Intentional leadership

April 17, 2024
The AOA’s 2023 Young Optometrist of the Year is a leader—and she has been intentional in cultivating those skills. Uncover her philosophy on leadership.
Dr. LaPuerta

Photography by Kevin Garrett.

Excerpted from page 22 of the December 2023 edition of AOA Focus. 

 Leadership didn’t just fall into the lap of Amy Puerto, O.D. She has been intentional about cultivating her skills since she was young—no titles for titles’ sake.  

 Dr. Puerto, who has practiced fewer than 10 years, wants and works to be good at it and make a difference. 

“Leadership has always been the ‘right fit’ for me, and I’ve sought opportunities to be a lifelong learner of the craft,” says Dr. Puerto, who practices in Covington, Louisiana, and serves as president of the Optometry Association of Louisiana (OAL). 

That was just one of the many qualities, plus her extensive community service, passion for the profession and mentoring future doctors of optometry, cited by the OAL in nominating her for the AOA’s 2023 Young Optometrist of the Year, the accolade for which she was honored at Optometry’s Meeting® in 2023. 

Dr. Puerto shares with AOA Focus her leadership philosophy. 

How have you managed to weave together your interests in politics and optometry? 

When I went for my interview at Southern College of Optometry (SCO), the admissions counselor asked me if I knew that optometry is a legislated profession—that you have to advocate and fight for optometry. That inspired me. I realized you could put it all together, and ever since then, I have tried to. They go hand in hand. 

Not everyone is comfortable in leadership, but you seem at peace with it. Why? 

I had early exposure to leadership that led to me serving as class president at SCO, American Optometric Student Association trustee and attending every AOA on Capitol Hill event as an optometry student. All of it empowered my advocacy voice and the need to use it. Serving the OAL is nothing but a pleasure and joy. Leadership is at the heart of who I am, and I believe modeling good leadership is important to our colleagues and the next generation of leaders. 

You have been praised for your patient care. Can you talk about your philosophy toward care? 

I’ve been seeing patients in my office for seven years, so you develop a relationship. I want them to know that I am their eye doctor and I know them—their family history, their family. I treat them as if I am meeting a friend again and we’re catching up. When you have those conversations, you’re not just chatting. You’re making clinical judgments about what they’re doing in their lives. For example, a patient might mention they’re playing softball, and I’ll take that opportunity to mention that they need to make sure their vision is protected. I want them to know they’re important and truly cared for. They’re not just a number. My job is to take care of them as a whole person. I tell my patients, “I may not have all the answers, but if you stay on the journey with me, we’ll get the answers.” 

What is the source of your drive? 

My father immigrated to the United States and, for me, has always represented determination, perseverance toward one’s goals and the American dream. My father faced many obstacles in achieving his goals, and I’ve sought to mirror his drive when facing inevitable challenges. Both my parents sacrificed a lot for my brother and me, and I know the privileges I have they did not, and I have chosen not to take them for granted. I want to give back by using my skills to inspire the next generation of leaders in optometry and in the community. 

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