The next generation of optometry’s leaders

May 24, 2022
A former American Optometric Student Association president is one of the first graduates of the AOA’s Leadership Institute. Discover what he’s taking away from the program.
Devin Sasser, O.D.

Photography by Steve Craft.

Excerpted from page 26 of the May/June 2022 edition of AOA Focus.

As a former president of the American Optometric Student Association (AOSA), Devin Sasser, O.D., had always put himself on a trajectory to be an active, engaged member of the profession. Simply put, he always believed in himself. But it was something else entirely when his state association demonstrated that it believed in him.

“For me, being nominated and hand-picked for this unique opportunity gave me a sense that my association believed in me as a future optometric leader,” Dr. Sasser says.

That opportunity was the first-ever AOA Leadership Institute, a year-long leadership development workshop that fosters and energizes the next generation of optometric leaders. Dr. Sasser, a 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri–St. Louis College of Optometry and a practitioner in Silver Spring, Maryland, is one of 123 doctors of optometry—nominated by 44 affiliates and 18 different schools and colleges of optometry—graduating from the institute’s class of 2021 with a mandate as a change agent for the profession’s future.

AOA Focus caught up with Dr. Sasser to hear about his participation in the inaugural AOA Leadership Institute and what he has taken away from the program.

Tell us about the format of the AOA Leadership Institute sessions and how you found them beneficial.

The Leadership Institute aims to foster an environment in which participants can establish and further develop key skills to become active agents in progressing the profession forward. Each session is typically centered around a key component of leadership development. During the session, participants collaborate to develop a better understanding of the leadership tenet of focus, and through various exercises, group discussions and smaller breakout sessions, we could unpack complex concepts.

Personally, I really enjoyed working within the context of a smaller group. The smaller breakout sessions were quite beneficial, as they allowed for the exchange of unique ideas and experiences.

What has been your biggest takeaway from these sessions?

Perhaps the paramount lesson that I took away from my time as a participant in the Leadership Institute is that true leadership is multifactorial. It is often commonplace to define leadership using very narrow and straightforward terms. While some of those terms are a part of leadership, the traditional definition fails to truly encapsulate the many facets of leadership. Matriculating through the inaugural Leadership Institute provided me with the tools to approach my own leadership journey with a fresh set of skills and renewed motivation.

What do you think about the relationships and connections made during the sessions?

The connections formed between my fellow class members, as well as members of the AOA Leadership Committee, were undoubtedly the part of this opportunity that I cherish the most. The entire experience felt reminiscent of my days working as a board member of the AOSA during optometry school. The institute provided me with the chance to commune and learn from doctors of optometry from around the country who were just as passionate about facilitating change as I am. Bonds were formed; these very bonds will stay with each of us as we continue to navigate through our optometric journeys. In today’s society, shared experiences play a pivotal role in our ability to relate and grow, and I am fully confident that this shared experience will allow for our profession to do just that.

2023 AOA Leadership Institute

The AOA Leadership Institute aims to energize and equip the next generation of champions for optometry, who will then be ready to step in and lead at all levels—local, state and beyond. The goal is to have a diverse leadership class each year that accurately represents the demographics of our rising generation of doctors of optometry. The Leadership Institute program will provide valuable lessons that can be applied to participants’ personal and professional development.

If you would like to nominate a doctor of optometry or apply for the 2023 AOA Leadership Institute, please contact leadershipinstitute@aoa.org. Nominations and applications are reviewed by a committee of doctors, advocates and leaders of optometry.

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