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Becoming a Leader in Your Field: The Key You Won't Find in Clinic
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Congratulations! After four tough years of medical school, the USMLEs and clinical rotations, and now an intern year, you’re about to embark on the three-year path to becoming an eye physician and surgeon. What your practice will look like someday is shaped by more than how hard you work in residency, however.

Did you know that, as of last year, optometrists in Kentucky can now do all of the following? They can:

  • Perform laser procedures, including glaucoma and cornea surgeries,
  • Perform incisional surgery (scalpel procedures), with exceptions,
  • Perform injections into the eye,
  • Give drugs by any route, except Schedule I/II, including injections for local anesthesia, and
  • Determine their own scope of practice, by the creation of an independent board of optometry, which would not have any other board or state agency oversight.

What Happened?

As the Kentucky Louisville Courier-Journal noted shortly after passage of the legislation that made this possible, “Optometrists greased the legislative machinery with campaign contributions to all but one legislator (a physician), totaling at least $327,650 in the last two years, plus $74,000 to [Kentucky Gov. Steve] … The battle in Frankfort was almost over before it began.”

“Medicine had tremendous support from both departments of ophthalmology in Lexington and Louisville … from the state osteopathic association and the college of osteopathic medicine,” Academy Executive Vice President and CEO David W. Parke II, MD, wrote in a March 2011 blog post to members. “Key national ophthalmology subspecialty societies weighed in promptly … The optometric bill was opposed by virtually every major state newspaper and by the Kentucky Hospital Association."

“At the end of the day, quality of care, patient safety and sound policy were trumped by money and local politics.”

Kentucky is not alone. In the last 10 years, more than half of the United States, including Puerto Rico and Hawaii, have had optometric surgical initiatives introduced into their state legislatures, sometimes multiple times. Yet state ophthalmology societies, working hard and teaming up with the Academy, have faced and successfully rejected most of those initiatives.

What Can YOU Do?

Become involved in your state ophthalmology society! Not only will you be working to protect your patients and profession, but you can benefit on a professional and personal level as well:

  • As a member, you help with manpower and funding for the state society.
  • As a resident/fellow, your state society may select you via the Advocacy Ambassador Program to attend the Academy’s annual Mid-Year Forum in Washington, D.C., where approximately 400 Eye MDs advocate on Capitol Hill.
  • State-society membership is a great learning and networking opportunity. You can meet eye leaders in your community, learn what’s going on in your state, meet other national leaders … even people who might be able to help you find a job in the future!

You can also contribute to:

  • Your state ophthalmology society’s political action committee (PAC) so the society can work to elect state senators and representatives who will ensure health care policies adopted at the state continue to ensure patient access to quality medical care,
  • The Academy’s Surgical Scope Fund, which aids state societies throughout the entire country by providing state ophthalmic societies with the necessary financial resources to fight optometric surgical-scope expansion that threatens patient safety and quality of surgical care, and
  • The OPHTHPAC® fund, which supports congressional candidates who are sensitive to ophthalmology patients and issues.

You might feel that your membership won’t really make a difference, but it truly does. Medical associations are the only ones looking out for MDs, and they’re working hard to preserve our profession. They need our help.

By joining your state ophthalmology society, you’re making an investment in your future. I encourage you to join and continue to support our societies—for the sake of your patients and your great profession.

For a contact list of state ophthalmology societies, visit the Academy’s directory.

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About the author: Diana R. Shiba, MD, is chair of the YO Advocacy Subcommittee and a physician working in the Kaiser system in southern California.

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