On April 14 to 16, 2023, the American Academy of Optometry held a leadership summit. It convened the academy board of directors, the chairs, and representatives from each of the sections, special interest groups, and committees of the academy. It also included key academy staff members. The purpose of the meeting was to bring together the many leaders across the organization and provide an opportunity to meet, exchange ideas, hear directly about important initiatives in the organization, and inspire collaboration throughout the society. In all, there were about 100 academy leaders in attendance from around the nation. The participants met for 2 days on topics such as strategic plan progress reports, discussions on emerging trends in practice, changing demographics in the profession, an analysis of economic influences on the future of optometric practice; best practices in leadership; encouraging diversity, equity, and inclusion; and the future of continuing education programming in the academy.
This meeting was unlike past society meetings in a way that seemed to celebrate and recognize the broad range of programs within the academy. It was not focused on a single theme or a specific working goal. Instead, this leadership summit set the stage for the academy's future success. Building on the recent strategic plan, there were presentations that provided details about progress on the academy's pillars of the strategic plans. Additional details of those plans are available here: https://aaopt.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/academy-strategic-plan-20202024.pdf. Clearly, the board has been hard at work on the goals and objectives and has achieved much of their intended success.
We learned the value of technology and communications in new ways, thanks to the recent COVID global pandemic. Before this challenging event, the academy was working hard to establish ways to enable a global organization to come together, communicate more effectively, and coordinate hundreds of programs related to membership, education, research, leadership, mentoring, and more.
LEADERSHIP IN DIVERSITY
A clear theme throughout this meeting was an emphasis on diversity. President Susan Cotter has put an emphasis on building opportunities for members to participate in service to the academy and that has brought many new faces to the leaders of the committees and organizations within the society. There are also numerous new committees within the academy related to expanding international membership and leadership development. Although these are not new activities for the academy, there is new energy and emphasis on these areas and that is exciting to see.
NEW EXECUTIVE LEADERSHIP
One of the most important announcements from the American Academy of Optometry is the addition of a new chief executive officer, Trish Shomion, CAE (Fig. 1). Trish is the fifth executive leader of the American Academy of Optometry and the second chief executive officer. She comes to the academy with more than 10 years of executive-level leadership experience and was most recently the executive director for the North American Nero-Ophthalmology Society, Society for Vascular and Interventional Neurology, and the Executive Director for the Organization for Human Brain Mapping. Trish brings some outstanding skills to the organization, and we are glad to have her on board as the academy continues to grow and implement its strategic plans.
HISTORY OF ACADEMY'S EXECUTIVE LEADERSHIP
- Trish Shomion — 2023 (CEO)
- Peter Scott — 2019 (CEO)
- Lois Schoenbrun — 1996 (executive director)
- David Lewis — 1990 (executive director)
- Norman Wallis — 1982 (executive director)
THE FUTURE OF RESEARCH IN THE ACADEMY
Over the previous 4 years, the leadership of the academy has made many significant achievements. In response to the need for additional support for training clinician scientists, the academy and the academy's foundation have launched new sources of financial support for OD/PhD trainees. The academy has resolved to support the Research Academy, a very successful summer research program that has previously led to numerous National Institutes of Health collaborative research programs. The academy is also doubling down on their effort to help prepare practicing clinicians get involved in clinical research through research training certificate programs and additional resources for the Fellows Doing Research program.
The future of research in the academy looks sound. Nevertheless, the future will surely bring new disruptive changes and continued opportunities for innovation. How well the academy fares in this environment will depend on deft leadership, organizational adaptability, and a willingness to embrace change. The academy's ability to maintain its standing and reputation and thrive in a changing environment will depend on facing that future with vision, high standards, and aspirational values that are relevant and resonant with the generation of clinicians and researcher who are training today.
Michael D. Twa, OD, PhD, FAAO
Editor in Chief
Optometry and Vision Science
University of Houston College of Optometry