‘Raising the ceiling’

September 6, 2023
The AOA’s 2023 Optometrist of the Year explains his drive to take optometry higher.
 Jon Pederson heashot

Photo Credit: Garrett Mogel

Jon Pederson, O.D., always knew he wanted optometry’s ceiling to be higher.

It began with a formative residency in the areas of geriatrics and hospital-based optometry at the VA Portland Medical Center upon graduation from Pacific University College of Optometry. His mentors, Drs. Mark Williams, Weon Jun and Gerald Melore, demonstrated what it looked like to practice optometry at an “elite level.” Now, 20 years later, their profound impact still resonates with Dr. Pederson.

“These are the smartest and most clinically astute practitioners that I have ever been around,” Dr. Pederson fondly shares. “I knew after my time with them that I wanted to practice at the highest level, and I wanted the ceiling to be higher.”

So, Dr. Pederson made it his mission to raise it.

As co-chair of the Colorado Optometric Association’s (COA’s) Legislative Committee since 2014, eventually rising to COA’s president in 2017, Dr. Pederson contributed to significant advocacy wins in his state, from noncovered services legislation to an advanced scope of practice effort in 2022. He testified on Colorado’s “Unfair Business Practices” bill and was an effective keyperson involved in passing a hydrocodone fix bill.

In addition to serving on the COA’s board for eight years, he helped found the state’s political action committee, fittingly named “Optometry Wins,” and has served on the AOA’s State Government Relations Committee since 2019.

“While I have served in various capacities within the COA and AOA, my focus has always been on legislation—and scope of practice in particular,” Dr. Pederson says. “While we were able to raise the ceiling in Colorado, the work is not done. We can go higher, and we can do it in more states. That is my focus moving forward.”

AOA Focus caught up with the AOA’s 2023 Optometrist of the Year to talk about his sheer motivation and advocacy on behalf of our profession.

How did coming from an optometric family impress the importance of professional advocacy upon you?

My father, Jerry Pederson, was an optometrist and was very involved in Colorado optometry. He served as president of the COA and the State Board of Examiners (his signature is on a lot of Colorado licenses). He also was heavily involved with early legislative battles around soft contact lenses, DPAs and TPAs in Colorado. Practicing with my dad gave me an amazing perspective. Things I was doing without thought, such as dilating patients, using a BIO, removing corneal foreign bodies and treating glaucoma were things he learned to do in the middle of his career. He was training to do these while at the same time running a practice, raising a family and volunteering. As my scope of practice has recently broadened in the middle of my career, I have gained newfound respect for the challenges he faced. My godparents, John and Cathy Amos, also were optometrists. John was dean at UAB School of Optometry and both have been thought leaders in the profession for decades.

Given your time on the COA’s board or legislative committee, did any advocacy fights stand out?

The legislative fight that stands out far above the others would be our recent gain in the scope of practice that allows Colorado optometrists to perform laser procedures, remove eyelid lesions and perform injections. What is most amazing, and frustrating, about these gains is that these are procedures that I was trained to do nearly 20 years ago. This is not learning new procedures; this is being able to practice to the level of our training and education. This legislation also provided perspective on the cohesiveness and dedication of volunteer optometrists. This didn’t happen because of the legislative team. This happened because Colorado optometrists spent years working with their communities and legislators, educating them on our training and how we could be used. Any time an optometrist is forced to refer patients for care we are trained to provide, it is costly to the patients and health care system.

Our other legislative wins have been great but feel less overtly gratifying. Our unfair business bill aimed at curbing the nefarious behavior of vision plans has been challenging as vision plans continue to look for loopholes or in many cases flat-out ignore the laws. Long term, the vision plans’ future looks ominous as more providers, regulatory agencies and legislators are seeing the lack of benefits for patients and the overall health care system these plans provide. Short term, they continue to be a major pain point for most practitioners. A big step in the right direction would be the passage of the AOA-backed federal Dental and Optometric Care Access bill.

Our hydrocodone fix was timely as these types of legislation have become increasingly challenging as the opioid and fentanyl crisis grows. It is important that optometrists have all tools at their disposal as we continue to increase the number of procedures we perform.

How did you get involved in the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless?

I have always been drawn to community care, long before I was an optometrist. One of my first jobs out of residency was as clinic director of a local nonprofit community eye clinic in downtown Denver. It was an extremely valuable resource for an underserved community and served as a large preceptor site for several different optometry schools. The grants that supported the center dried up in the years after Sept. 11 (2001) and the clinic closed due to funding issues. As I looked for resources for these patients, an all-volunteer eye clinic staffed by optometrists, ophthalmologists and nurses formed within the already established Colorado Coalition for the Homeless health clinic (primary care, psych, and dental were already there). Most volunteers were retired providers, but there has been a growing contingent of practicing optometrists and ophthalmologists over the past 10 years.

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