What members want AOA to prioritize

July 19, 2022
Exercise yields expected and unexpected responses during Leaders Summit at Optometry’s Meeting® 2022. About 200 of the AOA’s leading advocates provide feedback.
AOA priorities

As the Leaders Summit at Optometry’s Meeting ® in June drew to a close, participants were asked for their feedback or thoughts on the AOA’s priorities—present and future.

The instructions were simple. Participants—members of the AOA Executive Committee, the Board of Trustees, volunteer committee chairs and members as well as AOA staff—were asked to enter keywords to two questions, which were used to create two word clouds:

  • What do you wish nonmembers knew about the AOA and AOA members? The most popular responses: advocacy, dedication and fun.
  • What do you want the AOA to prioritize in the next year? The most popular responses: membership, scope and advocacy.

The word clouds were just another creative way to measure member support for the AOA’s direction.

“The word cloud exercise was a new and fun way to instantly engage everyone in attendance and get open feedback and ideas about where the AOA is now and where we should go,” says Jerry Neidigh, O.D., the exercise’s moderator and chair of the AOA Industry Relations Center Committee. “Being responsive to member needs and priorities is a critical role for any association.

“And these results are important for AOA leadership to see what some of our most engaged members want to see out of their association,” Dr. Neidigh adds. “In many ways, the discussion confirmed that AOA is prioritizing the right things—scope expansion, advocacy and working to make the AOA a home for all doctors of optometry. All of AOA's key leadership was in the room (at the summit) and saw and heard firsthand what we, the AOA, are focused on and should be focused on. The top results are really a snapshot of what these members think and want.”

The keywords were submitted anonymously but participants were later asked about their responses. Here are a few thoughts from participants.

What do you wish nonmembers knew about the AOA and AOA members?

What do you wish nonmembers knew about the AOA?

“Advocacy,” says Robert Theaker, O.D., chair of the AOA Federal Relations Committee. “I wish nonmembers knew the tremendous value that AOA provides to its members—including the expertise required to advocate at a high level for our profession in Washington, D.C. Our team responds to multiple threats to our practices and identifies and attempts to alleviate potential harm to our patients. If only they knew everything AOA does for members and nonmembers alike, I truly believe more would sign up!”

Says Glen Steele, O.D., professor of pediatric optometry at Southern College of Optometry and a member of the InfantSEE ® & Children’s Vision Committee: “Without AOA and our state associations, we would not have made the advances in our profession that we have in the past several years.”

Erin McCleary, O.D., who serves on the Industry Relations Center Committee, says: “As a past president of my local state affiliate (in Connecticut), I wish that nonmembers realized how much time, energy and heart every single AOA volunteer and AOA staff member puts into optometry as a profession—and how much the AOA actually supports and achieves gains for the profession that all doctors of optometry, members and nonmembers alike, benefit from. For example, consider all of the work that the AOA and volunteers have spent in supporting doctors of optometry in the VA, spent with representatives of insurance companies and vision plans and sorting through PPP information and getting out timely information to our colleagues during the pandemic, literally keeping our livelihoods viable! The AOA is constantly trying to find ways to support optometrists legislatively and is actively working magic with the small funding that it has to support national marketing campaigns.”

What do you want the AOA to prioritize in the next year?

What do you want AOA to prioritize next year

“Advocacy,” Dr. Theaker says. “As chair of the Federal Relations Committee, I have to mention advocacy again. The importance of passing the DOC Access Act, preventing Medicare payment cuts, assisting the VA with its new national practice standards, and monitoring abusive contact lens resellers on the internet cannot be underestimated. AOA grassroots advocacy efforts and AOA-PAC seem to be the highest priority to me in the upcoming year.”

Says Dr. Steele: “Promoting the full scope of optometry. We must continue promoting everything that helps our patients, whether it’s traditional care or advanced care.”

Dr. McCleary cites a list of priorities including obtaining “some sort of licensure portability” between states, continued legislative support for state affiliates and more support for doctors with leased commercial practices.”

“I would like to see continued PR campaigns about the importance of annual, comprehensive eye examinations,” she says. “This is the chronic lament, ‘Dentists did such a good job. Everyone knows that you're supposed to get your teeth cleaned twice a year. But they don't comprehend the importance of eye examinations.’ Part of the solution could be better inter-professional education among specialty care providers and optometry. I wish that we could somehow pierce the MD barrier. How could we get young MDs knowledgeable about the abilities of optometry, and use us to dictate appropriate referrals?”

A fun and telling exercise

The reasoning behind the word cloud keywords may be hard to decipher in some instances. But the top keywords from the 200 participants largely seemed to confirm that the volunteers and the AOA “are on the same page,” Dr. Neidigh says. Members were encouraged to conduct a word cloud exercise in their own affiliates.

The AOA’s flagship advocacy and dedicated members are key drivers of the organization.

Advocacy is at the heart of what the AOA does—protecting and promoting the profession, Dr. Neidigh observes. Advocacy also speaks to scope expansion. Regarding membership, the volunteers understood that the AOA must do all it can to recruit and retain members, he says.

As for surprises in the responses? Yes and no.

“Looking back, it should not have surprised me that ‘fun’ ranked so high, because what we all do for this profession is fun,” Dr. Neidigh says. “Optometry is a fun profession. We love what we do. We develop great relationships with our patients, staff and colleagues. Fun is being part of an organization that makes a difference, and when you can give back to your profession and truly shape the practice of optometry, then that is extremely rewarding, motivating and fun.

“I'm thrilled to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with so many dedicated volunteers who take time out to give back to the profession they love,” he says. “Having a chance to hear from our volunteer leadership helps to set the strategic direction of AOA committees over the next year.”

How to support the AOA’s advocacy efforts

Federal advocacy: Congress needs to know that impending Medicare sequester cuts are unacceptable and any efforts to find a workable solution must fully value the care provided by doctors of optometry. Advocates’ immediate action is necessary, and here’s how you can get involved:

  • Contact your lawmakers via the AOA Action Center.Reach out directly with the aid of a pre-populated message expressing these important concerns. Or text “PAYMENT” to 855.465.5124 to access the Action Center on your mobile device.
  • Invest in AOA-PAC.Use your eight-digit, AOA membership ID number and log in from your computer to make an immediate investment* to support your patients and the profession. Or text “EYES” to 41444 to quickly invest directly from your mobile device.
    *Contributions to the AOA-PAC are for political purposes and are not tax deductible. Only AOA members and other eligible persons may contribute. Contributions will be screened and those from non-eligible persons will be returned. You have the right to refuse to contribute without fear of reprisal. You will not be advantaged or disadvantaged because of how much you give or because you do not give.

For more information or questions about the AOA’s advocacy into these Medicare pay cuts, please contact the AOA’s federal advocacy team at  advocacy@aoa.org.

State advocacy: To build on 2021 and 2022 legislative wins, the AOA State Government Relations Center (SGRC) is hosting  four regional advocacy events across the country in an effort to provide a hands-on opportunity for advocates who have seen these battles in their states to share their experiences in a casual group discussion. Volunteer doctors heavily engaged in the legislative process from states such as Virginia, Wyoming, Mississippi and Arkansas will be on hand to share what works and what doesn’t, so that ultimately every state is practicing at the highest levels taught and able to effectively serve patients. Register today!

SGRC volunteers and staff work side by side with  state associations to ensure that doctors of optometry are heard loud and clear as health policy decisions are being made. For more information on how to get involved in advocacy, please connect with AOA staff at  stateadvocacy@aoa.org.

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