In April of this year, the Academy altered its policy of optometrist participation in the educational program of its Annual Meeting. The new policy states: “The American Academy of Ophthalmology does not permit attendance or participation by optometrists at any educational activity at its Annual Meeting.”
This decision is one that we did not enter lightly. We understand that there are optometrists who have made significant contributions to the field of the visual sciences, low vision and contact lenses; their presence will be missed during this year’s Joint Meeting. At the core of this decision is the problem that optometrists have used attendance at the Academy’s Annual Meeting as evidence of parity when trying to convince legislators that their scope of practice should be expanded to include the use of lasers and surgery.
As one example of how leaders in optometry view the future of their profession, George E. Foster, OD, dean of the Northeastern College of Optometry, stated, “With each new development in optometric care, the mission of the College continues to be one of meeting or exceeding the medical education of any other discipline or school.” It has been clear that they were not going to reach this goal overnight. With leadership from optometry schools, the American Optometric Association and state optometric societies, optometric scope has been broadened through legislative fiat in a step-by-step manner. It is likely that the impetus to expand this scope of practice is coming from the leadership, rather than the membership of these organizations.
In 1998, the Oklahoma legislature enabled optometrists to perform laser eye procedures. This April the legislature added, “The practice of optometry is further defined to be nonlaser surgery procedures as authorized by the Oklahoma Board of Examiners in Optometry.” This law not only allows practitioners without medical school training to perform eye surgery with a metal or diamond blade, but also it leaves all future oversight to the Oklahoma Board of Examiners in Optometry.
One strategy that optometrists have employed to broaden their scope is to show legislators that they learn, or even teach, surgical care at the Academy’s Annual Meeting. Our scientific program is designed to provide CME to practitioners who have gone throughmedical school and medical internship. It would be shortsighted to continue to allow nonphysicians to use attendance at these meetings as proof that their education is somehow equivalent to ours.
One question that we hear is: “How has this been allowed to happen?” We must each ask ourselves what we personally have done to either slow or accelerate the broadening of optometric scope of practice in our own state.
Hopefully, this review of recent developments will help explain why the Academy has undertaken the recent changes to its Annual Meeting policy. If you believe that only surgeons should be doing eye surgery, please get involved. Meet with your legislators. Give to OphthPAC, your state's eye PAC and, most important, to the Academy's Surgical Scope Fund.¹ This is one place where ophthalmology must stand together-our patients deserve it.
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