For the first time in SECO’s 100-year history, an outgoing female president will hand the gavel to an incoming female president at the House of Delegates meeting on March 4. The two women, SECO President Christine Cook, OD, FAAO, and President-elect Michelle Cooper, OD, recently spoke on a WO Podcast about the changing demographics and needs of the optometric profession and how SECO’s educational efforts play an important role in bringing optometry into a post-pandemic environment.
As Dr. Cook prepares to hand the title over to Dr. Cooper, both are invigorated by the evolutions they’ve seen in the industry. Dr. Cook says she’s “excited to see more women move into leadership roles” in the profession, and she “can’t think of a better person to pass the gavel to than Dr. Cooper.”
Dr. Cooper says it’s been inspiring to see trailblazers like Catherine Amos, OD, the first female to graduate from University of Alabama Birmingham School of Optometry, become the norm rather than the exception. Dr. Cook notes the many influential women, past and present, that have served as optometric presidents, trustees, deans and more, but says there’s much more work to be done.
KNOW THAT IT’S POSSIBLE
Dr. Cook notes that during her interview for optometry school, she was asked how she planned to balance her work life and family life.
She wondered if the committee members asked male candidates the same question. But with help from “the village,” both women say, anything you set your mind to is possible.
For those looking to extend their network, or those who want to get involved but are not sure where to start, start local, Dr. Cook says. “I started going to society meetings and showed up at state association meetings. Within a year or two I was a trustee at large; you can work your way up.”
Dr. Cooper did the same. She got involved locally, moved to the state level and is a past president of the South Carolina Optometric Physician’s Association. So when she got the opportunity to be president of SECO, she says she knew she had to jump on it. The process seems daunting but these other leadership roles along the way – and the mentors within the organizations – help.
“SECO is such a dynamic organization that I knew I wanted to dedicate my time to and be a part of,” Dr. Cooper says.
“I am still amazed I’ve been able to do so much,” Dr. Cook says. “I got far more out of leadership than I ever put in.” Dr. Cooper agrees and says it’s already been such a great learning experience. “I didn’t know how much I didn’t know,” she says.
FOCUSING ON THE FUTURE
While Dr. Cook and Dr. Cooper are excited for the event and the SECO annual meeting, they are “the past,” they say with a laugh. It’s the future of optometry—students and new ODs—who are really the stars of the show.
“SECO has lots of programs in place to focus on students in optometry school and getting everyone involved,” Dr. Cooper says. She also wants to focus on not just gender representation in SECO, but diverse and reflective leadership and involvement throughout all branches of optometry. In the meantime, as they prep for the SECO meeting, Dr. Cooper and Dr. Cook say they are enthusiastic about all that optometrists can do now and in the future.
To listen to the discussion, click here.
To learn more about SECO or register for the meeting, March 1-5 in Atlanta, click here.
A Roaring Good Time
The opening reception is 1920’s themed, so SECO encourages WO readers and listeners to attend and dress up in their best 1920s gear.