An editorial by Paul Farkas, MS, OD, FAAO, Administrator, ODwire.org
To remain current an organization, corporation, a practice and even an individual must constantly reevaluate their operation. The American Optometric Association (AOA) is an organization that should seriously reconsider their operation.
The AOA was organized in 1898. The structure and methods served optometrists well for over 100 years. Lately many feel the AOA leadership has lost its way. Optometry cannot afford to lose the AOA with a powerful infrasructuure in place to protect optometric interests.
Improvements should be considered to make the AOA function for 21st century needs. Some can be accomplished easily and in a relatively short period of time. Other issues are more complex and will take longer.
Let us consider important changes that could be accomplishd almost immediately.
1. Rethink the AOA public relations initiative
The Hill and Knowlton PR Agency was hired by the AOA with a mandate to to make the public understand modern optometry. After several years and a great deal of expense the average person still has little understanding of the ODs education, training and scope of practice. Making the AOA and optometry well known through social networking has not happened. Seek an OD or eye examination through Google and see the results...
There is no mention of the AOA website or any way to find an AOA member.
The time has come to shake up the AOA PR inititive looking for 21st century approaches using the internet and social networking as well as traditional advertising to inform the public of how an OD can benefit them. This can be accomplished during this year.
2. Making the “Optometry:the Journal of the AOA” profitable.
Every AOA member receives a copy of the AOA Journal as part of their membership. The articles are quality and refereed. Unfortunately when asked most recipients do not read them. Most have little to do with every day clinical practice; many are medically oriented. Some argue a professional association requires a prestigious publication whether well read or not.
Compare the number of ads in the AMA journal to the AOA Journal. The AMA journal has advertisers the AOA not a single ad. This is an unnecessary needless drain on membership dues.
The solution is to get advertisers to help fund the cost of printing and mailing. Most articles are about medical optometry. Pharmaceutical companies should be lined up wanting to place ads in the journal. This could be a reality during this year.
3. Relocate the AOA headquarters to the Washington, DC Area
During most of the 20th century having a central AOA Headquarters located in the St Louis made auto and train travel more convenient. With the advent of air travel and on line telecommunication the St Louis location is unnecessary.
The AOA is optometry's national lobbying group. At present there is a satellite Washington, DC office. This a needless expense if the AOA headquarters relocates to where the legislative action happens. An effective AOA in Washington is essential.
With membership prodding this could happen within five years. Resistance can be expected because few of the multitude of AOA employees would relish the idea of relocating to the Washington, DC area.
4. Essential change that must accomplished during the next decade
At present AOA members do not have a direct voice in electing the AOA officers or Trustees. In addition, in this age of online interconnection, there are few opinion polls and certainly no votes that directly affect the membership. Many feel the American Board of Optometry (ABO) would never had received AOA backing if the membership had their say.
To make the AOA a 21st century organization, there must be a change in the basic bylaws. State organizations should not be required to have their members automatically become AOA members if they disagree with the national organization. Many feel this might weaken the AOA decision making ability.
Change should discussed and a conclusion reached that would satisfy all, without the need for a splinter American Optometric Society (AOS). Former loyal AOA members would return to the AOA if there was an idication that reform is on the way.
Optometry is a small vulnerable profession, if divided. Every responsible optometric leader should make every effort to heal the wounds caused by recent actions. Restructuring the AOA for the 21st century would go a long way in accomplishing the healing process."