By Barbara L. Horn, OD, American Optometric Association President 2019-2020
There’s no doubt that uncertainty can be uncomfortable. As human beings, we often feel comforted by what is familiar and predictable. The reality is that our profession and the world we live in is rapidly evolving and unpredictable, as we’ve witnessed firsthand over the past few months. However, it is my belief that those who are willing to embrace uncertainty and take decisive action, despite the many “unknowns,” will reap the greatest rewards.
Coming into this year, we all had so much hope to position the profession to truly own 2020 and create a movement to shape the future of eye and health care. Through the #2020EyeExam initiative, the AOA’s large-scale, multi-channel plan spotlighted optometry and leveraged the collective power of AOA doctors and students to build greater public awareness by encouraging Americans to make eye exams part of their annual health care routine. But when the strong momentum we had in the first couple of months was cut short and the nation was forced to navigate a new reality as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the AOA and our state affiliates quickly pivoted and rallied in support of doctors of optometry and their practices.
STEPPING UP TO THE CHALLENGES
I was proud to see how doctors of optometry across the country stepped up in the face of unparalleled challenges and helped their home communities during the public health emergency. In fact, the whole playing field has shifted and evolved as a result of the pandemic. Regardless of the mode of practice, whether federal service, corporate practice, large group practice or single doctor practice, we saw doctors coming together to uphold the essential, primary eye health care we are trained to deliver.
The need to continue that trend has never been greater. Now as I reflect back on my presidency and all that has happened over the past few months, one particular quote by Stephen Hawking stands out to me: “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” Optometry has faced many obstacles throughout our history and, yet, we continue to persevere. So while the current climate may be filled uncertainty, it is at these times that we must demonstrate our collective strength to move forward.
THE IMPORTANCE OF EYE CARE
And while things may have taken an unexpected turn, 2020 is still our year. Although the pandemic brought unparalleled challenges to our profession and our everyday lives, it also presented us with a unique opportunity to elevate doctors of optometry and reinforce the important role they play in overall health. AOA quickly refocused public awareness efforts to ensure the media, patients and the public were aware of how doctors of optometry were providing urgent and emergent eye health care during the pandemic and reducing strain on an overburdened health care system. And as optometry enters a new normal of patient care, AOA is highlighting how doctors are safely reopening to deliver the care patients seek.
As a proud, diverse and active community, now is our time to unite together to evolve for the betterment of our profession and the patients we serve. The changing demographics of women in optometry, for instance, affords us the potential to truly effect change. We are seeing an increasing number of women stepping up to fill leadership roles in societies, schools, practice ownership and more. In fact, five women continue serve on the AOA’s 2020-21 Board of Trustees after a historic election this week. It is clear that we are moving in the right direction and we must continue to take meaningful action toward even greater progress.
I’ve always believed it our collective power that makes optometry so strong. I look forward to continuing this work as we take this great profession beyond 2020.