NECO hosts inaugural Industry Collaborative meeting

Group photo of about 40 people

Last fall, 63 partners in practice representing 44 organizations in the eye care industry gathered at the New England College of Optometry to share expertise and discuss the evolving nature of eye care and the implications for how optometric education must adapt.

Dubbed the NECO Industry Collaborative, the meeting represents one of the first times multiple areas of the industry gathered to openly discuss the future of optometry with the schools as a critical component of that future.

Topics covered include the increasing academic and financial challenges students face; the importance of diverse clinical experience in optometric education; shifts in demographics; the evolving nature of technology; and how strategic partnerships can build mutually productive bonds between education and industry.

Rapid pace of change requires united response

“The field of optometry is changing rapidly and it is truly an exciting time to be an OD. And yet, we need to keep pace and help others do the same. We need to teach students to create and discover as a way to continue to be successful throughout their careers, no matter how optometry continues to change,” emphasizes Howard Purcell, OD, NECO President and CEO.

We believe that together we can all be part of the solution.  Although our perspectives may be different at times, it is critical that we come together and focus our energy on the same issues in order to prepare today’s optometrist for tomorrow’s optometry,” he continues.

The gathering itself was the impact

The conference strives to foster honest conversations at a time when there are more questions than answers. NECO believes that gathering a diverse cross section of leaders from all sectors of eye care will help us understand each other’s perspectives, so that we can continue to develop novel and emergent practices for the future.

“To open a constructive dialogue with so many participating groups is something I have not previously experienced. Congrats to NECO for taking the big step toward addressing barriers that exist in our profession and seeking ways to address them,” mentions one participant.

“Thank you for taking the initiative and being the first institution to bring the entire industry together for the opportunity to help the profession continue to evolve with the world we live in, for opening doors to what education looks like today and allowing so many to help plan the future it can be,” writes another attendee.

Student, faculty panels were the highlight of the event

Of particular interest were the panels with NECO optometry students and faculty, who were frank and open with their responses to interesting questions about curriculum, the changing industry, and preparedness of students to enter the field as it changes.

Four student panelists sitting in chairs on speaker platform .

Student panelists share their views on what is important for their future and ongoing success.

Optometry students shared with industry leaders what is important to them and their success in the profession. The faculty panel discussed that the way optometry is taught now differs greatly than just ten years ago. The amount of clinical training has increased as have the diagnostics and treatments available. The need to incorporate new practices while committing to supporting the need for students to pass the board is an ongoing challenge.

One of the four student panelists, Lauren Thamel, a soon-to-be third generation optometrist shared her reflection on how changes in optometry are not as disruptive as they may first appear. She says, “First it was the auto refractor, then it was managed care, and then it was online retailers… and yet ODs have always adapted. My generation is poised to continue to do just that – adapt – having grown up in a time of constant change.”

Continuing the conversations

In February 2020, industry leaders are meeting in Atlanta and will sign a Proclamation committing to focusing on three key opportunities identified at the Industry Collaborative event.

  • Business Acumen
  • Why Optometry? – Public Perception and Expectation:  Commoditization / Differentiation / Entrepreneurship
  • The Impact of Technology on Optometry / The Impact of Optometry on Technology

The initial Industry Collaborative meeting brought many together to seek a future in optometry as a collective. NECO uncovered the thirst for more dialogue and exploration to find answers to the questions and pilot new ideas.

NECO has started planning the next NECO Industry Collaborative meeting for the fall of 2020.   Purcell sums up, “We look forward to continuing the questions and frank discussions. It really all comes down to working together to do what is right for the students, educators, practicing optometrists, the industries and ultimately the many patients we serve.”