A Bill to Include Optometry in Student Loan Repayment!

U.S. Senate Leader Introduces AOA-Backed NHSC Optometric Inclusion Bill

With backing from the AOA and the Arkansas Optometric Association, United States Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) yesterday introduced into the U.S. Senate the National Health Service Corps Improvement Act – an effort aimed at providing desperately-needed access to primary eye and vision care services in underserved communities throughout Arkansas and across the nation.

“Eye doctors often graduate with a mountain of student loan debt, forcing them to work in private practice or urban communities,” Pryor said. “This legislation opens the opportunity for an optometrist to fill a real need. With on-site vision services at community health centers, children in Arkansas are more likely to receive proper eye care, be able to see the blackboard in the classroom and do better in school as a result.”

An effort supported by U.S. Senator John Boozman, O.D. (R-Ark.), Community Health Centers of Arkansas, Inc., and others, the bill would make doctors of optometry eligible, once again, for the NHSC student loan repayment and scholarship program. While new to the Senate, the Pryor bill mirrors companion legislation (HR 1195) now widely supported among members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“With the recognition that primary eye care is a critical component in the health care delivery system, but not often found in underserved communities, Senator Pryor’s legislation will expand the list of eligible health care providers who may apply for NHSC Loan Repayment and Scholarships,” said Sip Mouden, CEO of Community Health Centers of Arkansas, Inc. “Once enacted, optometrists will be eligible to apply for NHSC loan repayment, and in return, will pay back those loans by providing primary eye care in underserved and rural communities.”

In the opening days of April, a record-number of AOA doctors and students are expected to descend on the nation’s capital for the 2012 Congressional Advocacy Conference. Bringing AOA’s pro-access, pro-patient message to nearly every House and Senate office on Capitol Hill, ODs and students will be urging elected leaders to back the Pryor bill, HR 1195, as well as Medicaid OD physician recognition legislation (HR 1219), and a number of other AOA priorities.

To read Sen. Pryor’s full announcement on the introduction of the National Health Service Corps Improvement Act, please follow: http://www.pryor.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2012/3/pryor-seeks-to-improve-access-to-eye-care-for-rural-families

To learn more about the 2012 AOA Congressional Advocacy Conference, please visit: http://www.aoa.org/x20634.xml

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NECO – The Longest Visit Yet!

Ah, it’s been far too long since I journaled about my adventures at each of the schools so I am attempting to catch up on things.  I have now been bragging about  NECO at each of my recent school visits saying it was the longest student session so far.  Perhaps that is because I keep making it longer in my head – but I think it’s the truth.  We started at 6 pm and it was at least 2 1/2 hours of conversation.

The questions were great!  Lots of candor.  Questions about discrimination.  Questions about how to get involved.  Questions about Congressional Conference and how students could be involved.  The room was packed and people were sitting along the sides of the room – as well as students in what they refer to as a ‘remote room’.  I was conferenced in to another room because there wasn’t enough room in the regular classroom.  I had forgotten about it until the phone next to me rang when someone won one of the raffles.

The best part of the day was feedback I received the NEXT day.  The President of the school shared that a student told him she was inspired to make a difference.  I cannot tell you how much that made my day.

 

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For The Love of Optometry …

“And the earth shook in fear when I arrived in Washington, D.C. to visit with Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.”

Okay, perhaps that’s a little bit of a stretch, but it is true to a certain extent.

Last month, AOA staff and I were granted some time with Ms. Sebelius to talk about the pediatric vision benefit that has yet to be defined inside of health care reform.  A meeting at a time when she is not granting many meetings showed the importance of AOA and a topic that could potentially help millions of children in the United States – eye exams for kids.  A basic premise of life… it is much easier to learn when one can see well.

I also had the opportunity to visit with Dr. Alexa Posny, assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.  She was one of our keynote speakers at the
School Readiness summit last April.  This was a great meeting to touch base with her, and talk about early intervention for kids to detect vision problems that could affect learning.

Now, back to the part about the earth shaking in fear.

I experienced my very first earthquake that same day.  For my California friends who are laughing, I realize a 5.-something quake is no big deal for you, but it did seem to create
some fear in Washington, D.C.  I was on a plane at the gate when the earthquake hit.
I wondered if high winds caused the plane to rock like it did, but really wasn’t sure what happened.  The humor was not lost by the pilot who came over the airwaves saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have some good news and some bad.  The good news is we’re ready to push back.  The bad news is the rocking you just felt was an earthquake and the tower was swaying so much that everyone vacated the tower.  We’re not going anywhere until someone gets back up in the tower to give us directions.”

From DC I traveled to Charlotte, NC — where the impending hurricane was supposed to land — for the AOA Ophthalmic Council™ meeting.  The Ophthalmic Council, which was formed in 1998, addresses key issues affecting the vision care community, and is
comprised of a cross-section within the ophthalmic community. Its purpose is to
create an informational forum for the leaders of the ophthalmic industry and the AOA to communicate their respective ideas and concerns and to enhance and advance the ophthalmic industry to better serve the patient/consumer.

We had a productive meeting, but ultimately decided to cancel the AOA Board meeting that followed it.  Charlotte is a hub, and there were concerns we would be stuck for a few
days because of disrupted air travel.

The rest of this last month has been made up of conference calls in an attempt to address concerns that would have normally been handled at our board meeting.  I’ve been gearing
up to travel to several meetings this fall and I started up my school tour to visit the remaining 11 universities.   I had three stops in the month of September.
I wish I could take all of you on these stops with me as I have learned so much.  I’m teaching them and they’re teaching me.

So, the 200+ e-mails in a day.  The hours spent on the phone discussing
issues where I’m trying to build a consensus.   The juggling of running two practices, doing payroll for the staff (yes, I still do that), trying to get everything ready for attestation of Meaningful Use of EHR, celebrating birthday week in our home (boys with birthdays six days apart), and starting up the second half of my school tour – it’s all worth it
– especially when I get phone calls from members thanking me for being an
advocate for optometry.  A colleague called me last week purely for the purpose of thanking me for what I’m doing on behalf of AOA.  Thank you for that pep talk!  I needed it.

It’s for the love of our profession.  I love being an Optometrist.  My best friend/husband is an Optometrist and I have a son who told Wayne Brady this past June he wanted to be an
Optometrist.

So earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, issues affecting the future of Optometry – bring it on!  Personally I like a good snowstorm now and then.  I do live in North Dakota, after
all.

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37 Things you can do as an Optometrist?

PCO Visit

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit with the students at PCO.  The entire POA Board was at the event as well since they were getting ready to head to Harrisburg to visit with Senators.  There is a bill that has been making its way first through the House and now through the Senate that would define what Optometrists could do in the state of Pennsylvania.  It has a list of 37 things you can do as an optometrist - 3 of which are hot compresses, auto refraction and Optos.  Sometimes we become complacent and think we’ve got things pretty good.  It’s not until a bill like this comes along that can change things in an instant.  The Pennsylvania Association is working hard to defeat this bill and asked the students for help.  About 85 students traveled to Harrisburg a few days after the event.  I’m proud of each of them.  I’m proud they got involved and realized they could make a difference.  There is still work to be done but I’m happy to say there is a group of energetic students in PA who aren’t afraid of a little bit of hard work.  Go get ‘em!

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SCO – 4 HOURS with students and PAGES of ideas.

Four hours with students!  Two hours spent with an incredible group of present and future leaders (shown in the picture) followed by two full hours with an auditorium full of students.  It’s really hard to NOT be passionate about our profession when you spend a day with a passionate group of people.

Over coffee I asked this small group a question:  “If you could tell all the Presidents and Pres-Elects and ED’s of the state affiliates one thing, what would you tell them?”  They brought up several items.  1.  They want an easier way to transition their membership.  They want a single website where they can update their information during graduation.  2. They want states to come to their school and talk to them.  3.  They want each state to give a couple of travel grants to students from their state in order to get more students to Congressional Conference.  4. They want to get state newsletters and be a student member of their home state at little to no cost.  Sometimes they want to join multiple and fees add up.

I have a few pages of notes from day at SCO so it was a busy day of ideas.  Keep ‘em coming folks!

They Saved a Spot for Me!

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Michigan College of Optometry visit

Last week I had a unique school visit experience.  I had just about every 1-3 year student at Michigan College of Optometry AND several faculty AND the entire Michigan Optometric Assn board at my “Lessons for Optometry” session.  I estimate there were about 150 people in the room that evening.  As a result I was able to incorporate some comments for faculty and board members in to my talk.  Loved the questions I got as well.  Truthfully that’s my favorite part – the questions I get afterwards.  And guess what – there were students from North Dakota too!

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Back to School

I feel like I was on summer vacation.  I haven’t toured a school or written in this blog since last May when I visited UMSL.  That’s not to say I haven’t been busy … I just haven’t been in school mode.  I bought a new suit and I have a new suitcase so I’ve been getting ready though.  A little like ‘back to school’ shopping for my boys.  Tonight I’m packing that new suitcase since tomorrow I travel to Big Rapids, MI to visit with the students and faculty at Michigan College of Optometry.  I’m especially excited to see their new building.  I saw the old one so it will be fun to see the changes.  Nine schools toured and only eleven more to go.  Wish me luck!

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WOW!

 

I started my vist at UMSL on Thursday seeing this!  UMSL (Heart) DORI!  What a great welcome!  Thank you so much to the students who did this.  This was the start of an incredible day.  I had about 150 people in the audience to listen and ask questions.  The great surpirse was having all the 4th years attending as they were back on campus for graduation.  I think my favorite part was sharing my story about Dr. Wingert meeting my son.  I was waiting to get to UMSL to be able to share that story.

I was also asked to participate in the White Coat Ceremony for the 2nd years.  What a touching ceremony.  Dr. Bennett really made it personal for each student.   The day was topped off with spending a couple hours with the faculty.  An extremely dedicated group of folks that asked some great questions.  I wish every day was like this one!  Thank you!!!

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Wouldyouliketoprepayforgas?

Wouldyouliketoprepayforgasyoucanprepayforafulltankhalftankoraquartertank?  I had to have the “boy” at the car rental agency repeat that a couple of times last night.  I don’t think I’m terribly slow but I really didn’t realize you could make all of that in to one word!  I arrived here in St. Louis last night to visit UMSL today.  Stop #9 on my tour. 

But, back to the boy.  He was amazing.  He whipped through his questions so quickly that I just stood back and watched his lips move.  I found myself thinking …… I hope I don’t treat my patients this way!  I do sometimes joke about how I can push the ‘glaucoma button’ or the ‘dry eye button’ when explaining things to patients.  Things do get repetitive some days.  We all need to remember patients are people too and deserve ALL of our attention.  I know I will be thinking of this kid at the car rental agency on Monday when I get back to taking care of people in my clinic.

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147 Students and Counting ….

Last week we had a record number of students at the Congressional Conference in Washington, DC.  The students were so instrumental in our messaging on the Hill and what an incredibly dedicated group.  Great job!  I have one request – I want to see even MORE students next year.

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