AOA, leading schools organize to safeguard and expand optometry’s independence

June 15, 2023
Amid health care change and new threats, the Center for Independent Practice (CIP) emerges as a force supporting current and next-gen doctors of optometry. Register for the CIP symposium on June 23 at Optometry’s Meeting® 2023.
CIP symposium quote from Tom Bowen

Optometry’s independence and expertise in health care decision-making and treatment—enshrined in federal and state laws—will continue to be the foundation for the profession’s advancement and increasing recognition through this era of rapid change in technology and patient awareness, says Robert C. Layman, O.D., chair of the AOA Center for Independent Practice (CIP).

The AOA CIP, supported by Johnson & Johnson Vision and in partnership with leading academic institutions, is a mobilization of profession-wide expertise focused on delivering tools, resources and advocacy for practice success. It launched last fall.

“The path to independent practice needs an advocate such as AOA,” says Dr. Layman, AOA immediate past president. “Our Center for Independent Practice team amplifies what AOA, our state affiliates and our schools do to show students and new graduates a successful alternative to modes of practice that might not offer the autonomy to deliver the most contemporary care.”

The CIP’s mission reflects the AOA Board of Trustees’ commitment to build on the profession’s historic advocacy gains and to strengthen the position of doctors of optometry and optometry students in the evolving health care landscape challenged by abusive plan policies, device de-regulation and commoditization, false product claims and lax oversight that threaten physician autonomy and doctor-patient decision making.

“The ability of doctors of optometry to make independent decisions about patient care and the culture of their practice translates directly to improved health outcomes,” says AOA Secretary-Treasurer Jacquie M. Bowen, O.D., vice chair of the CIP. “Regardless of the business model under which doctors practice, the AOA is committed to assist and support independent doctors in using all of our skills and resources to deliver an expanded range of eye health and vision care.”

Two new foundational partners

The Ohio State University College of Optometry (OSU) and the University of Pikeville Kentucky College of Optometry (KYCO) share the AOA’s commitment, alongside Southern College of Optometry (SCO) and Northeastern State University Oklahoma College of Optometry (NSUOCO) as foundational partners of the AOA CIP.

Karla Zadnik, O.D., Ph.D., and Michael Bacigalupi, O.D., M.S., deans of the OSU College of Optometry and KYCO, respectively, will join Lewis Reich, O.D., Ph.D., president of SCO, and Doug Penisten, O.D., Ph.D., dean of NSUOCO, on the CIP Steering Committee. The CIP works with optometry’s educators and other experts to develop educational information and programs for doctors of optometry and students. Independent practitioners also serving on the CIP Steering Committee are Tara DeRose, O.D., Erick Henderson, O.D., and Aaron McNulty, O.D.

The CIP will host an inaugural symposium on Friday June 23, from 10:30 a.m. to noon ET in Room 143 ABC at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center featuring keynote speaker Tom Bowen (no relation to Dr. Bowen), founder and CEO of THRIVE Practice and Life Development, on opportunities to be wildly successful in independent practice. The symposium will include a lively conversation with leading doctors of optometry about their experiences in independent practice. RSVP to attend the symposium, which is free for doctors and students registered for Optometry’s Meeting® in Washington, D.C.

The AOA’s commitment to practice success and advocacy for expanded scopes of practice is shared by the CIP’s foundational partner schools.

Kentucky’s expanded scope of practice authorizing laser and surgical procedures, Dr. Bacigalupi says, is fully embraced within the college’s didactic and clinical education. The college of optometry also offers courses focusing on leadership and practice management, and partners with the university’s college of business to deliver current business information to optometry students.

“At the Kentucky College of Optometry, we recognize the importance of providing our students with the most resources possible as they begin their optometric careers,” he says. “The CIP will provide our students with valuable tools, partnerships, and mentorship in the area of independent practice management.

“Our curriculum is packed with content related to the latest advances in contemporary optometric practice as we strive to develop leaders in therapeutic optometry,” he says. “We are looking forward to partnering with the experts at the CIP to help provide our students with valuable information and opportunities. Our graduates’ success in practice is a college’s greatest reward.”

Dr. Zadnik says being part of the CIP made sense given OSU’s obligation to its students. “For many years, The Ohio State University College of Optometry has funded our faculty and students’ membership in AOA and AOSA,” she says. “We joined the CIP because it’s the right thing to do. In light of that support of AOA and its strong advocacy for the profession of optometry, CIP inclusion seemed like a logical next step.”

Along with the college’s Private Practice Club, OSU requires students take courses covering an extensive number of business and practice management-related topics, taught by Timothy Fries, O.D., MBA, MPH.

“In the changing landscape of optometry, the principles of business are more important now than ever; that’s why we put so much emphasis on training our students in these areas,” Dr. Fries says.

CIP an empowering influence, force

“I’m excited to welcome OSU and KYCO to the table as we continue to build the CIP,” Dr. Bowen says. “The commitment on the part of our colleges of optometry is so valuable! Students and new graduates have consistently expressed a need for help as they prepare for their first years in practice and the center will be so much more effective as we add foundational members who are intent on supporting the profession’s independence well beyond graduation.”

Online competition, burdensome regulation, staffing shortages and vision plan abuses are just a few of the challenges doctors of optometry contend with. Despite these hurdles, practitioners of contemporary optometry independently deliver exceptional eye care. The AOA and state affiliates advocate to lower barriers for optometry, while the CIP helps connect doctors with resources to take advantage of opportunities brought about by advocacy.

A challenging environment awaits current and future doctors of optometry, Drs. Bowen observes.

“The challenges of independent practice go way beyond clinical excellence whether you are a practice owner, a future owner or an employed doctor,” Dr. Bowen says. “Business and practice statistics management, human resources and staff development, community engagement and work/life alignment are among the many variables to juggle on a daily basis. The AOA has always been a resource for all these things and more, but many new doctors don’t know what they don’t know, so they don’t access the information.”

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