OS: James Deom, also known to many as Jimmy, is a man full of energy and love for life and optometry. Jimmy is the current president for the American Optometric Student Association (AOSA), which represents over 6,200 optometry students! Jimmy, tell us a little about yourself!
JD: First and foremost, I am a fourth year optometry student at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University. So really I am no different than anyone reading this—just another student working through optometry school, trying to do my absolute best.
I grew up in a small town by the name of Drums, PA not far from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area. I attended Wilkes University and attained a Bachelors of Science in Biology. After school I worked full-time as a board certified optician. That experience started my passion for eye care and my determination to join the career of optometry.
My free time is filled with endurance sports. It truly does allow me to re-center and relax. The last couple of years I have been blessed to be able to compete in two ironman distance triathlons and 8 marathons. Pushing myself to the limits in sports has been an enduring example to myself that when you put your mind to something—anything is possible.
OS: What has been the best part about being the president of the AOSA?
JD: I think that the opportunity to meet some of the most motivated and passionate students at all of the colleges of optometry through the AOSA board of trustees has been my most memorable experience. We have a small profession and the representation that each of the schools has via the AOSA trustees is really an invaluable leadership structure. So much is gained at each of the schools by getting together at our board meetings and sharing ideas with one another about fundraisers, public health outreach opportunities, and much more. It has been an honor and a privilege to take part in that and also help facilitate that exchange through leadership on the executive council.
OS: A lot of people may not know that you sit on a lot of different boards and travel around the US to different conventions and meetings. Can you tell us a little bit about your job as AOSA president?
JD: The AOSA president has the privilege of presiding over each of our bi-annual board meetings with the rest of the executive council. These meetings include each of the trustees and trustee elects from all of the colleges of optometry in the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico. These meetings really represent the bulk of the work for the executive council during the year.
We organize the meeting by making appointments with industry, optometric organizations (like Academy, COVD, and NBEO), and set forth new business with the intent to make student life better. Our ultimate goal is to inform all optometry students about all of the valuable organizations within organized optometry so that when they graduate they know they need to do certain things—like attain membership in their state association and AOA. Our board meetings work to figure out the best way to disseminate that message.
The president is responsible for appointing the national liaisons who represent the connection between all of the students at all of the colleges of optometry and the allied optometric associations. While that process is not an enviable job, it is refreshing to see how many passionate, devoted, and qualified leaders there are within our ranks. The president has the distinct honor of serving on the National Board of Examiners Board. This is extremely important, because it gives the student an active voice in the National Board examination process.
I attend both of their yearly meetings. One is held at a college of optometry and the other is held at NBEO headquarters in Charlotte NC. This year I was lucky to visit the Inter-American University College of Optometry in Puerto Rico. IAUPR is truly one of the finest optometry institutions represented on the AOSA and the students there go above and beyond to make sure their student body is involved and informed.
Possibly the largest responsibility of the President of the AOSA is to oversee the Executive Director of our Association. The Executive Director is a paid full-time position and is currently filled by Mr. Bob Foster. The ED is located at AOSA headquarters which is in St. Louis, MO. This responsibility requires the President to travel to St. Louis several times a year for progress meetings, reviews, and organizational meetings in preparation for full board meetings.
One last traveling responsibility of the president is to take part in the President’s Council – which is an organization of all of the Presidents of all of the state optometric association. The group meets two times a year and reviews pertinent topics affecting the profession and membership in associations. The President additionally attends the Congressional Advocacy Meeting and Academy meetings yearly. Whenever possible the President, in addition to the rest of the executive council, meets with the AOA President and their executive council to discuss our mutual interests.
The important thing about the position of President is that there is someone who represents the voice of all students on a national level. Where decisions are being made about the profession there is a student at the table making sure our best interests are being kept in mind. That in a nutshell is what I have the pleasure of doing!
OS: What do you think is the best advantage that AOSA brings to students?
JD: AOSA encompasses so much so it is hard to really boil it down to one thing. However, if I had to pick one, it would be unity. We are a small profession, so we are stronger united than apart. Our board meetings have the honor of hosting close to fifty representatives from industry and niche optometric associations. There is no way that each of these groups could meet with each of the schools and colleges throughout the year. By binding together we are able to access the support of so many which our trustees can then disseminate to you all. I think sometimes our purpose can get lost in the hustle and bustle of our duties throughout school. Remember that there are students who are working tirelessly to represent you and your best interests. Our unified voice of more than 6,200 students is an extremely powerful one. When we speak, industry and other organizations do really listen.
OS: What have you learned so far from being the president of the AOSA?
JD: I really have grown to love the profession more and more with every day of service. The close-knit unity within the student realm has inspired me to work towards this position with the ultimate goal of helping to unify our professional organizations. I don’t think it is any secret that there has been some division within our profession over the past 5 to 10 years. With the changes in health care and government regulations we need to band together to ensure that our patients have access to our valuable care. My goal has been to educate, excite, and inspire fellow students to get involved politically. My hope is that this will blossom a generation of ODs who transfer their student AOSA membership to AOA membership and realize the value of unity in their profession. Also, if you do not like something, stand up and say so. I have learned that sometimes the way you think things should be are not always the way that they turn out. Being a leader means listening, reviewing the facts, and representing your constituents to the best of your ability.
OS: What do you think is the best way for optometry students to get involved in optometry outside of school life?
JD: One of the most valuable things I have done through my optometry career is “like” and “follow.” Social media has reshaped the way we communicate with one another and the optometric community is no different. Private practitioners and large organizations alike regularly update things like Facebook and Twitter with the most up to date goings-on. I have “liked” hundreds of private practitioner’s pages, industry pages, and general healthcare related pages. I feel like I am at the cutting edge of all things optometry and health care by regularly reviewing my Facebook and Twitter feeds.
OS: What are your plans after optometry school?
JD: I am currently working towards a Masters in Public Health at Salus University. I find health policy and community health extremely interesting, specifically as it relates to traumatic brain injury. I would like to work in private practice but also work to establish more rigorous standards that would mandate optometric intervention with those who have sustained neurological insult.
OS: Tell us one interesting fact about yourself.
JD: I am an emmetrope!
OS: You really love endurance races and have earned the prestigious title of “Iron Man”. Do you have any races planned for the near future?
JD: I just completed Ironman Mont Tremblant in Quebec, Canada. It was beautiful and I had a wonderful time there. I am looking into next year to establish which Ironman I would like to do. I’m thinking either Madison, Wisconsin or Louisville, Kentucky for 2014. For the rest of this year I have a half iron in Cambridge, Maryland and the Philadelphia Marathon.
OS: What has been your greatest achievement so far?
JD: Being accepted into optometry school. The amazing power we all hold in restoring and preserving vision is truly a blessing.
OS: If you had a time machine to go back in time what would you change in history and why?
JD: I truly do believe that everything happens for a reason. So I wouldn’t change a thing!
OS: If you were stranded on an island and you could only bring three things what would they be?
JD: 1. My bike and trainer: I Love to bike ride and would go nuts without it.
2. A TV with the Today Show: A morning run and a few minutes of the Today Show encompass my morning routine.
3.Endless supply of coffee: Preferable Starbucks Dark roast anything and black.
OS: What has been your best memory so far as President or in your time on the Board of Trustess?
JD: When I was a trustee I had the honor as serving as the National Liaison for the AOA Political Action Committee. We worked extremely hard to increase participation in PAC giving and student involvement in the Congressional Advocacy Meeting. We nearly quadrupled giving and participation in one year! I was truly humbled by being able to accept the AOA-PAC keyperson of the year award last year on behalf of the AOSA for our efforts. That was the first time the AOSA had ever been recognized in that manner.