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What Does Your State Society Do?

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For a young ophthalmologist or member-in-training, all of the opportunities and responsibilities you face can be quite overwhelming. Add to that navigating the options the Academy has to offer and you very likely don't know where to begin. One great place to start is your state ophthalmology society.

Your state society partners with the Academy on numerous activities and programs. In fact, it operates much like the Academy, but at a smaller, more localized level. It focuses its attention and programs on the needs, laws and opportunities specific to each state.

Like the Academy, your state society offers a wide variety of programs to help and support your ophthalmic career. I'd like to focus on five that I think are especially beneficial for you as in the early days of your practice.

Network and Referrals
By joining your state society, you have access to other ophthalmologists across your state. You can network to increase referrals to your practice, discover possible practice openings in other cities or help yourself get established if you are moving to a new state.

Plus, on a bi-monthly basis, the Academy's Ophthalmic Society Relations (OSR) department sends each state society a list of ophthalmologists who have moved into or out of its state. To evaluate trends in state society membership and to recognize state society members at the Academy's Annual Meeting (via a state society ribbon), OSR annually asks each state society to review and update a list of state society members as currently recorded in the Academy's database. This update of state society members in the Academy’s database is also used to highlight state society members in the Academy's Member Directory.  Each society executive director receives a complimentary copy of this directory. 

Leadership Opportunities
If you want to get involved in a leadership capacity, your state society is a wonderful opportunity. The Academy takes notice of people who have proven themselves at the local and state levels to be selected for national leadership positions.

To this point, the Secretariat for State Affairs established the Leadership Development Program to develop future leaders in organized ophthalmology. In the spring, state, subspecialty and specialized interest societies may nominate one of their members to participate in the program. The Secretariat then selects participants on the basis of applications submitted by the nominees. Those admitted to the program attend four training sessions over the course of a year:  (1) an orientation session held in conjunction with the Academy's Annual Meeting; (2) a January session held in San Francisco for an intensive two-and-a-half-day meeting; (3) at the April Mid-Year Forum for a session dedicated to advocacy; and (4) at the following Annual Meeting for a final graduation session.  

Another way you can get involved immediately is with the Advocacy Ambassador Program. The Secretariat for State Affairs established this pilot program in 2004 to educate residents and fellows early in their careers about the importance of political action and involvement in organized ophthalmology at both the state and national levels. The Secretariat collaborates with state ophthalmology societies and ophthalmology training programs to support the attendance of members-in-training at the Academy's annual Mid-Year Forum (MYF), Congressional Advocacy Day (CAD) and the Spring Council Meeting, held in Washington, D.C. 

At the MYF, residents and fellows can attend the Academy-sponsored sessions to learn about hot topics and issues facing the profession. At CAD, residents and fellows are paired with seasoned ophthalmologists for visits with legislators and key legislative health care staff on Capitol Hill to discuss key issues affecting ophthalmology and medicine. At the Council Meeting, residents are special guests and learn about the Council’s role as policy advisory body to the Academy's Board of Trustees.

Professional Education
One of the biggest benefits to joining your state society involves professional education. Specifically, each state society holds its own annual meeting. These venues tend to be more intimate and cover those issues and topics of relevance to your particular state.

You also have smaller, more intimate courses and greater access to the material and presenters. Additionally, there are greater opportunities for you to become a presenter yourself.

Practice Management
Because coding and billing laws can vary state by state, it is especially critical to be up on the latest rules and regulations of your particular area. Many state societies offer practice management education, and some partner with the Academy to deliver CodeQuest programs -- convenient one-day seminars that offer up-to-date state-and specialty-specific coding information.  

Public Service Opportunities
The Academy Foundation's EyeCare America program uses a referral system of U.S. volunteer ophthalmologists to provide free medical eye care for those in need. Because referrals take place based on the city and state of the patient in need, it depends upon state and local support for its programs.

EyeCare America runs programs for seniors, children and patients with glaucoma and diabetes. Visit www.eyecareamerica.org for more information on how you can get involved.

Get Involved
Our national strength is dependent upon state strength. The Academy collaborates with all state ophthalmology societies on legislative and regulatory efforts to ensure quality patient care. If you haven't already joined your state society, I strongly encourage doing so today. Visit www.aao.org/member/related/state_directory.cfm to find contact information for your particular state society.

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About the author: Gail Schmidt is the director of Ophthalmic Society Relations for the Academy. She can be reached at gschmidt@aao.org.