My career as a practicing physician in Oklahoma did not begin with political leanings. Then in 1988, a patient came to me for a second opinion, and this encounter changed my view of medicine as it relates to—or, more aptly, is influenced by—politics.
The patient had undergone a peripheral laser iridotomy and still had her original complaint of metamorphopsia due to an epiretinal membrane. I was shocked to learn that the iridotomy had been performed by an optometrist. Prior to this, I believed state governments protected patients. And, like most ophthalmologists, I assumed that, given logical information, legislators would make the correct decision. But I quickly discovered that legislative power ultimately makes the difference.
I learned that, over the course of 40 years, Oklahoma optometrists built political power, asking for incremental increases in scope of practice. They were cohesive and had a vision for their profession’s future that included using the political process to their advantage.
I also learned, firsthand, that it is most fun to win on Election Day! Winning requires persistence, physician time, collaboration, public awareness and logical argument, all with an Eye M.D. to deliver the message. The payoff for Oklahoma came last Nov. 7, when the state Eye M.D. society and the Surgery by Surgeons campaign secured major victories for patient safety. In the Lieutenant Governor’s race, Oklahoma Eye M.D.s threw their weight behind former House minority leader Jari Askins, a strong supporter of patient surgical safety. Contributions by Oklahoma ophthalmologists of more than $100,000 to the Oklahoma Academy of Ophthalmology (OAO) EyePAC and partnering with the Oklahoma State Medical Association and other state subspecialty organizations made the difference in helping Ms. Askins win, as did old-fashioned grassroots activities (ophthalmologists knocking on doors, making phone calls, etc).
The OAO also had friends to protect in this election, and it lost only one in each chamber of the state legislature. We also worked to convert legislators to our side and gained over 80 percent of targets in both the Senate and the House, including rural districts. (It turns out that rural legislators do not want a lower standard of care in their districts!) Of all EyePAC-supported candidates, 93 percent of the House and 85 percent of the Senate won their election.
In the three short years since Oklahoma ophthalmologists took a stand in their legislature, they have made a significant impact on optometric political dominance. Ophthalmologists have been right, legislators need logical information to make the right decision, and we must be there to provide it. We also have to participate in the political process, which includes donating to the PACs and befriending and contributing to our legislators. Action in Oklahoma is just one example of the Eye M.D. charge to elect men and women to the state legislature and statewide offices who support patient safety.
Through Surgery by Surgeons education initiatives, state legislators now understand the difference an MD or DO makes. These victories are indicative of the growing political clout of ophthalmology’s patient safety message in the states and the Academy’s commitment to Surgery by Surgeons. It’s important to get involved.
We do make a difference.
Learn about your state ophthalmic society and its PAC at www.aao.org/aao/member/state/directory.cfm. To contribute to the Surgical Scope Fund, visit www.aao.org/ssf.