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Academy Approaches: The Road to Anaheim

Maria at table with another student

Being a third year Optometry student means that, in a lot of ways, my workload is lighter. The idea behind this is that more time is being spent in clinic and preparing independently for board examinations. With the extra time I’ve had, I have also been trying to get more involved in the various clubs NECO has to offer. One incredible club I’m a part of is the NECO branch of the American Academy of Optometry (AAO).

As a club, we aim to provide students with information on what the AAO yearly meeting (commonly referred to as Academy) is about, how to attend the Academy conference, and the many activities available to students once they get there.

The AAO Academy meeting provides Optometrists, Vision Scientists and Students valuable information about what is “up and coming” in the field of Optometry. The meeting lasts 4 days and is packed-full of research talks, workshops, posters and an exhibition hall.   

I think a common misconception about Academy is that the only people who attend it are those who are interested in research. Not true! Optometrists from all over the world attend the Academy Meeting to get their yearly continuing education credits and to learn about advances in the field of optometry.

For students, the Academy is a great opportunity to learn more about the field you have entered into. It can help you realize what really interests you about optometry and it lets you get a first-hand look at the most up-to-date scientific breakthroughs in vision science. The Academy also gives you ample opportunity to network and meet other optometry students from across North America.

Most importantly, Academy is just really fun. Every year it is in a different city, and many students alternate between attending Academy presentations and exploring the city. This year Academy is in Anaheim California, which will be a nice escape from the chilly November Boston weather.

I think all students should try to experience Academy at least once, and because the Student price of attending is significantly cheaper, why not check it out now! Although Academy is fun for everyone, there is an added benefit to those who do participate in vision research. They can always submit an abstract for the meeting, and if approved, can receive a travel grant to help cover their cost of attending.  Last year my first year Public Health Care class group submitted an abstract about our research poster to the Academy and we received a travel fellowship to present our poster and attend the conference! Read more about my experience in my Academy 2015 – New Orleans blog post. 

The Academy, on top of being fun and educational, is also an extremely prestigious institution. One of the highest achievements beyond your OD degree is obtaining your FAAO (Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry). The qualifications are rigorous and it is a great honor to be able to put these letters after your OD credentials.

The AAO also offers the Student Fellowship program for those currently enrolled in Optometry school. Students must attend a number of lectures and presentations at Academy in various vision science topics in order to receive this accolade. One of the major perks of the Student Fellowship is a discount on your Academy registration for the following year and an invitation to the “Meet the Fellows” dinner at NECO in the spring, where Student Fellows are given Certificates and local Fellows of the Academy speak about their experience with AAO and what it was like becoming a Fellow.  (Read more about the Meet the Fellows event at NECO this spring.)  

After I’m officially an optometrist, I hope to continue to go to Academy to learn, get my CE credits, and of course have a reunion with all my old Optometry pals.

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.