Get Involved, Stay Involved

To my fellow optometric colleagues,

If you find yourself as I once did, in the midst of a large school with numerous ominous exams and assessments, many of you may wonder how you would ever be able to have time to become involved with student association groups.   Well, believe me, it is much easier than it seems.  By devoting your time into a student group, it will not only enrich your optometry career as a student, but you will meet doctors and students that you would not have associated yourself with normally.  In addition to meeting all sorts of neat people, being plugged in will give you opportunities that are unattainable otherwise.

First, what type of student organizations are out there?  Well, that varies from campus to campus.  My recommendation would be to go to your optometry school’s website and see what they have listed available.  At the State University of New York (SUNY), there are a number of groups that we can choose from.  First, at every school, there is most likely an American Optometric Student Association (AOSA) group.  This is a great group in that it is directly connected to the American Optometric Association (AOA).  For those that do not know about the AOA, the AOA is a national optometric association standing up for the profession in a political way.  Our profession would not be close to where it is today if it was not for the AOA.  Activities vary from school to school.  Mostly, the AOSA is responsible in getting the student body engaged in national issues like the recent issues such as the board certification process or government sponsored public options proposals.  Visit the AOA website: for more information.

On a similar note, if you attend a school in the United States, there will be state association groups that are actively involved with the student body.  At SUNY optometry, the NYSOA or New York State Optometric Association has been paramount in addressing the importance of active involvement of students and ODs in the state legislature.   Activities with the NYSOA at my school varied from lunch programs to state association run lobby days where we strive to obtain more privileges as ODs.  One of the biggest challenges in keeping progress in our profession is keeping doctors actively involved in their state association.  If we all start as students, the long term benefits are tremendous.   To learn more about the NYSOA, please visit the website:

Jumping out of a political realm, there are other groups on your optometry school’s campus like the Vision 2020, LIONS club or Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH) organizations.  What are these groups all about?  Well, they are non-for-profit organizations dedicated to helping the underprivileged sectors of the world.  It is very important in my opinion to go at least on one mission trip while you are in optometry school.  Why?  Well, it gives you a sense of how fortunate we really are.  It was actually a motivating observation for me when I went on a mission trip to see the amount of hardships many families have to persevere through in other areas of the world.  Most people in the world do not have running water in their homes or proper plumbing in their communities.  To look at our lives and compare it to a world of poverty is certainly an eye opener.  You may obtain information about Vision 2020 at , the VOSH group at , or the lions club at .  The impact that you can make on another individual is priceless.

Another opportunity at my school was to be part of a faith based group.  At my school, there is an organization called FCO (Fellowship of Christian Optometrists).  What is great about FCO is that we really are a community devoted to up building of the campus for the betterment of everyone.   FCO has many opportunity in missions too in that there is a monthly mission volunteer opportunity at a local homeless shelter and yearly mission trip options.  Find out about your local FCO chapter at  The students at my school that belonged to FCO truly became my brothers and sisters as we all strove to up build and support each other.  Their presence at school has been extremely rewarding.

There are other professional groups like the American Academy of Optometry (AAO).  The American Academy of Optometry is an academic group involved in the most current research in the ophthalmic profession.  If you are completed a joint degree OD/MS, then the AAO is a must for you to join.  The group has annual meetings and has a great support structure for young ODs to join and be part of.  The nice thing about being part of the AAO is that you will be able to apply for a fellowship one day and be connected with some of the brightest minds in the profession.  After you become a fellow, many professional doors will open to you from career opportunities to a wide variety of information.  More information can be found at .

Another great group at campuses is the COVD group.  COVD stands for the College of Optometrists in Vision Development.  Behavioral vision doctors are in short supply and the need for them is greater than ever.  If you have an interest in vision therapy and behavioral vision, I would definitely recommend being part of COVD.  At our school, COVD meetings consist of guest lecturers coming in and talking about their office and how to be a successful behavioral optometrist.  Most clubs on campus have a great community in that other students can share therapy ideas and network with other future behavioral specialists.  The COVD website is

There are certainly a lot of clubs.  Some of which, I may have not even mentioned.  My suggestion to you would be to investigate the ones you want to get involved with and stay connected.  After you are connected, make that club into the best club at your campus, get other students engaged and be prepared for a fantastic time.  If anything, being part of clubs on campus motivates you as an optometry student to where you will eventually be.  Again, you never know the doors that will be opened up to you by being involved.  Many of which would not have been possible without your involvement.  Feel free to contact you school’s student affairs office for more information about student organizations and how you might impact your student body.

All the best on your journey in becoming an optometrist,

Paul Heeg


Class of 2010 at SUNY Optometry
Past President of the NYSOA Student Society 2008-2009
AOA-PAC SUNY Student Liaison 2009-2010
FCO Treasurer 2007-2009
LEO Club Treasurer 2008-2009

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