We live in difficult times. We are witnessing the spread of a virus that the human immune system has not known before. Our elderly are at particular risk. Fulfilling our role as a vital part of the health care system requires recognizing our responsibility to understand the science, accept the unknown, practice disciplined hygiene and social distancing, and educate our patients.
Adversity clarifies what is most important. Many of us are facing forced practice closures, which reinforces the importance of the Academy community. For many, the fellowship of the Academy is the most meaningful professional community in our lives.
And what is the makeup of this community? In total, we are 12,721 students, candidates, and Fellows. Members and candidates represent 16% of the approximately 40,000 ODs in the US. We are a small but mighty band of Fellows. Both students and candidates are two females to every one male, and this thought makes me smile (especially as this post was originally crafted on International Women's Day).
Membership is a central Pillar of our Strategic Plan. Many initiatives are already underway.
As we progress through this year, the Membership Committee will be working towards creating a vibrant and actively engaged membership base that better reflects the diversity of optometric practice and the patients the profession serves.
To that end, we are excited by the formation of a task force that is actively promoting diversity within Academy membership and striving to improve inclusiveness in its leadership structure. Additionally, planning is underway to host an inaugural Diversity Symposium at Academy 2020 Nashville. Working in conjunction with the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO), the National Optometric Association (NOA), and other like-minded organizations, we will promote diversity, improve healthcare to minority groups, and encourage underrepresented populations to join the profession.
We are opening our arms and taking our Vision, Mission, and Values to those who practice in settings that typically have lower levels of involvement within the Academy, including our colleagues in corporate optometry. We want all optometrists to experience the joy of being an Academy Fellow. Surely we now know that where you practice does not dictate how you practice. Good practice takes place inside the individual and does not require plush chairs or a 5th Avenue address.
One of our most significant projects involves revising Admittance procedures. As the number of candidates grows, the human resources and time required to do examinations at our annual meeting become difficult. Also, not everyone can make it to our meeting. We are getting younger, and therefore, many aspiring Fellows must juggle professional and childcare responsibilities. We will examine the possibilities of creating regional admittance committees and using technology to enable examinations at different times of the year.
Thus, the membership of this Academy plows ahead, despite tornadoes, pandemics, and political turmoil. We embrace the public health care community in our words and actions. We look ahead to a safer world with better, more available health care. We inspire excellence in eye care. We welcome new and diverse members to our fellowship.