Remarks of Charles F. Mullen, O. D.
Upon Receiving the Honorary Degree, Doctor of Ocular Science
New England College of Optometry Commencement
Back Bay Events Center, Boston, MA
May 20, 2012
Thank you for this high honor. It is a distinct privilege to join my fellow honorees, Dr. Joan Exford and Dr. David Reynolds on the dais this morning.
Trustees, President Scott, colleagues, honored guests and above all doctoral degree candidates.
I know you are eager to receive your degrees and celebrate your hard earned achievement. However, as tradition dictates—there will be no degrees until the old alumnus speaks.
Today, I join with families and friends in sharing the pride of an outstanding accomplishment—your Doctorate in Optometry.
You have been fortunate for the past four years to have received your professional education at an institution that is a leader in community-based clinical training and collaborative medical care.
Your future is bright with unparalleled opportunities in a rapidly evolving health care environment.
An excellent faculty and clinical attending staff have thoroughly prepared you for success in the areas of public health, patient care and clinical education.
In the area of public health—There are opportunities for you to meet the needs of special populations in medically underserved areas.
Those who live in poverty, the homeless, the frail elderly, the homebound, the developmentally disabled and the visually impaired.
The College’s subsidiary, New England Eye’s network of affiliations serves as the National model for outreach to special populations.
In patient care, practice opportunities are available in interdisciplinary care as optometrists manage more complex clinical conditions and diseases.
Telemedicine technologies and electronic health records provide the means for more effective patient management.
The model of inter-professional collaboration between optometry and ophthalmology pioneered at the New England College of Optometry formed the basis for affiliations between optometry colleges and medical schools in Philadelphia and Chicago.
The College’s nationally recognized research programs provide valuable insights to clinicians in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of eye and vision conditions.
In clinical education, there are opportunities for you, as preceptors, to share your experiences in:
- patient-centered clinical education
- and clinical training in interdisciplinary facilities.
The College’s externship program is the most extensive and diverse in optometric education.
My education, like yours, prepared me not only to be a clinician, but also to contribute to the profession’s future.
Your professional status will provide entree to numerous civic and political activities.
In the past, the foresight and persistence of dedicated optometrists expanded the profession’s responsibilities by including pharmaceuticals, advanced clinical procedures, creation of the VA Optometry Service and participation in Medicare.
You are now called upon to make such a contribution.
Important matters face the profession of optometry.
Board Certification and Continued Competency initiatives require your attention and understanding of their place in your profession.
I encourage your active participation at the local, state or national level in planning for your profession’s future.
With major changes expected in health care policy at the Federal level, there are unprecedented opportunities for optometry to seek inclusion in three major Federal programs.
First and already in progress, is the expansion of optometry’s impact in the community health care system.
The New England College of Optometry was the first optometric institution to recognize its responsibility to the medically underserved community by developing affiliations with Boston Area community health centers.
Today, 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.
It is estimated that 5,000 optometrists would be needed in the Nation’s underserved areas over the next decade.
Federal funding is required to establish optometric services in all of the Nation’s community health centers.
Second, 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.
Third is optometry’s inclusion in the Graduate Medical Education program, GME, the clinical educational component of Medicare. Participation in this $10 billion program would address:
- the increasing costs of clinical training as the scope of optometric practice continues to expand.
- and growth in the demand for eye care services by the Medicare population.
Optometrists have been participating physicians in the Medicare program since 1987 and currently provide $1 billion in services annually.
Now is the time to join medicine, dentistry and podiatry as a recipient of GME funding for clinical training.
Your participation in advancing initiatives in Community-Based Eye Care, the National Health Service Corps and the Graduate Medical Education Program is essential to their success.
Although the work ahead will be challenging, optometry’s inclusion in these three major Federal programs would provide eye care to tens of thousands of underserved Americans, new practice opportunities, and forever change the clinical training and financial landscapes of optometric education.
I am confident that the profession’s future leaders are in the auditorium 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 excellence is a mandate not an option.
Values will always be a source of strength. Character and contribution will define your success.
For in the final analysis, it is neither about financial rewards nor power, but pride in your professional and personal achievements.
Thank you and congratulations.