Thank you for this high honor.
Trustees, President Augsburger, colleagues, honored guests and above all doctoral degree candidates.
I know you are eager to receive your degrees and celebrate your hard earned achievements, however, as tradition dictates, there will be no degrees until the old guy speaks.
Congratulations on earning your Doctor of Optometry degree.
Today, I join with your families and friends in sharing the pride of your outstanding accomplishments.
Your future is bright with unparalleled practice opportunities.
You have been fortunate for the past four years to be touched by the uncommon power of the ICO experience.
This experience ensures your success in a changing health care environment.
An outstanding faculty has prepared you well for opportunities in the areas of public health, patient care and clinical education.
In the area of public health there is an increasing awareness of unmet visual health needs in medically underserved areas.
And there are opportunities for you to meet the needs of special populations: for those who live in poverty, the homeless, the frail elderly, the homebound, the developmentally disabled and the visually impaired.
The Illinois Eye Institute’s community outreach to the underserved population of Chicago serves as an outstanding example of collaborative medical care.
I hope you will use your ICO training to help others in need.
In patient care, opportunities are available to you in interdisciplinary care as optometrists manage more complex clinical conditions and diseases, requiring close coordination with other professionals.
Also, telemedicine technologies and electronic health records provide the means for more effective patient management.
ICO’s commitment to excellence in patient care is affirmed by grant awards from prestigious organizations and corporations.
The College’s network of over 150 clinical training sites in 47 states and abroad is one of the most extensive in optometry.
In clinical education, there are opportunities for you, as preceptors, by sharing your experiences in: patient-centered education and cooperative clinical training between optometry and ophthalmology.
ICO’s support from external sources for clinical training is the highest of all optometric institutions and is an acknowledgement of the College’s excellence in clinical education.
My education, like yours, prepared me not only to be a competent clinician but also to contribute to the profession’s future.
Your professional status will also provide entree to numerous social, civic and political activities.
In the past, it has been the foresight and persistence of many dedicated individuals to move the profession forward.
You are now called upon to make such a contribution.
Given the aging population, uncertain optometric manpower needs and the impact of national health care reform, there is a need for broad based strategic planning including professional, academic and corporate participation.
I encourage your active involvement at the local, state or national level in planning for your profession’s future.
Current Board Certification and Continued Professional Competency initiatives require your attention and understanding of their place in your profession.
There are unprecedented opportunities for optometry to seek inclusion in three major Federal programs while the federal budget is being re-structured.
These programs could potentially benefit the current generation of optometrists as well as future optometric students, residents and graduates.
The first initiative which is already in progress is the expansion of optometry’s impact in the community health care system.
Community health centers provide accessible and cost effective primary medical care to 20 million Americans in rural areas and poor urban neighborhoods.
However, only 20% of federally qualified health centers offer eye care services, despite the growing need in rural and inner-city America.
Federal funding is required to establish optometric services in all of the Nation’s community health centers.
It is estimated that 5,000 optometrists would be needed in the Nation’s underserved areas over the next decade providing not only new practice opportunities, but also additional student and resident clinical training placements.
The second program is the National Health Service Corps.
Efforts must be made to attract more optometrists to medically underserved areas through financial incentives, such as tax free student loan repayment, by including optometrists in the National Health Service Corps.
Classification of optometry by the Federal government as a Primary Care Profession is a necessary next step to qualify for this program.
Third and long overdue, is optometry’s inclusion in the Graduate Medical Education program, GME, the clinical educational component of Medicare.
Optometrists have been included in the Medicare program since 1987 and currently provide $970 million in services annually to Medicare beneficiaries.
Now it is time to join medicine, dentistry and podiatry as a recipient of GME funding for clinical training.
Optometry’s inclusion in the $9.5 billion program would address: the increasing costs of clinical training and the need for workforce development as the scope of optometric practice continues to expand and growth in the demand for eye care services by the Medicare population.
Although the work ahead will be challenging, inclusion in these three major Federal programs would provide visual health care to tens of thousands of underserved individuals, strengthen the profession of optometry’s position at the national level and forever change the financial landscape of optometric education.
I am confident that the profession’s future leaders are in this Chapel today.
And as those before you, you must move forward with a balance of discretion and audacity.
Be willing to take risks with innovative approaches.
In whatever you do, follow the example of your Alma Mater and strive for pinnacles of excellence.
For in the final analysis, it is neither about financial rewards nor power, but pride in your professional and personal achievements.
Character and contribution will define your success.
Thank you and congratulations.
May 21, 2011