Optometry student Claire Saylor named vice president of the American Optometric Student Association

Claire Saylor

Claire Saylor, a student in the UMSL College of Optometry, will soon be the new vice president of the AOSA. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Going into the AOA on Capitol Hill virtual event in May 2021, Claire Saylor was getting nervous.

The new trustee-elect for the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ chapter of the American Optometric Student Association had barely wrapped up her first year in the College of Optometry, and felt as though she hardly knew anything. All members of the AOSA’s board of trustees were encouraged to attend the event, the American Optometric Association’s single-largest annual advocacy experience, which connects leaders in the optometry field with national policy leaders. As she geared up to chat virtually with practicing doctors and fellow optometry students from around the country, Saylor felt a bit like a fish out of water – but not for long.

“I initially felt like, ‘How am I going to do this?’” she said. “But the doctors that I was with for those calls really built into me and encouraged me to step up and speak rather than just kind of sit back and observe. Through that experience, I learned so much about optometry and I really fell in love with the component of advocacy and I know that I’m going to be a better doctor because of that experience. The amount of personal development and growth that I personally have had is why I believe so much in this organization and in the AOSA’s mission of empowering students as doctors of optometry because I have seen that in action in my own life, so I really want to encourage other students to have that.”

Empowered and invigorated by the experience, Saylor finished out her year as trustee-elect and is currently wrapping up her term as trustee. While she herself is drawn to the advocacy component of the AOSA, which is the student arm of the AOA, she stressed that the organization has something to offer all optometry students regardless of their interests.

“I’m very much pro-AOSA, obviously,” she said with a laugh. “But there’s so many other components of optometry – there’s academia and research and education and all that stuff. And that’s all necessary; you need that. I think that’s what’s beautiful about it. Just because I love advocacy doesn’t mean the next person does, but this organization can still encourage students and help them thrive even if they want to go more into research and academia. We’re still going to fight for them and encourage them and promote the profession as a whole.”

Saylor’s commitment to the AOSA hasn’t gone unnoticed: at its board of trustees’ meeting last month, she was honored as the AOSA’s Trustee of the Year for the 2022-23 school year. And later this spring, she’ll taken on even more responsibility with the organization when she transitions into the role of vice president.

As a national position on the AOSA’s executive council, the vice president role will involve a lot of behind-the-scenes work, developing the organization’s vision, guiding its priorities over the next year and being a more visible face of student representation.

“It’s looking at what current students need – what’s important?” Saylor said. “Looking at the work that’s been done this past year… What do we want to continue doing? What have we done really well? What may not have gone well? What do we want to tweak? Just so that we’re not becoming stagnant and we’re continuing to move the organization forward.”

As she gears up for her new role with the AOSA, Saylor, who studied chemistry with business management and biology minors at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford before coming to UMSL for optometry school, is also considering her future plans post-graduation. In particular, she’s interested in myopia (nearsightedness) management, and said she’d ideally like to practice in a small town. She’s grateful for the opportunities afforded through both the AOSA and UMSL – and happy she made the decision to enroll at the university in the first place.

“Picking UMSL is one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made,” she said. “I can’t imagine school anywhere else. I found some really good lifelong friends. All of our professors are so hand-on. They’re willing to work with you, they want to see you succeed, and if you’re struggling, they’re willing to go out of their way to help you. They talk about how med school is very competitive and you have to get really good grades to get the residency you want, and that is not the case for us at UMSL. It’s very collaborative. We want our classmates to succeed, so that’s been really enjoyable.”


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