The Texas Optometric Association (TOA) recently held its 117th annual conference in Austin, Texas. Attendees ranged from undergraduate pre-optometry students to optometrists with decades of experience in practice. Much like other optometry conferences, (Academy, Optometry’s Meeting, etc.) there was a vast schedule of events to attend throughout the weekend. Here’s a recap of the entire weekend from the point of view of a current optometry student attending for the third time.
The TOA meeting began at the crack of dawn on Thursday morning when students rolled out of bed and boarded buses to the state capitol building in Austin, TX. Providing transport to the TOA conference was a first this year and it was essential for giving students the opportunity to see what a day in the life of optometry politics is all about. One of the main reasons why the TOA put so many resources into giving students a glimpse of the political side of optometry is that 2017 is a unique year for Texas legislature.
This year just so happens to be a year in which the Texas Optometry Board (TOB) is subject to review based on the Texas Sunset Act . This act was put in place in 1977 and every 12 years, most state agencies are evaluated by the Sunset Advisory Commission to determine if they should continue to exist or be abolished. This carries major implications for the profession of optometry in Texas. For a more thorough description of of how exactly this year’s Sunset Advisory Commission could have affected Texas Optometry, I encourage you to read Immediate Past TOA President David Frazee’s presidential message here.
In short, this year’s Advisory Board called for the potential disbandment of the TOB in favor of creating of a “Medical Super Board” that would regulate optometry instead, along with overseeing other healthcare fields such as veterinary medicine and podiatry. This could have potentially put the future of Texas optometry in the hands of a board consisting of members with limited knowledge of optometric education and practice. Needless to say, this would have led to a deleterious impact on Texas optometry.
Thankfully, the Sunset Advisory Commission decided that the TOB should continue to regulate the profession of optometry. This was a huge victory for Texas optometry and it can be largely attributed to the endless work of the TOB, the TOA Executive Committee, and the TOA Board of Trustees. Many of these leaders were present on the capitol and it was truly an eye-opening (no pun intended) experience hearing them share how close the Sunset Advisory Commission came to making a ruling not in the favor of Texas optometry. A large part of the morning on the capitol was spent visiting the offices of the members of the commission such as Senator Van Taylor (Vice-Chair of Sunset Commission) to thank them for their support and decision.
While visiting the capitol building, ODs and students took time to visit district representatives to speak about other current issues in the optometry profession. Two of the main goals that were discussed with representatives were to:
- Expedite the ability to be approved on Medicaid MCO panels for optometrists and ophthalmologists that are joining existing practices or teaching institutions.
- Reword bill language pertaining to the prior authorization requirement by an insurance company for topically-applied eye drops in order to provide quicker access to essential medications.
These requests appeared to be well-received by the representatives we spoke with and they will hopefully be implemented in the near future.
After our morning spent visiting the capitol building, students were invited to a Tacos and Drinks event generously sponsored by the AOA. Dr. Ronald Benner and a few other members of the AOA discussed the great opportunity they are giving the students with the AOA+ program and encouraged us to attend Optometry’s Meeting this year in Washington, D.C.
The exhibit hall opening is one of the highlights of every conference that I have attended. It is quite a sight to see booth after booth of cutting-edge technology and product information. Not to mention all the free samples! As they say, “everything is bigger in Texas,” and this year’s exhibit hall sure lived up to the hype. Friday night also gave students the opportunity to partake in refreshments and socializing at the Rooftop Bar on Austin’s famous 6th street.
One common problem with TOA attendance in the past was that third years generally felt that they could not manage both attending the conference and studying for that dreaded test we all take at the end of March (is that really less than a month away?). This year offered a genius solution – Drs. Kyle Cheatham and Bobby Saenz of KMK teamed up to give a live KMK crash course to put the minds of all those concerned third years at ease.
After the morning of boards preparation, the student-doctor information panel met. This event has always been one of my favorite parts of the weekend. The meeting usually begins with a few leaders in Texas optometry taking a moment to thank the students for their attendance and emphasizing how important our involvement in the TOA is to the future of the profession. Students then participate in a Q&A session with doctors currently in practice, as well as faculty from UHCO and RSO. Following the student-doctor panel was the 3rd Annual Quiz Bowl. This is a jeopardy-style optometry trivia game that pits the students of UHCO (Go Coogs!) against the students of RSO. After a hard fought battle, UHCO managed to pull out the victory to lead the three-year series 2-1.
Once the politics, exhibit hall, boards preparation, and student-doctor panel had come and gone, we all turned back the clock to 1985 for a “Back to the 80s” theme party featuring live music performed by a well-known and fun 80s cover band. This gave everyone the opportunity to get “foot loose” at the end of a long weekend.
This year’s TOA conference was definitely one I will remember for a long time. While driving back to Houston on Sunday, my only thought on what might have been missing from the weekend was a little more sleep – which we all surely made up for during our Monday morning lectures.
For more on the relationship between politics and optometry, click here!