My sons have often said that they look forward
to finishing college so they won't have any more homework. My reply is,
"In this world where the knowledge base is doubling every couple of years,
you're going to be doing homework the rest of your lives."
The optometric profession is no exception in
our world, which is exploding with new knowledge and technology. Avenues such
as the Internet, continuing education and the optometric press provide us with
enormous amounts of data to digest.
Something to consider
This vast amount of information can be
overwhelming, but fortunately, we can use different resources to help us better
digest it. One of these resources is membership in the American Academy of
This month, I'll explain how becoming a
member in this organization can benefit you by expanding your knowledge, by
keeping you current on new information and by increasing your base of
I'll show you how by way of my own
experience in the journey to "diplomatehood."
After becoming a fellow in the AAO, I realized
that the level of education provided at the Academy's annual meetings was
exceptional. It also became apparent that the four groups, or sections
(diplomates), within the Academy had imposed academic demands and standards
upon themselves that were much above the norm.
Incidentally, the Primary Care Section has
recently been added, bringing the total to five.
The diplomate decision
The reputations and expertise of the
diplomates intrigued me, stimulating a desire for me to improve my own level of
knowledge. They also served as a conduit for me to keep abreast of the
exploding information base in eye care.
These Academy members had spent considerable
time expanding their knowledge so that they could pass the testing required to
become a diplomate in the Academy. Many of them offered me encouragement and
advice about becoming a member.
The different sections within the Academy
have a way of fitting the needs and specialization of each practitioner. I
elected to work toward becoming a diplomate in the Cornea and Contact Lens
As part of the process to becoming a
diplomate in the AAO, a few things are expected from you, mainly that you write
the case reports and that you pass the tests.
� Case reports. These two words keep many optometric physicians from even attempting to
become an Academy fellow, much less getting started toward becoming a
It's part of the process and it takes time. I admit that I had the same
reservations, but computers have made this process much easier. Here are some
other points to keep in mind:
o I recommend completing one case report and sending it
to the section case report chairperson for review. You'll probably receive a
reply listing improvements that you need to make in your case report. Don't be
offended -- these comments and corrections are meant to help you write the rest
of your reports in a format that meets the requirements of the committee. Once
you get rolling, it's not that difficult to write 10 case reports.
o This stage makes you aware of what shape your records
are in. I realized that my records were inadequate and that I needed to make
The process also helps you analyze whether your examination procedures, coupled
with the case presentation and treatment plan, make sense.
It's surprising how some of the treatment plans aren't quite as pristine as
you'd hoped when you revisit the case months down the road.
o Writing case reports taught me how to better organize
and dictate letters to other doctors. These forced writing lessons also
improved my knowledge of terms, spelling and grammar.
After I finished my case reports and they were approved, I realized that it was
all definitely worth the effort. Not just because of the reward of Section
membership, but also because of the improvements in my patient care and
After you've had one case report approved, you can start taking the tests at
the next Academy meeting.
With at least one case report under your belt, you're ready for the final
stretch � testing, which consists of identifying conditions on slides, passing
a written test and examining patients in an evaluation of clinical skills. It's
a formidable task, but doable.
Once you've passed these tests and your case reports have all been approved,
you're ready for the last hurdle � the oral examination given by two or three
By this stage, you're prepared. The diplomates usually ask questions relative
to your case reports and to pertinent subjects that are hot topics in current
Worth the effort
Although I often cursed the entire process,
I realized after completing the program that wisdom, rather than madness, was
behind the plan. Improved writing skills, planned study time and peer review
all culminated to improve my knowledge base.
My partner, Russell Laverty, just completed
the diplomate program. He was frustrated at times, and I know he wanted to
quit. But he persisted, and is now a diplomate in the Cornea and Contact Lens
Section. Russell would now also tell you that it was worth the effort.
Choose your associates wisely
Although I'm probably repeating myself from
previous columns, much or most of our success in life depends on who we select
as our associates � so choose them wisely.
Being a diplomate allows you to attend and
participate in advanced continuing education provided by the section. Also,
these optometric physicians are a terrific resource for consultation when you
have that tough case and need help.
This added credential opens doors for
clinical studies, other research and inclusion in special forums. Contact lens,
solution and pharmaceutical companies recognize the advanced certification and
These companies need consultants and
clinical investigators for opinions and research. Where better to find the
talent they need than the diplomates in the Academy sections?
A notable achievement
I consider becoming a diplomate of the AAO
to be one of my greatest achievements. I'm sure those of you who are diplomates
feel the same way. And if you're not a fellow or a diplomate, perhaps this
column served as incentive for you to join the Academy.
The process expanded my knowledge, helped me
become a better communicator and served as another avenue for me to stay
abreast of new research. And, yes � I still have homework.