Picture this: it’s 1969 in Richmond, Virginia and 25 African American optometrists are gathered at the Executive Motor Hotel to establish their own optometric organization, the National Optometric Association (NOA). They were met with outright resistance by some, but even others that had no frank prejudice against the idea questioned why separating minorities outside of the 20,000 member AOA at the time was necessary? It’s an argument that years later we’ll still see popping up online and in conversation: why should women have their own optometry magazine? Why should minorities have their own meeting or panel discussions? Isn’t one body representing us more cohesive?
The argument then as it remains today is that the AOA does a great job fighting for us and representing us, but in groups that are under-represented, we still desperately need to develop leadership and opportunities for their ideas and voices to be heard. The NOA has done just this. Their mission: advancing the visual health of minority populations and communities. All too often we see statistics that show we aren’t doing enough as optometrists to explain what we do. Nearly 60% of people with diabetes don’t get annual eye exams, and for minorities the stats are even worse. Only 32-49% of African Americans and Latinos with diabetes get routine eyecare. The NOA has focused their attention on reaching out to minority communities about the 3 silent killers of eyesight: diabetes, glaucoma, and hypertensive retinopathy. Their focus is communication – language barriers and communication strategies can interfere with a doctor’s ability to properly explain the seriousness of their findings with patients of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and worse, they can also prevent the patient from seeking a doctor in the first place. And with legislative battles and an influx in disruptive forces in refractive care available online confusingly calling themselves “eye exams”, communicating the value and need for in office patient care with underserved communities has never been more essential.
Dr. Sherrol Reynolds is today’s podcast guest: the celebrated optometrist and staff doctor at Nova Southeastern University is the vice president of the NOA. She talks the mission of the NOA and how successful the organization has been in their mission to grow minority opportunities within optometry as a profession, but we still struggle reaching these populations as patients. Her passion is to help bring the next generation of ODs straight to the issue of reaching minority patient groups through panel discussions, social media communication, and local community initiatives. What the NOA is trying to accomplish — engaging millennials, engaging minority students, doctors and patients alike, is essential to all the battles that the AOA and optometry are currently fighting. And luckily there is no better time for every unique voice to be heard. As she looked at the crowd of student NOSA members at last summer’s NOA meeting, she noticed how many more women were in the audience than ever before. “We’re doing a great job of growing the number of minorities in optometry,” says Reynolds of the NOA’s work to develop scholarships and leadership roles for student doctors. “Now we have to grow the awareness of what optometry can do for our patients within the minority communities themselves.” It’s a mission that all of optometry is tasked with, and we’re lucky that we have the NOA and the motivated and passionate doctors that are members to help us.