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Life’s little lessons

May 21, 2012

A few years ago, AOA membership staff and volunteers were looking at some updated statistics and found a trend: New graduates were not transitioning their membership from student status to active status. Conversations ensued and one day I got a phone call suggesting, “Why don’t you visit all of the schools and colleges of optometry during your years as president-elect and president? You look a little different than all the presidents that have served before you.”

And so began the Dori 20/20 Tour – 20 schools in 20 months. A tour designed to raise the level of awareness of our optometric family and how important it is to be involved.

I took some ideas from a motivational poster in my bathroom and turned it into Life’s Little Instructions for Optometry. I’ve been telling stories about optometry and the AOA ever since: Leave the toilet seat in the down position ( I live with men!). Treat others the way you would want to be treated (patients are people too). Don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’ (my patient with a pituitary tumor was in my office again today). Strive for excellence, not perfection (We can’t be perfect, but we can be excellent clinicians) .. and so on.

Have big thoughts. – I started with Pacific University (my alma mater) in the fall of 2010 and weaved my way all over the country, including Puerto Rico, and ended my tour at THE Ohio State University. I had many adventures along the way. Stacey Liles, AOA staff, and I got lost in Oklahoma because we were too busy talking, paid an extra fine in Pennsylvania because we weren’t paying attention to the toll booths, got another fine months later for an illegal U-turn late one night on the Pennsylvania Turnpike (which was caught on the traffic cam), saw the Subway in Indiana where Jared ate most days to famously lose his weight, had a Garmin in French and decided I really didn’t know French that well after all so convinced someone to switch it to English; had the Garmin lead us to some auto body shop in California instead of the school …but most of all, we listened. We listened to administrators, faculty and students at each and every school.

Keep it simple. – make a goal. I had coffee with students on multiple occasions. It was great to hear their concerns – finding a place to work after graduation, debt repayment, and how to be involved in a profession they chose.
While all the schools have differences they still have much in common. Specifically the questions asked by students and faculty were often the same questions I heard at each of the other visits.

Always accept an outstretched hand. – The AOA and its state affiliates want new graduates to succeed and are willing to help but we have to remember that generational differences exist. If it can be done on a smartphone then they are more apt to do it. Some students don’t use stamps anymore. They use texting as a common form of communication. In fact, some of our best evenings of conversation involved the texting of questions. Sometimes we talked for close to three hours. They want a close relationship with state affiliates.

There is a pre-conceived notion that no one wants them to be involved. They were shocked when I told them all they had to do was express an interest of helping the profession. New grads are waiting to be asked to help and to join at the state level but they do want to help! And Facebook is king. In fact, most of my friends on Facebook are optometry students. As I debated about what to include in this editorial, I posed the question on Facebook and immediately had responses.

Live your life as an exclamation, not an explanation. – At each visit I challenged students to make a difference. This year we had a record-setting 700 people hit Capitol Hill advocating for optometry – 300 were students who primarily funded their own way to the meeting. The visual of almost more students than doctors was incredible and a real sign that the future of our profession is in good hands.

Leave everything better than you found it – specifically leave optometry better than the way you found it. – I’ve often joked that the tour concept seemed like a good idea at the time until I got into the logistics of the travel schedule it required, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

It was truly the best part about being president and I’m going to miss this part of being involved in the AOA. Time will tell if I’ve made a difference and helped to raise the awareness of the importance of being involved in our profession. But, isn’t that what really matters in life… being part of a family and feeling like you made a difference?

To all my friends I met in school these past two years – I am proud to call you my colleagues. You WILL make a difference!

Dori Carlson, O.D.
AOA president

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