I’ve always had a passion for politics. Since high school, I’ve continually found a reason to visit Washington D.C. and absorb all I can about the inner workings of government. Most of these trips have supported various causes, but it was my congressional internship before attending Bellarmine University that gave me the greatest insight into the decorum of Capitol Hill politics. Little did I know these early experiences would help me find my voice as a student leader and advocate for our profession during optometry school.
For the past three years I have attended the Congressional Advocacy Conference (CAC), joining hundreds of other optometry students and ECPs to lobby on behalf of medical parity and loan repayment programs. By sharing my own story of using optometry to bring better access to healthcare to the Kentucky foothills of Appalachia, I saw first-hand how students can persuade legislators in favor of optometry’s goals. Not only has student advocacy provided credibility to what we are learning in school, but it allows us to confidently attest to the competency of our degree when speaking with legislative leaders.
Advocacy has fueled my desire to support optometry beyond the classroom and clinic, and promote to my peers the great learning experiences and networking opportunities activism can provide. I urge state associations to recognize the untapped potential students represent. I also believe schools have a responsibility to educate their students on these efforts as well””one thing my alma mater, Southern College of Optometry, has made a student priority and one I’m so happy to be a part of.
By working alongside legislative and optometric leaders I have witnessed the importance of integrity, negotiation, and compromise””ideals I will continue to foster as I pursue my own political career. In the meantime, I hope to impress upon my classmates the legislative gains made by our predecessors depend on our continued involvement during school and beyond. It starts today, and it starts with each student and every doctor.
Editor’s Note: This column, appearing every other issue, is written by a future optometrist. In this forum, a different student will voice her or his thoughts on the profession. Know of someone who might be interested? Email Beth Schlau at email@example.com.
Amy Puerto is a student at Southern College of Optometry, graduating (as Class President) in May 2015.