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Three National Organizations, Three Women Leading Them

At three national organizations—the American Optometric Association (AOA), the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) and the American Academy of Optometry (AAO)—women ODs happen to be in leadership positions this year. There may be a time in the future when this kind of representation is the norm, but in 2020, it is still noteworthy.

Editor’s Note: Sherrol Reynolds, OD, is also currently president of the National Optometric Association. You can listen to her two featured WO Voices podcasts on advocacy and the three silent killers.

Women In Optometry asked them each what their goals for the organization are during their leadership term. Each reflects her impact on some aspect of the future of the profession.

Left to right: Dr. Caffery, Dr. Horn and Dr. Hoppe

Inspiring the Next Generation

Elizabeth Hoppe, OD, MPH, DrPH, Founding Dean, College of Optometry, Western University of Health Sciences, current president of ASCO.

“My main focus is on promoting the profession of optometry as a great career choice for the future generation of students. ASCO’s Optometry Gives Me Life campaign is targeted toward encouraging undergraduate students to learn more about optometry and everything that this wonderful profession has to offer.

We are also refreshing and renewing ASCO’s Inspiring Future ODs program. We know that doctors of optometry are the profession’s best advocates and the personal interactions that they have every day with their patients serves as an inspiration that can result in a life-changing career choice. Many times when you talk with doctors of optometry about why they chose the profession, it is because of the admiration for their own optometrist.

Ensuring a Solid Profession

Barbara Horn, OD, president, AOA

Get every American to get a #2020EyeExam. Given the clear connection between 2020 and vision, we are seizing the year 2020 to spotlight optometry’s essential and expanding role in health care and to leverage the collective power of AOA doctors and students to educate the public about the importance of comprehensive eye exams. The initiative will encourage Americans to make 2020 the year they schedule an in-person, comprehensive eye exam with an AOA doctor of optometry. We plan to utilize every possible mode of communication to get the word out, while engaging members, health care providers, employers and the public in that message.

Advance the scope by advancing laws to ensure that doctors are able to practice contemporary optometry. With doctors of optometry in more than 10,000+ communities across the country, we are a critical key to primary eye health care for all Americans and could make access a reality for 99 percent of our nation’s patients. This is why the AOA Board of Trustees set an agenda to expand optometric scope of practice throughout the country by establishing the Future Practice Initiative (FPI). The AOA is working with interested states to improve their chances for victory with legal, legislative, grassroots advocacy, strategic and lobbying support. In the sophomore year of FPI, I’m dedicated to continuing to provide state affiliates with resources to fight for access, ensure continuity of patient care and keep the practice and profession of optometry on the leading edge. This will be a critical component of the 2020 initiative.

Grow membership to support the continued advancement of the practice and profession of optometry. AOA membership is a major focus and carrying on the “United in Possibilities” nationwide membership campaign, which is getting noticed by not only prospective members but also industry leaders who recognized AOA’s campaign for excellence, innovation and achievement. The collaboration between AOA and state associations employs a fully integrated, multi-channel plan for demonstrating the value of membership to millennial doctors of optometry within 10 years of graduation. In fact, partnering with participating affiliates is how we are able to make this campaign a success.

In May 2019, the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) announced that the initiative earned a 2019 Gold Circle Award in the Membership Recruitment Campaign category. This award, like all that the AOA achieves, reflects the essential, high-quality care our doctors of optometry deliver every day in communities across America. We are maintaining a laser-like focus on serving our members and their patients while supporting the continued advancement of the practice and profession of optometry.

Tackling the Global Problems

Barbara Caffery, OD, PhD, FAAO, president of the AAO

“I was allowed to become president at a time when the Academy had reached a critical growth point. We had been thrown out of convention centers because we were too big. We had engaged some of the best and brightest of our profession in leadership and volunteerism. We were set to launch.

That meant that my first goal was to create a strategic plan. And in case that wasn’t enough, we needed to hire a new executive director as the beloved Lois Schoenbrun had decided to retire from her position after 22 years. Finding a new leader is a risky and challenging task. I am grateful to the search committee who worked diligently to find our new executive director Peter Scott, who has taken on his job with energy and creativity. One goal accomplished.

The strategic plan concept was met with eye-rolling and skepticism. This board had made attempts in the past, but these efforts felt unsatisfactory. This time we hit the right note. This time we included more than 100 members in a sprawling, creative process that lead to a comprehensive, inspiring strategic plan. Our Vision of “Inspiring Excellence in Eye Care” will guide us. Our pillars of Education, Research, Membership, Leadership and Legacy, and Strategic Partnerships will hold this Academy in good stead over the next four years.

But there is so much more. What are we, as an Academy, going to do about the World Health Organization effort to eliminate preventable blindness by 2050? How are we to avail all children of the possibility of containing their myopia? There are so many local and global issues to consider. I feel very grateful to be able to face these tasks with ASCO and AOA, mainly because of the strong women who lead them.

Why is it important to have women in these leadership positions?

Dr. Caffery: Women’s lives are changing. My mother would not have conceived of being president of anything. As a young woman, an important wartime job was taken from her by a returning war hero. She quietly turned to her role as a manager of a household, a raiser of children. The female students who fill our optometric classrooms cannot conceive of such stories, but there is much work to be done. Power in many areas of health care, business, and politics remains in the hands of men. And thus, women need role models.

And so it is noteworthy that three women now lead the three largest optometric groups in the USA. It is essential to know that women are great health care providers and that they are also leaders. My colleagues are accomplished, hardworking, friendly, combative, strong, stubborn, and forgiving people. We argue, we disagree, we listen. We are inclusive, diligent, and very colorful…as you can see.

Dr. Horn: The times are finally catching up to a reality we have been steadfastly advancing for decades. We are now in a moment of sweeping progress where the increasing number of women in leadership is helping businesses, organizations and our communities thrive in unprecedented ways. The changing demographics of women in optometry, for instance, affords us the potential to truly affect change. Particularly as more women are graduating optometry school than men, it is critical that more women are supporting the profession and helping move it forward.

I knew from the first week in optometry school that I wouldn’t just be an optometrist, I would be someone who volunteered any way I could to help continue to fight and advocate for our profession. Although I didn’t initially set out with a goal of rising through the executive positions, I was proud and happy to take on opportunities that would challenge me clinically, professionally and personally. Today, I am honored to be one of a growing number of women who are shaping the face of eye and health care, and leading to improve the health of the nation.

We need more women who have that same motivation to step up and support their own livelihood by supporting the AOA. Both women and men should aspire to be leaders and start by volunteering any way that they can in a local, state or national committee. If there’s an area of practice you enjoy and you’re passionate about, get involved. You get a lot more out of it than what you put in when you’re sharing your expertise and you’re meeting people with the same passion.

To be a woman in optometry today is to learn from the women who have paved the way, as well as paving the way for future optometrists. This means we need women in leadership to be mentors for other women. Which is why I encourage other women to try to engage and inspire new graduates and students, our future leaders.

Dr. Hoppe: Our schools and colleges of optometry have seen a steady increase in the percentage of female students. The trend shows that in 2006-2007 64.2 percent of full-time students were female, increasing to 68.2 percent in 2018-2019. With about two-thirds of our student population female, I think it is very important to have women in professional leadership positions. Seeing women serving as successful and inspirational faculty members and seeing women serving as Chief Executive Officers, Chief Academic Officers, and Chief Clinical Officers can help our students realize that a pathway in optometric education is available to them. Having women in leadership positions is good for everyone, male and female, because diversity of perspective and experience creates a more inclusive environment for all.

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