Some 1,400 members have already joined the newly-formed organization called the American Optometric Society (AOS). Originally named the Association of Concerned Optometrists, the organization got started in reaction to the controversial vote in favor of board certification at the AOA’s House of Delegates meeting in June.
On its website, AOS says that the Delegates’ decision to approve board certification happened “despite overwhelming opposition by both the general membership of the AOA and optometrists generally, making it plainly apparent that ‘rank and file’ optometrists no longer have a voice in their profession.
“This organization was founded by several O.D.s who were outraged as much by the lack of fairness and representation applied by the AOA … about board certification, as by the issue itself,” says Pamela J. Miller, O.D., J.D., of Highland, Calif., who was recently elected president of AOS.
“[AOS founders] considered this lack of respect a more serious breach of trust than the underhanded way board certification was passed by the AOA, in direct opposition to the sentiment of the AOA membership,” Dr. Miller says.
AOS says that a prime example of this lack of representation occurred among California O.D.s. Before the vote at the House of Delegates, the California Optometric Association surveyed its membership. “Over 85% of those polled expressed an opinion that they were either against the AOA’s board certification plan or undecided, with less than 15% of those responding in favor at all of the AOA plan,” the AOS website says. “Yet the COA voted all 191 of its votes—the largest voting block in the AOA House of Delegates—for board certification.”
However, in a statement to its members, COA president Hilary Hawthorne, O.D., wrote, “The results of California’s survey did not indicate an overwhelming objection to board certification. Based on a survey of COA members, the responses only represented 23% of our entire membership who replied online, and of those respondents, only 48% opposed board certification based on the May 4th proposal.”
In any case, the AOS appears to be giving voice to a surprising number of disgruntled O.D.s. “The AOA says that very few O.D.s are upset about their board certification program,” Dr. Miller says. “But our membership reached more than 1,000 in just a few weeks, and that suggests a lot more than only a very few are upset.”
Are they upset enough to quit the AOA? It’s not clear just yet. Membership dues are paid through the end of the year, so no one will know how many O.D.s aren’t renewing their membership until next year, says an AOA spokesperson.
Indeed, the AOS is not advising O.D.s to drop their AOA membership. Rather, “the AOS is prepared to serve as a national level advocacy offering logistical and financial support to ensure that the AOA and the state associations appropriately represent their members,” Dr. Miller says. “We will work closely with all state organizations that are already committed to these principles and will work with local leaders to help them reclaim control of state organizations that do not reflect member perspectives.”
Since it started, AOS has not only elected a president and gathered hundreds of members, but also created a board of directors, posted a frequently-updated website (
www.optometricsociety.org), and established dues ($10 a month). What’s next? Dr. Miller says the AOS’s prime goal will be to continue to address the board certification issue, but the organization also aims to focus on access, national licensure, and other concerns.
“When an association does not listen to its members, does not act in the best interests of its members and is not open and honest, then significant changes must be made,” Dr. Miller says.