There are many reasons optometry is an outstanding career choice. To name just a few, it offers job security based on demand for services, personal satisfaction through helping people to improve their lives, and an enviable work/life balance. But we’d be remiss to not recognize that the current state of optometry as a career didn’t just magically come to be. It’s built upon the efforts of optometrists who chose to spend their time and energy on helping to move the profession forward, in other words, serving as leaders.
The point is definitely not lost on Devin Sasser, who is about to graduate from the University of Missouri at St. Louis College of Optometry, just after completing his term as president of the American Optometric Student Association (AOSA), the largest affiliate of the American Optometric Association (AOA). “I have seen the sacrifices made by those who have come before me in order to grow the profession,” Devin says. “I feel as though it’s now my responsibility to continue to make this profession better. As a first-year student, I would often hear then-president of the AOA Dr. Dori Carlson tell students and doctors to leave the profession better than they found it. This has been my personal motto since then. To be completely honest, there is certainly a part of me that runs solely off of being able to be a part of something greater than myself.”
The same goes for Hunter Chapman, a third-year student at Southern College of Optometry who has been elected to replace Devin as AOSA president for a 2015-2016 term. As he explains it, “When I was in college at Louisiana State University, I figured out that it was only when I took on certain leadership positions that I gained a sense of place and purpose. Leadership allows you to gain meaning in life.”
Give to Optometry and Optometry Gives Back
Being an optometry student leader does come with its challenges, but Devin and Hunter both agree the positives outweigh what can sometimes seem like negatives. “There are many times when the juggling of school and leadership may get a little tough,” Devin says, “but the things you get to experience as a student leader are invaluable. During my time on the AOSA Board of Trustees, I served alongside representatives from each of the optometry schools in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. How many students can say they know someone from every single school of optometry? I have also had the distinguished honor of working directly with the AOA and its affiliated associations to develop ways to make this profession even better than it is currently. The feeling of knowing that what you are doing is having a positive impact on the future of the profession is by far the best part of being a student leader.”
Having to make decisions that negatively impact peers that you like and respect, such as appointing committee members from among friends and colleagues, is another aspect of leadership that can be difficult, Hunter continues. But he says, too, that most people understand the difficulty of those situations. Also, he points out, “For me personally, one of the greatest benefits of pursuing leadership positions has been how I’ve developed and continuously learned more about myself. Additionally, I have been fortunate to see many doors, personal and professional, open for me.”
Seeing the Importance of Optometric Student Organizations
If you’re feeling the same inner drive Hunter and Devin have to get more involved in your chosen optometric profession as a student, they say passion will be key to your success. “You have to be in it for the right reasons,” Devin says. “I truly believe that a sense of passion for the respective organization should be at the root of every student leader. So it’s important to do your research in order to develop a better understanding of an organization’s mission, and what you can do to further said mission. When you begin to realize just how important an organization is on both a personal and professional level, you’ll have no reluctance in doing your part to sustain it. It’s also important not to feel discouraged if you don’t get the position you’re seeking. The beautiful thing about optometry is there are many areas in which you can get involved.”
Hunter offers further advice for succeeding as an optometry student leader: “Be relentless in achieving common and personal goals with a sense of urgency and discipline. Choose a specific area for action or priority because time in school is limited. Be personally motivated so that you may also effectively motivate others. Exercise effective communication but also active listening. Be willing and able to personally grow and develop.”
What’s Next for These Two Optometry Student Leaders?
As Hunter rolls up his sleeves to get into his new role as president of the AOSA, he looks forward to contributing to the achievement of the group’s short- and long-term goals, which include creating a stronger connection with pre-optometry students. “Our thought is that if we want to fulfill the needs of our students and profession, then certainly an early exposure to the profession is key to its vitality,” he notes. “We have already created a pre-optometry webpage, and pre-optometry students can become a member of the AOSA at www.preoptometry.org.”
Now that he is just a few weeks away from officially becoming Dr. Devin Sasser, Devin plans to stay involved in the bigger picture. “I’m currently working closely with fellow members of the AOA on ways to strengthen the profession,” he says. “This is yet another step along the path of a lifelong commitment to optometry.”