• Academy’s Response in the Face of the COVID-19 Catastrophe

    As you embark on your new career in ophthalmology, you will not be alone. 

    The Academy volunteers and staff will be there beside you every step of the way as you transition from recent residency graduate to retiree. Although right now you may not realize how important it is to have a professional society that has your back, I can reassure you that it is. The Academy will help you succeed not just professionally but also personally. 

    Life can have many bumps, detours, and catastrophes. It makes a difference to have a professional society that is there to help you navigate both the good and bad times. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic is one of those unprecedented societal life events, and one of the Academy’s goals has been to help members avoid as much as possible any of the negative outcomes from the pandemic. 

    11 Ways We’re Working for You

    • On March 18, the Academy leadership issued a statement urging all ophthalmologists to stop providing treatment other than that which was urgent or emergent based on recommendations from the American College of Surgeons and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

      This was the first time that the Academy had issued a statement about ceasing the treatment of patients. Such a decision was not without controversy since there were ophthalmologists who wanted to continue providing care such as refractive surgery. Fortunately, these ophthalmologists eventually also ceased treatment unless it was urgent or emergent in an attempt to preserve precious personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical personnel. 
    • In March 2020, information on the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was conflicting and confusing, so the Academy created a special coronavirus update for ophthalmologists on the AAO.org website. Three of our physician volunteers, staff and leadership update this site with new information daily. If you have ever tried to write a newspaper article in the middle of a conflict, you know how they felt and how grateful we all are for their wisdom, perseverance, and hard work! 

    • The Academy’s desire to help educate members navigate this public health crisis did not stop with the website. We launched and sent a daily newsletter to members titled “COVID-19 Updates” with breaking news, resources, member survey results, upcoming and recorded webinars (six of the 13 webinars from April to June were on COVID-19), most popular website content and recognition for our ophthalmologists who had passed away. 

    • There was a special EyeNet® issue on COVID-19 that provided profiles from the pandemic, a roundtable on COVID-19, information on telemedicine and online education. We featured new COVID-19 EyeSmart content on the coronavirus with information about SARS-CoV-2 and eye health, guidance about treatment during sheltering in place and treatments of eye diseases while at home, along with new patient handouts on the coronavirus. 

    • As residents graduating in 2020, you are well aware that the Ophthalmic Knowledge Assessment Program (OKAP) testing centers closed four days before the March 21 exam because of the pandemic.

      At the request of the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology’s (AUPO) program directors, the OKAP exam was not canceled by the Academy. It was administered online using an online testing engine developed by Enforme and the Academy’s IT staff 37 days after the original test date. Since the OKAP exam is designed to help test your knowledge and help to prepare you for the American Board of Ophthalmology (ABO) written boards, it is fortunate that they were not canceled and that over 1,400 residents were able to complete the exam by May 31. 

    • Besides education and health policy, the Academy is very interested in you as a member. Thus, the Academy did several member pulse surveys this past spring to determine the pandemic’s effect on ophthalmology practices and patients. The data from these surveys is available through the Academy’s website and informs advocacy and education of members. 

    • The Academy extended the dues grace period from June 1 to Aug. 1 to help members, provided complimentary access to practice management resources from the American Academy of Ophthalmic Executives® (AAOE®) and launched a special membership rate to new applicants who join after May 2020. 

    • There are special sections on wellness during COVID-19 on the website which provide resources to help members cope with stress and protect and restore their own well-being. 

    • There are also practice management resources online regarding practice reopening and recovery federal stimulus programs, such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Paycheck Protection Program for COVID-19, telemedicine, practice operations and safety considerations. 

    • On May 12, the Academy held a Virtual Advocacy Day with 103 meetings with U.S. legislators and/or their staff via Zoom and phone/conference calls instead of the in-person advocacy day before Mid-Year Forum, which was canceled because of the pandemic. 

    • Currently, the Academy meetings staff is planning a virtual AAO 2020 meeting to engage and connect ophthalmologists worldwide and to deliver the critical scientific and clinical information that you expect from the Academy.

    In summary, every leader, division and staff member of the Academy has responded effectively and quickly to the new needs of members created by the pandemic. As far as I am concerned, I am very appreciative of all that the Academy has done since it would have been even more challenging to navigate the uncertainty and fear of these past several months without them. 

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    Anne L. Coleman, MD, PhDAbout the author: Anne L. Coleman, MD, PhD, is the president of the Academy’s Board of Trustees.