May 1, 2016 | POSTED BY | Articles, Involvement, Organized Optometry
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As optometry students, we are exposed to so many optometric associations and organizations. As a first year student, I remember thinking “Which organization do I choose???” I would like to shed light on some of the different student optometric organizations, emphasize the missions of each of these groups, and include some commentary from local and national leaders. This month’s focus will be the National Optometric Student Association (NOSA).

What is the National Optometry Student Association (NOSA)?
NOSA is the student extension of the National Optometric Association (NOA), whose mission is to provide eye care to minority and underserved communities and to advocate for minority recruitment in optometry. To provide a deeper understanding of the goals of NOSA, I interviewed the immediate past National President of NOSA Dr. Brittany Tounsel O.D., as well as the current National President of NOSA Kirsten McKnight.

What inspired you to get involved with NOSA as an optometry student?

Brittany Tousel (OD, immediate past National President of NOSA): During my 1st year at Southern College of Optometry, each on-campus organization gives a presentation about their mission, programs and events, membership and community involvement at our annual Student Organization Fair. It was in that moment that I decided to join NOSA. The organization’s mission of ‘advancing the visual health of minority populations’ is a large part of why I became an optometrist. I saw an opportunity to join like-minded, driven optometry students who were dedicated to educating and caring for patients in minority communities and underserved neighborhoods. After joining, I realized there were so many opportunities to learn more about the profession and gain experience in patient care through our chapter’s service events and local meetings. I decided to take on a national role after attending my first National Optometric Association convention!

Brittany, in June you attended Optometry’s Meeting on behalf of NOSA. Tell us about the goal of your visit.

Brittany: I had the opportunity to attend the ASCO Student Affairs Officers’ Annual Meeting prior to the start of Optometry’s Meeting. It provided a great platform to share the amazing volunteer work, community programs, and fundraising events that NOSA chapters across the country are doing! We also discussed the current status of optometry student recruitment and the need for increasing diversity among applicants (and, in turn, the profession). It was an important discussion for the betterment of our profession and highlighted some of the current efforts by optometry schools in increasing recruitment of underrepresented groups. Our student body still has room for growth, and as part of NOSA’s national initiative, we will continue to work to increase recruitment and retention of minority populations to this profession.

The AOSA is the largest student optometric association, and almost every current optometry student is an AOSA member. As the current NOSA national executive president, how do you envision the evolution of the relationship between NOSA and the AOSA?

Kirsten McKnight (current National President of NOSA): Together with the help of the AOSA, I hope that one day we can eliminate the perception that NOSA is for only minority students. Our mission is to advocate for the increase of minorities in the profession and advance the visual health of minority populations. Minority patients are a component of everyone’s patient base and NOSA provides unique insight and resources to serve their needs. Why not better yourself early and enhance your cultural competence while a student? In a perfect world, every student would be a member of NOSA just as they are a member of the AOSA. It is my hope that in the future the AOSA and NOSA executive boards can collaborate on joint initiatives nationally.

As students, we are encouraged to attend organized optometry meetings. What makes the NOA convention unique, and why is it an event that students should consider attending?

Kirsten: The NOA convention is unique in that it provides students with a specialized agenda filled with events that are exclusively designed to cater to their interests as future ODs. Students get to interact with NOA members intimately and ask questions freely in events such as our annual Speed-Netting workshop. Our student fast-track also features events pertinent to the more immediate concerns of students such as our NBEO Review Workshop. In my opinion, students should consider attending the NOA convention because of the unique atmosphere and great opportunity to build lasting relationships with future colleagues from across the nation. Each year we strive to improve the student experience so we look forward to next year being better than ever!

Why should students who are not minorities care about minority student recruitment and diversity in optometry?

Brittany: Well, this is easy….stop and look around! We live in a diverse world, full of people from different cultures, ethnic groups, race and backgrounds. Most, if not all, of us interact with someone of a different background than our own daily. Why would we not want our profession to represent the cultural and ethnic diversity of the world around us? The vast array of what we can learn from each other can only make us better healthcare providers, and more importantly, better people.

Kirsten: The necessity of diversity in optometry is akin to the same need of diversity in life. As Americans, we try to paint a picture of our country to the world that we are a nation of equal opportunity. How can we uphold this image if our nation’s health care providers are not representative of our melting-pot of a nation? To the table, minorities bring a fresh perspective, deeper insight to their respective ethnic groups, and potential for enhanced cultural competence throughout the profession through education.

If serving those in need is one of the reasons you decided to become an optometrist, NOSA is the perfect organization for you! And remember…there is no harm in being active with multiple student organizations. Find the organizations that fit your interests and get involved today!

Consider attending the 48th Annual NOA Convention, “Contemporary Issues in Optometry” which will be held this summer in Chicago from July 6 – 10, 2016. The keynote speaker is Dr. Leonard Messner, VP for Patient Care Services at ICO and Executive Director of the Illinois Eye Institute. Early bird registration ends April 30, 2016, so register today!