First-ever optometrist elected to lead APHA

December 13, 2011

APHA President Mel Shipp, O.D., Dr.PH, MPH, and his wife, Michelle Shipp, M.D., Dr.PH, at the APHA annual meeting.

Melvin Shipp, O.D., Dr.PH, MPH, began his term as president of the American Public Health Association (APHA) at the conclusion of the 139th Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 2, 2011. 

Dr. Shipp is the first optometrist selected to lead the APHA, which is the oldest, largest and most diverse organization of public health professionals in the world.

To celebrate Dr. Shipp’s achievement, the APHA Vision Care Section (VCS) hosted a dessert reception with a champagne toast. More than 160 APHA leaders, members, staff, friends and family attended the reception, which was generously sponsored by Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc. 

“We were delighted that so many people joined us to honor Dr. Shipp. Many distinguished guests were able to share their own personal tributes to Mel before Dr. Georges Benjamin, APHA executive director, delivered the much-anticipated toast. We are all looking forward to supporting APHA and President Shipp throughout the coming year,” said Renée Mika, O.D., 2010-2011 VCS chair.

At the reception in his honor, Dr. Shipp issued a call for his fellow optometrists to take a bigger role in public health, not just to meet an anticipated surge in demand for medical eye care services, but to highlight the importance of today’s optometric scope of practice to the rest of the health care system.

“Optometrists are public health,” Dr. Shipp concluded.

Centered on the theme “Healthy Communities Promote Healthy Minds and Bodies,” the APHA meeting explored the role communities play in the health of their inhabitants and what public health practitioners can do to build healthier, more sustainable communities across the country.

The meeting provided a forum for attendees to address a broad range of significant public health issues, including climate change and health, health disparities, disease prevention, emergency preparedness and more.

More than 1,000 scientific sessions showcased the emergency public health research and leading advocacy efforts reflecting the broad impact of the field on the lives of U.S. families.

A significant win for patients and the profession, the APHA Governing Council passed into APHA policy the resolution titled “Reducing Barriers and Increasing Access to Children’s Vision Care Services.”

Among other things, the resolution recommends that both public and private insurance programs designate comprehensive vision care for children from birth to age 21 as an essential standard benefit.

The policy asserts that coverage should include comprehensive vision and eye health examination by an optometrist or ophthalmologist at regular intervals and eyeglasses, contact lenses, and any other vision care services that are determined necessary. 

Additionally, two other VCS-sponsored resolutions passed the APHA Governing Council: “Global Campaign to Eliminate Avoidable Blindness” and “Preventing Injuries by Banning Consumer Use of Fireworks.”

With these three new resolutions, the VCS has now sponsored 32 resolutions that have been passed into policy by the APHA. In 2009, the APHA passed a resolution to improve access to vision care in community health centers. 

“It is rewarding to see health policy development in action,” said Gregory Wolfe, O.D., MPH, 2009-2011 VCS Governing Council officer. “Having all three of our VCS-sponsored resolutions pass the governing body of APHA is a testament to the role of vision care and eye health for our nation’s health.”

The APHA VCS held its business meetings and annual Eye-Opener Breakfast sponsored by the AOA. Attendance at the Eye Opener included candidates running for APHA offices, as well as APHA Executive Board members and Governing Council representatives.

VCS officers for the 2012 year are Chair Jeff Todd, J.D., Chair-Elect Dr. Wolfe, Immediate Past Chair Dr. Mika and Secretary Pam Lowe, O.D.

Next year’s APHA Annual Meeting will be held in San Francisco, and the theme will be “Prevention and Wellness across the Lifespan.”

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