Optometry students, faculty, alumni travel to Jefferson City to lobby and connect
“I’m only 24, and sometimes it can feel like nobody wants to hear my voice,” said University of Missouri–St. Louis student Kate Hamm while discussing a recent trip to Jefferson City, Missouri. “But when I’m lobbying, I feel like that isn’t true at all. I really do have something valuable to say, and I think there are people who are willing to listen.”
Hamm, who is a second-year student in the Doctor of Optometry program at UMSL, was in the state capital – along with several of her professors and fellow classmates – to attend the Missouri Optometric Association Conference on Jan. 23.
As Larry Davis, dean of the College of Optometry explained, “The day provides students the opportunity to network with optometrists and future colleagues from the region. The seeds for future professional partnerships and employee relationships are often planted in conversations throughout the day, and a continuing education program is also available for optometrists who attend.”
In short, the conference agenda is part advocacy, part networking, part education and more. Around 30 current UMSL students made the trip this year, in addition to many alumni who are now practicing professionals in the field.
Lobbying experience comes into play because attendees have the opportunity to get up close and personal with state legislators who, as Hamm explained, directly impact the profession of optometry.
“Optometry is a completely legislation-based profession in terms of what we are legally allowed to do for our patients,” Hamm said. “From being able to use eye drops for dilation to the prescribing of contact lenses, everything we do comes down to the bills that are passed.”
While Hamm says that much of the legislative discussion doesn’t technically apply to her as a student quite yet, it will someday soon, so having this opportunity to practice discussing and advocating for issues of concern is vitally important.
“For a lot of students, this day is a first chance to get to know that aspect of our career,” Hamm said, “to understand how doctors and legislators have to work together and the kind of power we have as patient advocates. These people literally have our future in their hands.”
At this year’s conference, in particular, informational sessions in the morning gave both students and doctors the chance to hear from and express concerns about the new legislature, as well as get their questions answered about upcoming potential changes to insurance and other issues that could affect patient care.
In the afternoon, students participated in the delivering of cinnamon rolls to the Missouri State Capitol – a fun but important annual tradition that allows students the opportunity to speak one-on-one with the legislators.
For Hamm, this was the best part of the day.
Visiting the governor’s office and having a particularly great conversation with representative Bill White, who she felt truly took the time to listen to her concerns and perspective as a future doctor of optometry, were special highlights.
“I think we tend to put the legislators on pedestals,” Hamm said, reflecting on what made the interactions so important to her. “We tend to forget that they’re human, too. And I think just speaking with them, having face-to-face conversations not just about the issues but about their lives, about their kids or grandkids who are in high school or whatever it may be, is the best way to be reminded of that – that we’re all just people hopefully doing our best.”
Hamm hopes to keep that human connection in mind as she makes future plans to continue her lobbying efforts. In addition to returning to Jefferson City with her UMSL cohort, she intends to travel to D.C. later this year.
“Right now, for many reasons, a lot of people feel unheard,” Hamm said. “I feel like through my lobbying on behalf of optometry, I get to be a small part of changing that. It may not be perfect, but it is something. I’m proud of that. I realize now that I’ve never felt more American than when I’m using my voice.”
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