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Young Ophthalmologists
It’s All About the Ribbons
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Throughout history, there have always been ways to denote rank and prestige. Football players have stickers on their helmets, art collectors display paintings, actors collect awards and military leaders don medals and ribbons. And ophthalmologists are no different.

Back in the Day
Anyone who’s been to an Annual Meeting knows the sight of attendees with badges colorfully bedecked. The history of those ribbons goes back to the earliest days of the meeting.

First logo for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and OtolaryngologyTaking a note from our generals and admirals, the Board of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology (AAOO) — as the Academy was then named — voted back in 1908 to create an “insignia” to identify members and fellows during the Annual Meeting. 

Using the logic that members needed some way to be distinguished from students and other attendees, New York ophthalmologist Percy Fridenberg, MD, designed the first logo to grace the ribbons of all members at the meeting.

1911 Annual Meeting attendees
1911 Annual Meeting attendees
1911 Annual Meeting attendees (close-up)
Detail of attendee photo.

In fact, the Museum of Vision’s Academy Archive contains a photograph from the 1911 Annual Meeting, where members can be seen sporting their ribbons and badges. 

The museum has 208 meeting badges and ribbons from meetings all over the world, thanks in large part to William L. Benedict, MD (1885–1969).

Dr. Benedict was the executive secretary-treasurer of the AAOO between 1942 and 1968, a position that is the equivalent to today’s CEO role. But Dr. Benedict’s service to the Academy extended a good 20 years before that, as he held virtually every volunteer position the Academy had.

Dr. Benedict's 1921 ribbonGiven that the entire Academy staff consisted of just four people when Dr. Benedict took the helm as executive secretary-treasurer, himself included, it’s little wonder that he wore so many hats…and so many ribbons. He has also proved the single largest donor of meeting badges and ribbons to the Academy Archive, including the earliest one from the 1921 meeting.

Back then, the badges were a bit different. They were often reserved for officers of the AAOO, with the president and board wearing blue ribbons, a color that continues to signify Academy leadership. The badges were brass and rather ornate.

Post-War Ribbon Explosion
Following World War II, the Academy began to present ribbons to other leaders in the organization. Militaristic adornment soon became part of the tradition of the Academy and continues to this day.

When former deputy executive vice president David Noonan joined the Academy’s staff in 1972, the president, EVP, DEVP, board and secretariat wore blue ribbons, much like the board back in the 1920s. But by the late 70s, the Academy added ribbons for other service positions. They were seen as a badge of service to the Academy through the 70s and 80s.

“It was an inexpensive, appropriate way to recognize people who gave their time and service to the Academy,” Noonan said. “They are a huge symbol of prestige and service for the tremendous number of hours the wearers give to their profession.”

Ribbons denote such prestige that, at one time, the badges themselves came with instructions on the back, which directed that the badge be worn on the right lapel so that when the wearer extend his or her right hand, the right lapel would be thrust forward to ensure name recognition as well as ribbon wonderment and awe.

(Okay, it didn’t actually say wonderment and awe, but that was often the intended — and correct — reaction.)

Do You Have All 68?
Today, there are 68 different ribbons for the Annual Meeting. As you can imagine, one of the most difficult things for the meetings division to come up with isn’t for whom to provide ribbons, but choosing a color or color combination that isn’t already being used!

Fortunately, there is, believe it or not, a convention for convention planners. In addition to peddling their many convention-related services, these gatherings also have ribbon vendors. Yes, there is a whole industry of ribbons. To this day, Mr. Noonan’s favorite ribbon is from one of those conventions. It was the “Runs With Scissors” ribbon.

Fantastic as that is, it is NOT one of the 68. Tradition dictates that the president’s, CEO’s and board ribbons are all blue. The PAC ribbon is red, white, and blue, while the ribbon denoting military service is a veteran ribbon with a flag.

But the most important ribbon at the meeting doesn’t belong to a member. It’s the staff ribbon. This bright red, shorter ribbon is the one to look for if you need something or need something done. It is immediately recognizable to vendors, members and convention staff.

In fact, it’s so important that the EVP/CEO and DEVP have found they need to don staff badges as well. “Dunbar and I found we had to start wearing staff ribbons,” Noonan said. “If we had to reenter the convention center at 2 a.m. for some reason, we could not do so. Being EVP or DEVP was irrelevant. Only staff had that kind of access.”

Show Your Style and Pride
In addition to the myriad of ribbon types, there are also a number of ways to display them. Of these, two seem to stand out.

The first is sometimes termed the “Russian general style.” Simply attach your ribbons side-by-side, with the second row attached to the first row.

The second, slightly more creative display is the “deck of cards.” Start with your most important/prestigious ribbon on top. Behind that, place the next two or three most impressive. Continue to stagger in this fashion so the remaining ribbons are attached at the bottom like fringe to show the colors.

No matter how you choose to display your ribbons, just be sure to wear them with pride! And many people do. It’s not uncommon for people to don badges and ribbons from the time they pick them up onsite to the plane ride home from the meeting and all points in between. Just be sure to take them off before bed.

More seriously, do NOT wear your badge and ribbons on the street in Orlando. While they garner you the appropriate and deserved attention at the meeting, they could make you a target for crime outside of the convention center.

Lastly, however many ribbons you have, be sure to wear your YO badge inside the convention center, or you won’t be admitted to the YO Lounge.

Badge of Honor
Academy ribbons are a lasting symbol of service and dedication to the ophthalmology profession. As such, it’s not surprising they can become a bit of treasure to those who wear them — and those who aspire to.

“I generally try to collect as many as possible,” said YO Info editorial board member Lauren Eckstein, MD. “Getting some of the rarer ribbons reserved for older, more honored and accomplished members of our society can be a bit of a challenge,” she admitted. “This is mostly accomplished through mere charm, but begging, bartering and other creative techniques have also been employed from time to time.”

Academy staff members also often collect ribbons and badges, displaying them in their workspaces year after year, meeting after meeting. Many of them have quite an impressive display.

So, here we are, more than a century after that momentous decision to create a badge of honor for those Academy members who give of their time, money and service to the noble profession of ophthalmology.

To all of you, we salute you and we thank you. And, secretly, we want your ribbons!

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About the author: Kimberly Day is a freelance health writer and medical editor and a frequent contributor to YO Info. She is the co-author of Hormone Revolution and contributing editor to Peak Health Advocate.

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