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Academy 2015 - New Orleans

Group of students standing by research poster (from left to right, Yen Vuong, Afua Opoku-Debrah, Julia Mockler, Lenna Walker, Maria Coward, Feryaal Zahir)

Attending the American Academy of Optometry’s 2015th annual meeting was a 5 day experience unlike any I’ve ever had before. I never imagined that I would get the chance to travel to New Orleans to experience this renowned conference of optometry, especially not while I was still a student.

Academy is the annual meeting for the American Academy of Optometry and optometrists from around the country attend. It is a 4 day event with lectures running all day, every day, discussing the latest advances in the field of optometry. Academy has many networking events such as dinners, luncheons and parties, plus an exhibition hall that showcases the most innovative ocular technologies available to date.  It feels amazing to be surrounded by thousands of eye care professionals when you are there.

My journey to the Academy began back in November 2014 when my group for my Vision Health Care class began devising a public health project to be presented in April for Visionaries Day: an event celebrating student accomplishments. Each group chose a topic to research and then presented their findings on a poster. During Visionaries Day, we displayed our posters and explained our research to the College community.  

My group included Yen Vuong, Afua Opoku-Debrah, Julia Mockler, Lenna Walker, and Feryaal Zahir. Our project looked at ocular myths and misconceptions amongst pharmacists. We won first place in the poster competition and received a travel grant towards attending the AAO’s conference. We submitted our abstract to the Academy in the hopes of being selected to present our work. After two months of waiting, we received news that our abstract had been accepted. Going to New Orleans in October had become a reality.

Summer passed, fall semester began, and in the blink of an eye, I found my flight to Academy was the next day and I hadn’t packed yet. Only three members of my Public Health project group were able to attend the conference. With poster in hand, Lenna, Julia and I began the journey to New Orleans.

There were many aspects of the trip which made it memorable. One of the best parts was experiencing the academic side of the Academy by participating in the student fellowship program. This program was an optional opportunity students could participate in that involved fulfilling a set of requirements. These included becoming a student member of the Academy, attending a set number of lectures in various optometric topics, and attending continuing education, paper presentations, poster presentations and other meetings and events. When all of the requirements were met, students gain student fellowship status.

The student fellowship program was great because it helped guide me in what otherwise may have been an overwhelming conference. By having to attend a set of mandatory lectures, it helped me explore fields of optometry I may not have otherwise looked into, expanding my overall knowledgebase of what optometry has to offer. By far, the lecture I found most interesting was one based on sleep apnea and the eye. My undergraduate research was in sleep apnea, and I enjoyed seeing how my previous psychology research intersected with current optometric research.

Another thing I really enjoyed about my trip to New Orleans was the social experience. Academy gave me the opportunity to interact with members of other optometry schools and learn how their experiences were similar to or different from my own. It was also interesting being surrounded by so many practicing optometrists who were all here for the same reason: to learn about the new exciting opportunities in their profession.

Finally, I got to experience New Orleans itself. New Orleans is a complex, wonderful city, rich in culture and filled with cheerful people. A personal highlight for me was eating New Orleans specific foods I wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere else.

When I finally presented my poster with my group members Friday morning of Academy, it was great to get so much positive feedback from optometrists who stopped by to chat. Presenting the poster also gave a real sense of closure. It had been a long journey from that decision as OD1s to do our presentation on pharmacists, to finally being at Academy as OD2s and being able to share our hard work with the optometric community.   

The flight back to Boston was a somber experience: it meant getting back to reality, getting ready for midterms, and going back to eating like a student (ie. peanut butter sandwiches every day). I had such an incredible group for the Vision Health care project and if it was not for their hard work I would have never had the chance to experience New Orleans and the American Academy of Optometry. 

Presenting my poster at academy with Lenna and Julia in New Orleans

Maria is a Canadian student in her final year of the four year OD/MS dual degree program. For her MS project, she is working with Dr. Vera-Diaz and Dr. Panorgias examining color vision and early age-related macular degeneration.