President's Calling - How Is It Possible?

Published November 19, 2019

How Is It Possible?

Dear Academy Membership,
"How is it possible" is the haunting phrase that lingers after the Plenary in Orlando. Dr. Alarcos Cieza silenced us all as she reported the astounding statistics that describe the burden of vision impairment in the world. How is it possible that over 800 million people have uncorrected refractive error as a barrier to their well being, their ability to read, work, and live?
And let us note, as Drs. Kovin Naidoo and Sandra Block presented, that those that require our help do not all live elsewhere. We must ask ourselves, how it is possible that there are children in school, sitting beside our children and grandchildren, who cannot learn because they cannot see? How there are elderly neighbors, isolated and immobile, who have no access to eye care. How is it possible?
How is it possible that we, as optometrists, did not know this? Or perhaps we did, and stored it away in that place where all the discordant violins play. That space in our brain that is too easy to ignore. How is it possible that we have not solved this utterly solvable problem.
I had a personal “how is it possible” moment associated with this Plenary. As president of this Academy, I was invited to the United Nations, at the same time as Greta graced the halls of the general assembly. Greta, our Cassandra, hurling blunt, bold, prophecies to the powerful deaf. And there were other voices. The Minister of Health of Rwanda calmly explaining: "You may know that we had a civil war in our country and that now we have very few doctors and nurses as most died during the violence." Violence and vision loss. This is our world.
This 2019 Plenary awakened more than my optometric conscience. It comes to mind when I see a homeless person on my way to work, when I watch the news, when I attend to a patient who has dementia. I ask myself how it is possible that I exited my Orlando hotel room leaving behind eight half-empty plastic water bottles? How is it possible that a German city recently declared a “Nazi emergency?” How is it possible that war has driven 30 million children from their homes?
Now let us dwell on the positive side of the possible. How is it possible, you might ask, that 8000 people, dedicated to excellence in eye care, can meet in the land of Disney with such hope? How do we manage to share our evidence-based standard of care, promote life-long learning, and take hard-won scientific results to clinical care? The “how” may be answered by considering the hard work of Academy staff, the diligence of our researchers, the wisdom of our lecturers. But the feeling, the joy, the collegiality, the selfies, the over 300 new Fellows, the energy of this meeting, remains a marvelous mystery.
If we, as a profession, can meet and share in this inspiring way, surely, we can take on the challenges of the global burden of vision loss. Let us be certain that as a profession, we keep our eyes on the global need, the national need, the local need. It is all possible.
Our Foundation is our foundation:
As a Foundation President's Circle Gold member, I am encouraged by the generous support of optometry's future from individual donors and industry partners. The collective long-term view and commitment to our vital profession and its constituents is humbling.
Our FAAO designation comes with the responsibility of Leadership and Legacy. Accordingly, the Foundation is calling on each Fellow to "Get Involved." What does this mean? We believe that getting involved beyond day-to-day practice and professional obligations is necessary to nurture a profession to which we have all dedicated our lives. If you are a Fellow who believes what we believe, please contact us to find out how you can get involved in optometry's future through the Foundation. Email us today at
Barbara Caffery, OD, PhD, FAAO