“If the opposite of pro is con, then the opposite of progress must be Congress.”
Mark Twain’s humorous quotation from 150 years ago is still used to describe our government today. Many of us are often frustrated by the actions of our legislators — “meaning-less” use, prohibiting Avastin — and unfortunately, this has resulted in cynicism and disengagement from the legislative process. It is imperative that we as ophthalmologists remain engaged politically for the future of our profession and most importantly for the well-being of our patients.
My first exposure to advocacy began during my residency at the Mid-Year Forum, through the Academy’s Advocacy Ambassador Program. It was an enlightening experience to walk through the hallowed halls of Congress, where laws are made and deals are done. I saw firsthand the importance of being engaged. My chairman, the late Ronald Smith, always said, “If you are not at the table, then you are on the menu!” Mark Twain’s cynicism of Congress aside, our legislators try to do what’s best; it is our duty to our profession and to our patients to speak up and help them be informed.
After completing my training, I became more involved with the Academy through a variety of volunteer positions in the Education and Communications divisions. Today, I am fortunate to serve on the Committee of Secretaries and have witnessed the tireless work the Board of Trustees does for our profession at a multitude of levels — from optometric scope battles to the IRIS® Registry. Their drive and dedication make me proud to be part of the Academy.
My first “call to arms” was this past summer in my home state of California. Though the state legislature derailed optometric expansion bills one year prior, optometrists introduced another bill. This one would have given optometrists sweeping new privileges, including eyelid surgery, lasers and intravitreal injections. The bill passed the California State Senate by an overwhelming margin of 33-4. Its passage through the California State Assembly into law was thought to be a mere formality.
With our backs against the wall and our efforts to stop it at the Senate level a failure, ophthalmologists turned to our most valuable resource: patients. With the support of the Academy and the California Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons, we mobilized a patient-led grassroots campaign. All my patients were appalled by the thought of optometrists performing eye procedures. They became instant advocates for ophthalmology.
The bill was shelved, and patient safety and common sense prevailed.
By empowering our patients, we can amplify our voice one thousandfold and leverage our impact on the legislative process.
We won this battle in California, but the scope-of-practice fight will go on. We must all be ready for the next.
Ophthalmology is a wonderful profession. Preserving vision — the most precious of senses — is a special privilege. It is our duty to be good stewards of our profession and be the voice for our patients. That is why I am an advocate.
Rahul N. Khurana is a vitreoretinal surgeon at Northern California Retina Vitreous Associates and clinical associate professor of ophthalmology at University of California at San Francisco.