Gratitude radiates from Jaime Hazen, OD, to the legislators in the state of Wyoming on their new three-part expansion regarding the scope of practice for optometrists. While Dr. Hazen is not on the legislative committee of the Wyoming Optometric Association (WOA), she serves as the state’s association secretary and is well versed in the importance of advocacy when it comes to optometry.
“A bulk of the work fell to the WOA director and the legislative committee, but I’ve visited in Cheyenne in a support role,” says Dr. Hazen. Since she lives only an hour from the capital of Wyoming, she has made the trek to be an advocate with the committee in the past. Dr. Hazen purchased her practice, Mud Springs Vision Clinic, a Vision Source practice, in Wheatland, Wyoming, several years ago from her own childhood optometrist. While she knew she wanted to return to Wyoming to practice, she didn’t necessarily envision her deep involvement in advocacy.
“It was wading into the unknown,” she says. She dipped her toes into advocacy in her second year of optometry school at Pacific University College of Optometry where she joined the American Optometric Student Association. “I thought it was a fantastic opportunity, but in school, you have no idea how big it is.” She got involved and began attending national meetings where she met other doctors from Wyoming. “They took me under their wing,” she says. “I was born and raised here, and I knew I’d practice here.” She began with the statewide legislature three years ago when she attended a few meetings. She joined the board of the Wyoming association in 2019 and became secretary in early 2021.
The experience was eye-opening. Dr. Hazen was surprised by a few factors; the length of time needed for the legislative process, the critical need for lobbyists and, yet, how misunderstood the job is. “The term ‘lobbyist’ is almost a bad word,” she says. “They’re amazing, great people who do great things. They can make or break your efforts.” She reflects on the necessity of having a full-time presence at the capitol to be lobbying for their cause. “We have our practices; we can’t be watching the legislature all the time—but the lobbyists were all in for three years,” she says. “Their access is phenomenal. We were blessed with fantastic lobbyists.”
As a result, Wyoming became the second state this year (along with Louisiana) to expand optometric scope of practice. The new law, which takes effect this summer, will allow ODs to perform YAG laser capsulotomy, selective laser trabeculoplasty and laser iridotomy; deliver anesthesia and some other injections; and expands drug prescription authority for optometrists.
While Dr. Hazen and her like-minded colleagues knew there would be pushback to their proposal, but their strong grass roots effort kept them grounded and strong. Despite the pressure to mediate and compromise, the legislative committee held firm. “We didn’t want to split this up into three efforts—we didn’t want to have to come back,” she says. “We did work with the state medical society, and that helped us get some support.”
The role of optometrists in a rural state was key, she says. “We only have seven ophthalmologists in the state, so rural access is an important part of it,” she says. “Another thing that was eye-opening and important was that we as ODs had not updated our scope in 25 years. That was unbelievable to me in the world of medicine.”
Dr. Hazen’s advice to all ODs: get involved. “Financial contributions are important, but you have to be involved if you want a say on where things are going and what your scope is going to be,” she says. “You have to participate.” She credits much of the success to the grass roots level of advocacy, which she calls vital. “When a legislator can put a face to a name, it helps the cause.”
While the idea of getting involved in legislature may sound intimidating to some, Dr. Hazen promises it gets more comfortable. “It’s much less nerve-wracking now that I’ve done this for a while. Your executive director and lobbyist know how to do this [and will] hold your hand for the first few visits,” she says. The importance of advocacy is what drives Dr. Hazen to push through any now-forgotten nerves.
As the only OD in her county, Dr. Hazen never lets an opportunity slip by to make a new connection. When the mayor, town council members or other county employees are in her exam chair, she is able to tell them what the optometric profession is doing, and how they can help.