Article Date: 4/1/2009

To Certify or Not to Certify, That is the Question for Optometry
o.d. to o.d.

To Certify or Not to Certify, That is the Question for Optometry

Unfortunately, due to reaction, presumption and misunderstanding, the answer has not been clear.

BY WALTER D. WEST, O.D., F.A.A.O.
Chief Optometric Editor

I'd like to share some thoughts regarding the certification of optometrists. Certification is one of the strongest, most polarizing issues optometry has faced in years. Interest in certification began as early as 1968, so it's not a new issue. Yet listening to the opposing points of view, it occurred to me that in many cases the two sides aren't discussing, arguing or excited about the same thing.

Knee-jerk reactions?

My experience in mediation has taught me that the first thing those in disagreement must agree on is the disagreement, and I'm not sure that's the case here. Many of the responses I hear in opposition to certification seem "knee-jerk," as opposed to opinions formed through due diligence and careful consideration of the issue. Likewise, many proponents of certification "drank the Kool-Aid." In other words, without having a clear and complete understanding of the facts, they now espouse "their version" of certification.

So here we are, with thousands of O.D.s in favor of "their version" of what they believe certification is and thousands of O.D.s opposed to what "their version" is. The Joint Board Certification Project Team (JBCPT) comprised of the American Optometric Association, the American Academy of Optometry, the Association of Regulatory Boards of Optometry, the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry, the National Board of Examiners In Optometry, and the American Optometric Student Association are taking a lot of heat for their development of a model for board certification. But, it's nothing compared with the heat they would take if an entity outside of optometry mandated certification, and the aforementioned organizations hadn't prepared optometry for it.

It's your choice

One thing that should be made clear is that certification will be voluntary. In other words, it's your choice. However, you must recognize that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the National Committee for Quality Assurance, the National Quality Forum, healthcare plans, state governments and the general public all view certification as a means of ensuring they receive the best value for the dollars they spend.

Personally, I'd rather not prepare for — and take — a certification exam. But, I will do so in an effort to prepare for what I believe lies ahead for all healthcare providers.

A couple of suggestions:

"Recertify" rather than "certify." My concern is that this effort will receive much press. While it sounds very positive and forward thinking of O.D.s to become certified, it also screams that optometrists aren't and haven't been certified. It doesn't change the excellent care patients receive, but it might beg the question: "Why isn't my optometrist certified?" Also, let's ensure that the certification process includes the material and courses to prepare for the exam and that no entities that support certification are motivated by profit.

Demonstrating competency

In closing, certification is the focus of all the current discussions, but the real root issue is competency. Certification is merely a process by which you and I are given an opportunity to demonstrate our level of competency that thereby identifies us as worthy of comparison to any other certified practitioner and more importantly, worthy of our patients' trust. OM



Optometric Management, Issue: April 2009