Another great Academy meeting has come and gone. This one was number 87. If you missed it, I'm sorry. You missed a great one. Hopefully you'll join us in San Francisco, November 17 to 20, 2010, for number 88.
The venue at the Marriott World Center was terrific. Because we were all housed under one roof, the camaraderie was reminiscent of bygone days like Chicago and the Drake Hotel, except there was 10 times the number of attendees. Apparently Mickey Mouse holds some attraction for our members as last year in Anaheim was our largest meeting ever, and this year in Orlando nearly topped that.
The highlight of Wednesday's education and the official opening of the meeting was the Plenary Session. It dealt with long-term sight deprivation and perception. Michael May is a remarkable individual, who at the age of three lost his vision after a chemical explosion. After 40 years without sight, technology allowed for a successful stem cell transplant that was followed by a successful corneal transplant in his one eye still capable of sight. Michael captivated the nearly 1500 attendees with his remarkably upbeat presentation, “There is Always a Way.” He was followed by an explanation of the effects of his long-term deprivation given by Ione Fine, PhD. Dr. Fine's laboratory team studies the computational and neurophysiological basis of visual processing, and whose expertise helped understand how Michael learned to see. If you missed this event, I strongly recommend your reading the New York Times bestselling author Robert Kurson's “Crashing Through,” whose book about Michael May's extraordinary true story of the man who dared to see is sure to captivate you.
Your Academy does such a great job of blending the new discoveries of scientific research with practical applications for clinical care of your patients. One example of this at this meeting was the Monroe J. Hirsch research symposium: “Teaching the Brain New Tricks.” With the Plenary as an introduction, the Hirsch symposium was a fantastic follow-up as it delved further into the science of the brain's plasticity and cortical reorganization in the human visual system. Another example relates to our journal. This year you received the most complete compendium to date on myopia research. Tony Adams, OD, PhD, FAAO, Editor-in-Chief, brought that topical issue to life with his fast-paced interactive 2-hour presentation of “Myopia: OVS Presents Discovery to Eye Care.” Other examples would include the many hours of posters and papers presentations available to all who attended, the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology/American Academy of Ophthalmology joint symposium, the Optometric Glaucoma Society combined meeting, all the various Section Symposia, and, of course, the hundreds of hours of traditional CE and workshops. It is no wonder why the Academy boasts that we are “All CE All of the Time.”
Although education is the thrust of the annual meeting, the camaraderie experienced at all the social functions allowed an opportunity to renew old friendships and begin new ones. In addition, support of research has been and will continue to be a strong commitment of your Academy. That is no more evident than the monetary support provided by the Academy's foundation, American Optometric Foundation (AOF). In just 5 years, the AOF board has increased funding from $1,000,000 to more than $3,500,000 this year. We learned that 12 AOF Ezell Fellowships were awarded this year, that more than 50 students benefitted by stipends provided by the Academy, so that they could attend the meeting, and that our great corporate sponsors continue to provide funding to sponsor research and bring students to the annual meeting.
None of these events and accomplishments is the result of any one person's efforts. It truly does take a community, and we are so fortunate to have such a hard working Executive Director, Lois Schoenbrun, FAAO, and her staff steering our ship. We have more than 200 volunteers who painstakingly develop the programmatic pieces that make the Academy meeting so special, and we have eight sections who provide specialty homes for so many of our members who share like-minded interests. They all deserve our thanks, and on behalf of the American Academy of Optometry (AAO) Board, I wish to do just that. Thank you!
Given all of this, our meeting can't be as successful as they are without you, our attendees, who take the time and go to the expense to support all of these efforts. Thanks to you as well. And for those select attendees who are willing to devote 90 min of their time at our meeting to help your Board conduct the business of the organization, a special thanks. This year, we dealt with three important issues. With the business meetings attendees' indulgence, we were able to convey why we feel that this is the time to implement a Maintenance of Fellowship process. Doing so further supports the fact that the designation FAAO demonstrates that being a Fellow calls for a commitment to lifelong learning and to continued competency. The board was also able to share with the attendees why the future vitality of the organization needs a mechanism developed that will allow for the formation of Special Interest Groups. The Academy needs to continue to provide a home for folks who have very special interests in areas that may be too limited to warrant a Diplomate process. There should be no reason for these people to feel that they need to look outside the Academy to find that home. And finally, we did our best to discuss how the Academy was involved with the genesis of Board Certification and our support for the formation of an American Board of Optometry. Your board of directors was pleased to learn that our members supported the role the Board has played and the position it adopted as that process developed.
It has been an eventful year, and I am honored to have served as the Academy's president. I am optimistic that 2010 will be even better.
Mark W. Eger
President, American Academy of Optometry