with great leadership from a deeply dedicated AOA Board of Trustees. It's the work of our great staff in the Washington and St. Louis offices under the ever-vigilant leadership of Jon Hymes and Renee Brauns. It's the work of our dedicated volunteer community and our affiliate leadership that keeps pushing ahead. And finally, it's our members. Optometry is a great profession not only for what we do but for who we are: compassionate, dedicated, patient-centric and humble. Serving as AOA president over the past year is the highlight of my volunteer service to the profession, and I hope to maintain the friendships developed over my years of service.

What qualities did Dr. Quinn bring to the AOA presidency?  

Dr. Pierce: I truly believe Dr. Quinn is one of the smartest people I've ever had the pleasure and opportunity to work with, in or out of the profession. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience—but even better, he has wisdom. He understands the landscape of health care and how optometry fits in, and he also has a great vision for the future of the profession and knows where optometry needs to be so it can continue to thrive and succeed in the ever-evolving world of health care.  

What qualities does Dr. Pierce bring to the AOA presidency?  

Dr. Quinn: Dr. Pierce is an outstanding leader. It has been a pleasure watching him grow and assume the responsibility of AOA president. He has a disarming style that makes him an exceedingly effective leader. He is a fierce advocate for optometry and few have his clear-minded vision for the future or our profession . It has been my honor to serve and my pleasure to pass the leadership baton to Dr. Pierce. The future is indeed bright.

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