Have you ever wondered, what is different between what an Optometrist and an Ophthalmologist can do? Who makes those decisions? How are they decided? Have you ever heard the term “legislated profession”? These are important questions to understand for your future career and especially for your interview day. If you’ve done your research, or been to an SCCO admissions workshop, it’s very likely that you’ve come across at least some of these questions. The answer? Optometry’s scope of practice (what we legally can or cannot do) is determined by state and federal law. Therefore, there are optometrists all over the nation that strive to promote the optometric profession within the legislature. They lobby to enact laws that allow optometrists to practice to the full scope of their knowledge in an ever-changing atmosphere of health care reform and scientific advancements. In the most recent March/April 2014 issue of the California Optometric Association (COA) member’s magazine, they chose to spotlight 3rd year SCCO Student, Nicole Kohan, for her work as a COA Key Person.
A Key Person is a COA member volunteer, an OD or student, who educates lawmakers about issues important to optometry. This grassroots work is incredibly powerful, as Legislators really do listen to their constituents.
Nicole has devoted much of her valuable time to meeting with local legislators, travelling to the annual Legislative Day in Sacramento, and participating in letter writing campaigns, all for the sake of promoting the optometric profession within the State Legislature. Nicole also serves as SCCO’s AOA-PAC liaison, which is the Political Action Committee that works with legislators on a national level. The COA, AOA, and many other optometric associations work tirelessly to enact laws that expand optometry’s scope of practice to match our abilities and educational background. These organizations firmly believe that the law should reflect our knowledge and expertise, in order for us to provide the best and most comprehensive patient care. Their work is essential to the practice of optometry across the nation. The following are snippets from her interview featured in the March/April 2014 edition of California Optometry. Find out more about Nicole’s motivation, her love for optometry, and her work to promote the profession:
“As a senior in high school I volunteered at the Blind Children’s Learning Center in Santa Ana with low vision children [What is low vision?]. This first experience with optometry was transformative showing me just how significant of a role optometrists can play in people’s lives.” Why is it important to be a key person? “Simply put, if I don’t represent and protect my profession, who will? I want to proactively exercise my voice regarding the laws that dictate how I practice. I refuse to just drift along for the ride and find out about laws that directly affect the way I practice after they have already been passed. I have witnessed the effect of a few passionate voices […] and I plan to continue my efforts as long as I have the letters ‘OD’ after my name.” The best part of meeting with Legislators? “My favorite moment in meeting with legislators for the first time is when they realize the quality and depth of our education to become an optometrist. It’s a moment of both respect and curiosity that is often visible on their faces.”
How can students be engaged in COA advocacy efforts? All students are encouraged to do as little or as much as they would like! Anyone may attend local, state, or national legislative meetings, send letters/emails to legislators (templates are often provided), or simply donate to Cal-OPAC or AOA-PAC. Any of these things allows you the title of Key Person and is an excellent way to support your future profession. And students are certainly rising to the challenge! According to Nicole, last year students as a whole donated more to AOA-PAC than some states! That’s an incredible feat and all thanks to students like Nicole who inspire their classmates to take action. Together we can make a difference! So now we ask: How will you fight for optometry?
Cited: California Optometric Association. “Key Person Spotlight: Students Make Great Educators.” California Optometry Mar.-Apr. 2014: 23.