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On my first big assignment since being elected SCO's American Optometric Student Association (AOSA) Trustee-elect, I travelled to the nation's capital for the Congressional Advocacy Conference. Over 700 students and optometrists joined together as members of the AOA-PAC to storm Capitol Hill on behalf of optometry's future.
The conference was a crash-course in the legislative issues most affecting optometry. One issue of particular importance that I lobbied on behalf of was HR 1195/ S2192, the "National Health Service Corps Improvement Act." If passed, this bill will bring more optometrists to under served communities by including optometry in the current NHSC student loan repayment/scholarship program. Nurses, dentists, medical doctors, and several other health professions are already a part of the NHSC, and as THE primary vision care providers, it only makes sense that optometry be included as well. I plan to practice in Appalachia, so the NHSC could directly impact someone like me who wants to provide their services within the nation's most under served regions. Even more, the NHSC would not only open more career opportunities for graduating optometrists, but it would provide greater access to essential eye health and vision care to the people of these medically underserved areas.
But back to D.C., of course. April is a wonderful time to be on the Hill. The cherry blossoms are in full bloom and the weather is just right. The monuments are breathtaking and the museums are second to none. History really does come alive in D.C... and even though I've been going there at least once each year since 10th grade, I still get that giddy feeling knowing I'm walking in the same hallways and on the same sidewalks as did some of our nation's greatest political minds. Even better, I was able to experience it all this time around by representing not only SCO, but our great profession.
Several other SCO students attended the CAC, and I expect many more to attend next year (we'll have to work better on the exam schedule then, right first years?!). I met students from at least 18 of the other optometry schools, and it was great to catch up with them as we shared our mutual stress over classes and passion for this profession. I met several KY optometrists and even got share in the roaring excitement as we watched from one of the hotel suites our University of Kentucky Wildcats become the 2012 NCAA Division I National Basketball Champions. Speaking of meeting people, I was even able to snag a quick photo with NBC Today Show Chief White House Correspondent, and our luncheon keynote speaker, Chuck Todd (thanks, Kevin)! Yes, there were plenty of great memories and legislative insight gained at the Congressional Advocacy Conference.
I'm looking forward to next year's conference already!