AOA on Capitol Hill: A Student’s Call to Action

Clay Fung 
SCCO at MBKU OD Candidate 26’ 

In an ever-evolving political landscape, legislative changes carry immense potential to better the lives of underserved populations. These changes dictate the ways in which we live, impacting fundamental aspects such as equity and accessibility. In the world of primary health, this translates to changes in access to care, scope of practice, and freedom of choice. Optometry is no exception. 

Entering optometry school, I was aware of the saying that “optometry is a legislative profession”. I imagine every student has echoed this phrase at least a few times throughout their educational journey. Acknowledging the multitude of responsibilities optometry students juggle, it may be challenging to fully engage with advocacy. Some may even underplay the role we students have in the future of our profession. For others, annual legislative events may be a daunting experience, especially for those who are unfamiliar with their processes. However, all optometry students at their core share the unrelenting drive to better the lives of all they encounter throughout their career. This goal is best realized by engaging directly with state and federal legislation. In my own experience, the AOA and legislative events such as AOA on Capitol Hill have shown me the importance of advocating for patients and the true power students have in making change happen.  

AOA on Capitol Hill, in my opinion, is the quintessential legislative event of the optometric profession. Nowhere else can you push for change at the national level than at the heart of Congress alongside some of the greatest minds in optometry. The issues targeted at the Capitol are nothing short of impactful, ranging from battling dangerous robocall verification practices to expanding accessibility nationwide for patients under Medicare. During my time at Capitol Hill as a first-year student, I recall being simultaneously in awe of and intimidated by the legislators due to my lack of experience at the time. However, not only did the AOA prepare myself and my classmates with more than enough knowledge on key federal issues, but I also found the process itself to be streamlined and rewarding.  

My favorite experience at Capitol Hill by far was meeting Rep. Katie Porter, who currently represents California’s 47th district. In the short 15 minutes my group and I had to speak with Porter, I was pleasantly surprised by her passion for the district and her understanding of the issues brought forth regarding optometric legislation. The meeting itself was more of a conversation about avenues to achieve our goals and our independent philosophies on how to achieve what is best for all patients. I personally had the opportunity to speak with Porter regarding the DOC Access Act, which seeks to limit vision benefit managers’ influence on pricing, lens manufacturing, and prescription fulfillment in a typical eye exam. After consideration of my proposal and her prior knowledge on the issue, Porter offered to co-sponsor the bill. Although not every issue discussed met a conclusive agreement, this moment stood out to me because it was a tangible step toward a better future in optometry. All it took was a small team of passionate student advocates, determined doctors, and a mere 15 minutes to make change happen.  

In an age where information is so readily accessible, sweeping legislative changes can have immediate effects on the populations they target. As future doctors, it is also up to optometry students to take on the mantle to advocate for our patients and ensure that these changes do not place the underserved communities we treat at risk. It is through these legislative events that I am made heavily aware of the role optometry students have as the future of the profession. We are learning at the highest level in our education, equipped with the most current information and technology at our disposal. Legislators need to hear the student perspective because it represents the current climate of the profession along with its future potential. I urge every optometry student to step out of their comfort zone and attend AOA on Capitol Hill, and/or even state legislative events to educate our lawmakers. Just as optometric leaders before us have served as trailblazers for optometry, optometry students of today must also proudly take the torch and continue to better the future. Whether it be on Capitol Hill or with patients in the exam chair, I hope to always be aware of this responsibility to inform and educate.  

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