UMSL students, alumni connect and learn during week of optometry meetings

by | Jun 24, 2019

Thousands of doctors, students and vendors from across the nation descended upon St. Louis and the College of Optometry for the annual Optometry's Meeting last week.
From left: Jessica Broodryk, Lauren Ward, Rebecca Weinberger and Madison Moss greet the horses at the AOA and AOSA Block Part on Wednesday. (Photos by Jessica Rogen)

From left, Jessica Broodryk, Lauren Ward, Rebecca Weinberger and Madison Moss greet the horses at the AOA and AOSA Block Part on Wednesday. (Photos by Jessica Rogen)

The bounce houses were visible from afar. Then, the carnival rides became perceptible followed by a miniature arch, tents, food trucks, bubbles and banners.

The horses came into view within a block of the American Optometric Association and American Optometric Student Association headquarters.

One white and one brown stood at the corner of the parking lot festooned with every imaginable attraction last Wednesday. The quadrupeds and their selfie-taking fans ­– swarms of optometrists, students, friends and family ­– were in attendance for the AOA and AOSA Block Party, held as part of the 122nd AOA Congress and 49th AOSA Optometry’s Meeting conference.

The conference, which took place from Wednesday to Sunday, was the heart of a week of optometric meetings that began June 17. The University of Missouri–St. Louis helped welcome thousands of doctors, students and vendors from across the nation for five days of celebration, continuing education, networking and more.

Optometry's Meeting is an oportunity for students from accross the nation to get together for connections, education and fun.

Optometry’s Meeting is an opportunity for students from across the nation to get together for connections, education and fun.

This was a unique year for Optometry’s Meeting, which, for the first time, took place in the AOA headquarters’ hometown and a city boasting one of the 23 optometry schools nationwide. In accordance, the UMSL College of Optometry had an expanded role, hosting several events that included an alumni party on Friday.

“It gives our students an opportunity to recognize the importance of connecting to other individuals and staying affiliated with an organization that advocates for our patients and for optometry as a profession,” College of Optometry Dean Larry Davis said. “They appreciate the camaraderie and connections that they make.”

AOA and AOSA Optometry’s Meeting

From left: Lauren Dermody and Katlyn Flood worked Optometry's Meeting as continuing education monitors.

From left, Lauren Dermody and Katlyn Flood worked Optometry’s Meeting as continuing education monitors.

Lime green was the new black downtown at the America’s Center Convention Complex, which hosted the annual professional event, as optometry students in bright shirts stood guard outside continuing education classrooms.

Working the conference was one way that students could get involved in the experience. Plus, it paid well.

Katlyn Flood, a third year at UMSL, made back her registration fee with extra to spare. She relished being among so many passionate about optometry.

“The conference is good networking,” said Lauren Dermody, Flood’s continuing education partner. “The vendors are the best part. It’s nice to see all the innovations in optometry and get excited for the future when I’m a doctor.”

The conference boasted an exhibit hall with more than 200 vendors and featured over 100 events. Some highlights were the National Optometry Hall of Fame inductions on Thursday and the AOSA Optometry Student Bowl XXVIII powered by Essilor – a competitive trivia contest for optometry students. Fourth-year student Lacie Spagnola represented UMSL at the event.

From Thursday through Saturday, the AOA House of Delegates – the profession’s assembly of leaders and decision-makers – met to determine optometry’s strategic direction. Optometric scope of practice is determined legislatively and thus varies greatly state to state.

“We don’t get privileges without going to the legislature and getting them,” said Erin Brooks, assistant clinical professor and student volunteer coordinator. “It helps introduce the students to optometry legislation. If you look back at optometry’s history, before a lot of the legislation, we were basically people who did prescriptions, and we’ve gotten to the place where now we manage pretty complicated eye diseases.”

From left: UMSL students Sydni Davis Farhat and George Dowdy with Nova Southeastern University students Adriana Garcia Aybar and Alisha Kothari.

From left, UMSL students Sydni Davis Farhat and George Dowdy met Nova Southeastern University students Adriana Garcia Aybar and Alisha Kothari. “I love this field,” said UMSL student Sydni Davis Farhat. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The delegates discussed the safety of telemedicine for optometric care, educating the American public on the need for annual eye exams, advances in the field, student loans and debt, consumer protections and expanding scope of practice – especially the Future Practice Initiative, which partners with state agencies on lobbying efforts.

“Over the past years, armies of professions advocates have been hard at work diligently championing to update laws that will allow Americans to receive full access to primary eye care services they need and desire,” AOA President Samuel Pierce said in his address on Thursday.

“It requires a unique combination of elements to succeed and the Future Practice Initiative helps those states poised to change with increased lobbying firepower, political presence and even on-the-ground support.

“Increased optometric scope of practice results in quality care.”

Amid the festivities, UMSL invited the optometric community to campus. The College of Optometry hosted an event Friday evening at the Patient Care Center that included food trucks, games and networking among alumni, students, faculty and staff, and friends.

In part, the evening honored UMSL Professor and Assistant Dean for Student Services Edward Bennett as he retires from 37 years of service to the college. Bennett is also the executive director of the GP Lens Institute, the educational division of the Contact Lens Manufacturers Association, and serves as chair of the Contact Lens and Cornea Section Council of the AOA.

This year’s conference theme was “Meet Me in St. Louis,” and the event was sponsored by industry leaders such as Johnson & Johnson, Alcon, Essilor, AOAExcel, Bausch + Lomb, Hoya, Allergan, CooperVision and Novartis.

From left: UMSL Chancellor Tom George speaks about Edward Bennett's 37 years of service while College of Optometry Dean Larry Davis looks on during Friday's event at the Patient Care Center. (Photo by Janice White)

From left, UMSL Chancellor Tom George speaks about Edward Bennett’s 37 years of service while College of Optometry Dean Larry Davis looks on during Friday’s event at the Patient Care Center. (Photo by Janice White)

Flex Your Superpowers: inaugural Women in Optometry magazine summit

Finding out she was on the brink of multiple organ failure forced self-proclaimed Type A entrepreneur Amina AlTai to acknowledge that her workaholic ways had to go.

Newly diagnosed with two autoimmune conditions, AlTai set about discovering how to get healthy and then began a new business sharing her hard-earned knowledge with other entrepreneurs.

AlTai told her story to a group of approximately 80 optometrists Wednesday as the keynote speaker for the inaugural Women in Optometry magazine summit, “Flex Your Superpowers.” The magazine held the event in the J.C. Penney Building Summit Lounge.

The four-hour summit featured addresses from a plethora of women in positions of power in optometry that ranged from doctor to editor to industry marketer. Through their talks – which covered topics such as the 80/20 rule, the optometric income gap and living professional and personal lives – the women shared strategies, information and challenges while supporting one another in the profession.

“I love events where women build each other up,” 2010 alumna Jenny Redfern said. “It’s so overlooked.”

Fellow UMSL alumna Laura Bequette agreed, noting that the event’s uniqueness in the industry drew her attention. She also appreciated having it in her hometown, especially since optometrists now have to do 50 percent of their continuing education onsite.

Allergan took top billing as lead sponsor with CooperVision as platinum sponsor. The event was also made possible with support from Alphagan P, Combigan, Lumigan, Refresh and Restasis.

The half-day’s themes may have been best summed up by Jennifer Palombi, CooperVision senior manager for professional and scientific communication, who told her struggle deciding what story she should share with the group.

“I don’t need to get up here and give you all a moment or revelation about how to live your best life,” she said. “That’s what this summit is.”

From left: Maria Tantsits, Stevi James, Kailey Utley and Sydni Davis Farhat gathered at Optometry's Meeting on Thursday.

From left, UMSL students Tantsits, Stevi James, Kailey Utley and Farhat gathered at Optometry’s Meeting on Thursday. “In optometry, everyone wants to help one another because it’s such a small field,” said UMSL student Maria Tantsits. “It’s also a reunion and a chance to meet students from across the country.”

ASCO Conference held at UMSL

The UMSL College of Optometry hosted meetings of the Association of Colleges and Schools of Optometry Student Affairs Officers Wednesday and Thursday in the ED Collabitat on South Campus. The agenda included topics such as accepting alternative standardized examinations, admissions, diversity and inclusion, mentorship, alumni involvement, effective communications and mental health.

The 40-some officers and ASCO staff members also had a chance to tour UMSL’s facilities.

“It’s an entire profession coming together and getting worked on,” Davis said. “It gives us an opportunity to invite all the attendees to see what UMSL is doing in optometry.”

On Thursday, Mike DiCaprio of Butler/Till and Molly Enright of Truth Collective unveiled the progress of ASCO’s newly launched social media campaign, which is aimed at prospective optometry students in their junior and senior years of undergraduate school and features video of practicing optometrists including Muriel Martinez of Houston.

“They are trying to capture who the doctor is as a person,” she said on Tuesday. “If I’m able to help bring applicants to optometry school because I’m just living my best life, that’s awesome.”

Alcon, ProgressIQ and National Vision sponsored the meeting.

Jessica Rogen

Jessica Rogen