At Optometry's Meeting® in June, the AOA presidential baton will be passed. The pass will be relayed seamlessly, says current President Andrea P. Thau, O.D., and President-Elect Christopher J. Quinn, O.D., because of the strength and stability of the AOA. In a Q&A, Drs. Thau and Quinn talk about leadership, the issues ahead and what they bring to the presidency.
What would you consider some of the AOA's biggest accomplishments in the past year?
Dr. Thau: I've had an incredibly rewarding year as AOA president. Together, we achieved a great deal. The Think About Your Eyes national campaign—our public awareness campaign that delivers optometry's about the importance of an in-person, comprehensive eye examination—had its biggest year ever. AOA-PAC had a record fundraising year. We launched AOA+, a first-of-its-kind initiative to engage students and young doctors. We completed renovation the AOA national headquarters on time and under budget. Most significantly, our advocacy efforts were unrelenting. We exposed unscrupulous online contact lens retailers and their failure to meet the standard of care for patients. We supported patient safeguards in telehealth and thwarted VSP's anti-doctor frame policy. We've never been stronger as an organization.
The AOA has adopted four strategic pillars: advocacy; tools to help advance optometric practices and provide the best possible patient care; continuing education; and public awareness. Will you have a signature cause?
Dr. Quinn: I do embrace all four pillars because all four are critically important to the advancement of our profession. But the one that stands out is advocacy. Optometry is a growing profession that will help meet the health care needs of the nation. To grow and meet the demand for the important services we provide, we have to remove barriers that prevent patients' access to optometric care. We have to work to eliminate discrimination and fight for equality with other physician providers. We must continue to expand our scope of practice to be consistent with our training. Without access, equality and enhanced scope of practice, this profession won't be able to easily meet the health needs of our country and its population. Advocating for our patients is what it comes down to.
Dr. Thau: Advocacy is key to our profession. This year we exposed online apps on "Good Morning America" and addressed our concerns in person to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). We led a profession-wide debate that yielded a consensus on continuing educational principles and accreditation. We are the leading national voice in defense of in-person patient care, and we pressed the FDA to investigate online vision testing services. We continue to uphold a standard of care in Washington, D.C., and around the country against threats from insurance payers and online retailers from every possible angle.
What challenges lie ahead?
Dr. Quinn: Advances in technology are very important to doctors' of optometry ability to serve our patients. We embrace new technology every day in the care of our patients. New technology can improve our accuracy and efficiency. But technology can only supplement and enhance the cognitive skills that we obtain during our many years of training and apply to the care of patients. For those who make false claims about what new technology can do, the AOA will continue to be aggressive about educating the public about these false claims. We obviously are concerned about the misuse of technology that leads to either no or inferior care. As doctors of optometry, we understand the pitfalls of the misuse of technology that is not good for patients.
Dr. Thau: Navigating the waters in these turbulent times of health care policy will continue to be one of the biggest challenges for our profession. We must advocate for our patients by protecting the doctor-patient relationship.
Do you feel serving on the AOA Board of Trustees has prepared you to serve as president?
Dr. Quinn: Absolutely. I've been on the board since 2008, and I think it's been great preparation for becoming president. I'm also a former state president (New Jersey) and have been an AOA volunteer for 25 years. Serving on the board is a very necessary maturation process that gives you perspective.
Dr. Thau: It has been a whirlwind year and decade. It's hard to believe that I have been on the board for 10 years. There is a lot of camaraderie, and it has been an honor and privilege to serve with my fellow board members. Immediate Past President Steven A. Looms, O.D., has been very helpful and encouraging to me this year.
Any surprises on the job?
Dr. Thau: I never cease to be amazed by the 'always on' AOA team. From the volunteers to the staff—led by Executive Director Jon Hymes and Associate Executive Director Renee Brauns—to the AOA Board of Trustees, they are working for us 24/7/365.
Dr. Quinn: There are always challenges, both from within and outside of the profession, anticipated and unanticipated. We're in an environment where the health care system in our country is undergoing rapid change, and our profession must change to meet these new demands. Change can sometimes cause discomfort and stress. I imagine this year will be no different than in the past, and we will have to deal with significant change.
What qualities has Dr. Thau brought to the president's role?
Dr. Quinn: Dr. Thau is a great communicator. She has a special gift and passion for bringing the message of optometry to the public. The AOA won't find a better spokesperson.
What qualities will Dr. Quinn bring to the position?
Dr. Thau: Dr. Quinn is brilliant, thoughtful, insightful and analytical. He's going to do an incredible job. Each of us brings a unique skillset to the job; he's grace under pressure. He is always prepared to view every issue from every possible angle. He has a deep knowledge of finances. No matter how impressed you are with him, he somehow manages to always exceed expectations. The AOA will be in great hands with him. It will be a privilege to serve under him as president.
In a virtual kick-off, the AOA launches Leadership Institute with 130 doctors of optometry from across the country. A project of the AOA Leadership Development Committee, the Institute is a yearlong program designed to grow and support the next generation of leaders in the profession.
At the 2021 Leaders Summit, AOA-member volunteers set priorities for the year and launched new initiatives to lead the profession forward.