Article Date: 6/1/2012

Road to Becoming an OptoCrat
From the AOSA

Road to Becoming an OptoCrat

How a student's political experiences changed her view of optometry.

By Amber Dunn Vice President, AOSA

WHEN I BEGAN optometry school, I knew that once I graduated, I'd be a doctor who would care for patients' eyes. I had no idea that optometry is so much more than that. In school, I often heard that optometry is a “legislative profession.” But what does that mean?

Mrs. Dunn Goes to Washington

In the middle of my first year at Pacific University, I was named Trustee-Elect, meaning I would represent the school on the national level. As part of this position, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby for optometry. Up to that point, I had no idea what “legislative profession” meant. Upon my arrival in Washington in 2010, I was given a packet with the details of various bills affecting optometry. It wasn't until after reading the material, talking with other doctors from Oregon and sitting through the advocacy general session that I began to understand how optometry is a legislative profession.

Though never previously involved with daily politics, a political fire was suddenly lit inside me. This feeling was invigorating as we were appearing at the capital the next day.

After meeting with House Representatives and Senators about the importance of these bills for optometrists, the time came to head home, as a beaming Opto-Crat. I spoke to faculty, students and staff about my experience and how important it was to “fight” for our profession.

I wasn't able to make it to D.C. in 2011, but I stayed involved at the local level. The students at Pacific University worked hard to increase the number of members in our local chapter of AOA-PAC. We also sent many students to Salem, Oregon, to speak with local legislators. While in Salem, I sat in on meetings with different legislators. The last was with a House Representative who lived in my district. Once the meeting was over, I thanked her and handed her my business card, asking her to make an appointment with me.

Legislator Learns

She appeared on my last day of clinic. During her exam, she asked many questions about optometry. We talked about why I ran certain tests, what the outcomes meant and why it's important to have children see an optometrist at an early age. She left with a new set of contact lenses, a pair of eyeglasses — and a new outlook on our field.

Making a Difference

The 2012 Advocacy Conference went down in history. We hit the capital with more than 300 optometry students — 689 ODs and students in total! By that time, I had more knowledge of the profession and what was standing in the way of our giving patients access to the care they need.

A professor from Pacific University, Dr. Hannu Laukkanen, shares his experience of the Conference: “Successful political activism has allowed optometry to better serve the public professionally, but each of us needs to remember that it's an ongoing challenge. We must step up when called upon by the needs of the noble profession to which we belong.”

It has been a few months since more than 650 of us OptoCrats hit the hill, and it was just confirmed by Dr. Dori Carlson, AOA President, that we picked up 20 cosponsors on the bills we brought to Washington.

Eager to Share Her Passion

Finishing up my last year of optometry school, I find myself eager to meet with politicians again. I have grown from a student intern for a legislative profession into an Optocrat. I hope to continue to spread the passion of optometric politics to the students, faculty and practicing physicians that surround me. nOD

Amber Dunn is a fourth year student at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. She received her BS from Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. Amber currently serves as the Vice President of the AOSA. After graduation, she plans on finding a private practice opportunity in Oregon. You can reach her at ADunn@theaosa.orgbio.

Optometric Management, Volume: , Issue: June 2012, page(s): 67