147 Optometry Students Storm Capitol Hill

By: Matthew Geller – SUNY 2013

We all said it during our interviews for optometry school: “Optometry is a legislated profession, and that’s great because it gives me a say in the future of my profession and its direction.” Yet many of us don’t understand what this actually means. How can we take part in this legislative process and what can be achieved? If we don’t get involved, what privileges can be taken away from optometrists?

I have the answers to these important questions, and that’s because a few weeks ago I took a “mini vacation” and attended the AOA Congressional Conference in Washington DC.

WATCH THIS STUDENT VIDEO ABOUT THE TRIP TO DC (Warning – lots of partying lol)

It may not be this year, but in due time optometry is going to achieve an impressive victory on Capitol Hill, one that grants optometrists federal recognition as physicians under Medicaid and grants us the right to be included in community health centers with accompanying loan reimbursements.

How do I know that? Because I looked into the eyes of Congressmen as they smiled and agreed to co-sponsor bills HR 1219 and HR 1195. I witnessed firsthand, for three days straight, the passion and commitment of the AOA staff and OD’s to ensure that these bills get passed. The OD’s in support of these important measures will work their entire life to overcome hurdles and make sure that our field is well-represented, protected and advocated for.

HR 1219
HR 1195

Oh and it’s not just OD’s – 147 students from optometry schools across the country came out to Washington DC as we charged Capitol Hill, educating and pressing Congress and the Senate to support not only OD’s and students, but the vision health of United States citizens.

How does one take part in the legislative process?

It’s simple! Just sign up for the 2012 Washington DC Congressional Conference. Upon your arrival, you’ll spend one day receiving instruction from experienced OD’s that will teach you to lobby effectively. Among the things you’ll learn are some basic guidelines regarding what to say to politicians when you meet them the following day. The next day you will present your case to Congress and the Senate in an attempt to open up their minds to your concerns and ideas.

If students take part in the legislative process, what can be achieved for optometry?

There are endless legislative victories to be achieved. Specifically, you can help expand the scope of optometry, retain the current rights of optometrists, and ensure that optometry continues to move in a positive direction that benefits you and your patients.

If students don’t take part in the legislative process, what can be taken away?

It’s scary to think about, but a lot can be taken away from OD’s if we fail to advocate on behalf of our profession. Our right for insurance reimbursement, our right to use diagnostic and therapeutic pharmaceuticals, and our access to patients could all be threatened. It’s not just an offensive battle we’re fighting, but a defensive one as well. For example, optometrists are currently facing pressure from opticians as they strive to earn the right to refract patients.

By taking part in the legislative process you can ensure that optometry is safe and sound and growing at a steady pace. It’s also really easy to take part in the congressional conference – just reach out to your AOSA trustee and tell them you want in! By the way, your hotel room cost is reimbursed by the AOA so the trip is affordable.

Some Benefits of Attending the Congressional DC Meeting

  • Having a good time! Picture 147 optometry students and the most influential and successful OD’s all having a good time at the rooftop suite of AOA President Dr. Joe Ellis. I won’t lie, we really did party pretty hard, and with such a diverse group of people it’s really an experience we will never forget.
  • Friends. To be honest, I never really understood the value of meeting optometry students from other schools but now I understand the importance. It’s really cool to meet other students and build some strong relationships. This was probably one of the best parts of the meeting, whether it was laughing my face off to UMSL student Toan Nguyen’s jokes or having some eye-opening discussions about optometry, the people I met at the meeting were all fun and interesting.
  • Networking. This is probably one of the BEST meetings EVER for networking. Seriously, ask any student who went to the meeting if they met OD’s who can provide them with unique job opportunities and I guarantee they will say yes. The OD’s at this meeting really reach out to you and are more than willing to provide you with wisdom and job opportunities. I have a stack of business cards with hand written cell phone numbers on them, all from OD’s and professionals who want to do great things together.
  • Sight-Seeing. All I have to say about this is that Washington DC is beautiful and during your mini-vacation to DC you will have plenty of time to see the sights, hit up the best restaurants, and enjoy our nation’s capital.
  • Your Future. I have to keep this one simple: By going to the Washington DC congressional conference and lobbying you are exercising DIRECT influence on your future as an optometrist. We will never be able to achieve crucial legislative victories for optometry without you! We need your help and your presence in Washington DC in 2012!

I just want to say thank you to any AOA staff member, optometrist, or politician who may be reading this article. I thank you for your dedication, time and commitment to optometry students across the country, and to our patients and our profession. Thank you to everyone who made the event possible – keep up the hard work because you are doing a phenomenal job! See you next year!

We had 147 students attend this year’s congressional meeting. Can we get 200 students to storm Capitol Hill in 2012?

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