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OAOP partner on creating inaugural optometric

NSUOCO, OAOP partner on creating inaugural optometric training conference

TULSA — Optometric physicians from across the state and nation will gather in Tulsa this week for the inaugural OAOP/NSUOCO Converge conference.

Northeastern State University Oklahoma College of Optometry (NSUOCO) and the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians (OAOP) are partnering to present the “Converge: Leading Optometry in Excellence” conference Nov. 18 – 20 at the Marriott Tulsa Hotel Southern Hills.

The new conference combines the OAOP Fall Conference and the NSUOCO Winter Symposium into one event. NSUOCO officials also plan to host their annual white coat ceremony, which is a tradition signifying students’ entrance into the direct clinical patient care portion of the curriculum, at the event.

“Our profession relies upon the school to send well educated and trained physicians into practices,” Joel Robison, chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians, said. The OAOP mission is then to represent those physicians in order to allow them to practice at the highest scope of their training and education. I believe we have a strong relationship with NSUOCO today and we want to grow that relationship in the future.”

Associate Dean of the Oklahoma College of Optometry Dr. Nate Lighthizer said the state association and the optometry college work well together and pooling resources to offer this conference was viewed as another way to build upon that relationship. He added 80% of the state’s optometrists are NSUOCO graduates.

“This was just another way to take it to further heights,” Lighthizer said. “I hope that attendees take away that Oklahoma optometry continues to go strong and be a leader in the eye care space.”

Attendees will hear from renowned speakers in the optometry industry and have opportunities to further their expertise through hands-on workshops and other continuing education opportunities.

Among those scheduled to present are Dr. Ron Melton with Charlotte Eye Ear Nose & Throat Associates, P.A., and Dr. Randall Thomas with Cabarrus Eye Center. Lighthizer said Melton and Thomas are a well-known duo in the optometry field who have been speaking together for many decades.

Also on the list is President of Omni Eye Specialists Dr. Eric Schmidt who is one of the foremost leaders in glaucoma treatment. He is also the current president of the Optometric Glaucoma Society. A number of NSUOCO faculty are also slated to speak including Lighthizer, Associate Professor and NSUOCO Clinic Chief Dr. Spencer Johnson and Associate Professor and Diplomate of the American Board of Optometry Dr. Joseph Shetler.

Robison said the OAOP and NSUOCO’s partnership dates back to the beginning of the optometric program at NSU and it was invigorated with strong support from former Oklahoma College of Optometry Dean Dr. George Foster and current dean Dr. Dean Penisten.

Robison said Foster always spoke of the “three-legged stool” as he emphasized the importance of NSUOCO, OAOP and the Board of Examiners for Optometry in Oklahoma needing to work as a team to provide eye care in Oklahoma second to none.

“We believe that is as true today as it was during Dean Foster’s tenure,” Robison said.

He added he hopes attendees to the conference not only receive quality education but also have an opportunity to see old friends and make new connections.

Lighthizer said the plan is to offer this conference on an annual basis moving forward. Robison said like other professions the optometrists were impacted by the pandemic. He added as the world emerges from the pandemic there is a need to start getting back together to exchange knowledge and see familiar faces.

Lighthizer said with the proposed construction of the new optometry facility in Tahlequah future conferences could be held closer to the college, which is one of 23 optometric training programs in the nation and the only one in Oklahoma.

NSU launched the “Building Excellence: A Vision for the Future” campaign to raise funds for a new facility in February. The proposed facility is more than double the existing space for the Oklahoma College of Optometry in the original W.W. Hastings Hospital built by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1936. 

The new facility will feature state-of-the-art equipment, up-to-date classroom technology, specialized clinics for low vision, vision therapy, vision rehabilitation, primary care and contact lenses, as well as a surgical suite for Oklahoma optometry’s expanded scope of practice.

In addition, officials are proposing additional space to expand the number of optometrists that can benefit from the hands-on training available as part of one of the college’s several continuing education courses.

To learn more about the Converge conference visit https://oklahoma.aoa.org/ events/2021-converge.