‘Advocacy is our history and our future’

July 10, 2024
Why—and how—to be an advocate for optometry.
Dr. Laura Suppa Headshot

Photography by Emily Darnell

Excerpted from page 56 of the Spring 2024 edition of AOA Focus 

A past recipient of the AOA’s Federal Advocacy Award, Laura Suppa, O.D., of West Virginia, knows what it takes to be an effective advocate—and why it’s essential to protect the profession she loves. Dr. Suppa shares what inspires her to keep fighting and her hopes for the future of the profession. 

What inspired you to advocate for optometry? 

In 1976, when West Virginia became the first state with ocular therapeutics and diagnostics, I truly believe optometry advocacy was born. Advocacy is both our history and our future, and I have been lucky to be surrounded by some of the greatest advocates and mentors at home. Knowing what they went through to give us optometry as we know it, I feel an obligation to pay forward the fight to maintain a modern profession. This has become even more important since I recently hired a soon-to-be graduate and I must protect not only my future career, but his and the future of our practice. 

What is the biggest challenge optometry is facing in 2024? 

It is very important that we all continue to defend against the pushback from opposition on the VA national practice standards. This has very real implications, not only for the care of our nation’s veterans and the practice of the doctors of optometry who directly care for them, but for our home fights at the state level. Monitoring Medicare Advantage plans and their recurrent disadvantages will also continue to impact the way we all practice. Also, getting the DOC Access Act closer to the finish line will protect our patient-doctor relationships against vision plan abuses, which are becoming more and more common. 

What advice do you have for colleagues who want to advocate for optometry? 

It’s easy! No one knows your profession more than you do! The first steps are to get involved with your state association and to attend AOA on Capitol Hill. Not a single one of our opposition knows day-to-day optometry like we do, and legislators need to hear your voice—not only as an optometrist but as a constituent. If it’s your first time, just listening and observing is okay, too. Sometimes just being another friendly face with a business card they can reach out to is just as important. 

What advice do you have for building lasting relationships with legislators? 

Reach out to them frequently, and not just for optometry! You can use social media, but seeing them around town and texting or calling them is even better. In the South, you might ask, “How’s your mom and them?” Getting to know their families, their occupation and hobbies, and any personal connection you can make is key. Be their resource for all health and small-business questions they may have. Who knows? You may end up with some true friends, or at least some type of mutualistic relationship. 

Why is it important to advocate for optometry? 

I think we owe it to our future generations and we also must honor our past. We are merely stewards of our profession who must use the present time to not just maintain but grow optometry as technology and health care evolve around us. 

SGRC Regional Advocacy Meetings

States’ advocacy teams will convene across three regional advocacy meetings in the coming months to work toward advancing optometric care in their communities. Find out how to participate.
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