Dr. Sana Owais, OD, FAAO, shares her American Academy of Optometry (AAO) experiences with NewOptometrist Editor Dr. Jaclyn Chang; from AAO Student Chapter fundraising to ultimately earning Fellowship herself!
Jaclyn: Can you tell our audience about your involvement with the American Academy of Optometry (AAO) as an optometry student?
Sana: I worked with my lovely counterpart – you, as our Vice-President! We were part of the University of Waterloo AAO Student Chapter where we raised funds for students to attend Academy 2016 in Anaheim, California.
I was delighted that we were able to sponsor a few Waterloo students to attend Academy, one of the largest global optometry conferences! The fundraiser was a highlight of optometry school. Another highlight was when we got to meet guest speakers at our Waterloo events, including Dr. Barbara Caffery, FAAO (past-president of the AAO) and Dr. Derek MacDonald, FAAO (executive with the Optometric Glaucoma Society). We were very fortunate! Additionally, while I was a part of the student chapter, I attained my student fellowship at the Chicago Academy (2017) meeting.
Jaclyn: Yes, it was definitely fun to work together! Can you talk about your personal journey to getting an AAO fellowship? What is the process and what are the requirements?
Sana: To become a Fellow, you first register online in order to create your application for candidacy. Then, you get assigned reviewers who will be evaluating your submissions (e.g. poster, case report, or published article).
My reviewers were Academy Fellows from all over the world. I had three reviewers, from the U.K., Canada, and Spain. It was nice to have a diverse committee. They were able to give varied feedback which elevated my case reports.
There are three different candidacy paths you can go through. You can become a clinical candidate, a scientific candidate, or special category candidate. I pursued the clinical candidate which requires 50 points through various activities such as, leadership in the optometry community, case reports, publications, or presenting an Academy lecture.
My goal was to complete the clinical candidate requirements with the combination of a residency and three case reports.
After submitting my three case reports, communicating back-and-forth with my reviewers, and revising my case reports with all of the suggested edits, I got an email saying that I was eligible for the oral interview at Academy, (Orlando 2019)!
A few weeks before the oral interview I reviewed my case reports, read related literature, and practiced summarizing the key points of each case report. At the Pearson airport waiting lounge, while I was waiting for my fight to Orlando, I noticed that the person next to me was also reviewing some Academy conference material. It turns out I was sitting next to a current fellow who ended up giving me some useful tips for the oral interview!
At the Academy conference, I did a 15-minute in-person interview with the same three committee members that had evaluated my work. (It was so exciting to meet them in person!). They were all very friendly and supportive. They asked me probing questions about my cases and some other questions which, to be honest, caught me off guard.
It was incredibly nice to meet them in person. I ended up recognizing one of the assessors who wa a guest speakers at one of our previous UW AAO student chapter events. It was exciting to see things come full circle!
After the interview, I waited in a different room while the committee deliberated on their decision. After a few nerve-wracking minutes, I found that I had been granted the Fellowship!
I went into a different room where I received a fellowship certificate and shook hands with Dr. Barbara Caffery! In the evening, we had a Fellows’ banquet where all of the incoming fellows were inaugurated. It was so special.
Jaclyn: Awesome, congrats! What are the benefits of fellowship?
Sana: There are several benefits such as, discounted Academy meeting registration fees, access to Optometry and Vision Science, which is a monthly journal containing papers on clinical cases, inclusion on the Academy’s online directory of Fellows, and of course being able to add the F.A.A.O. designation with your name.
One of my favourite parts of fellowship is the requirement to attend the Academy meeting every few years. At Academy you have access to a plethora of networking opportunities where you can meet some of the world’s leading clinicians in various fields. It’s like a big academic party!
Jaclyn: Do you have any other advice for optometrists or students who would be interested in pursuing a fellowship?
Sana: My advice would be to make a blueprint on how you will attain the fellowship, (i.e.plan which combination of case reports, posters, and or residency you would like to do) and then follow that plan. Easier said than done! Luckily, I had two terrific supervisors, Dr. Shamroze Khan, OD, FAAO, and Dr. Tammy Labreche, OD, FAAO, who kept me on track and kept me motivated through the process!
You don’t necessarily have to do a residency in order to achieve a fellowship if you’ve already completed a few publications or done leadership in the optometry community. If that is the case, you may already have some of the building blocks necessary to attain the FAAO.
Everyone’s journey to fellowship is different. Like the common adage, ‘it’s not the destination, it’s the journey’. The learning experiences that you take on in order to attain the fellowship is where the true enrichment lies, rather than attaining the fellowship itself.
Residency and fellowship were absolutely worth pursuing. It was a difficult year-and-half, but in the end it was worth it.
I felt earning a fellowship was like taking our optometry training to the next level. For example, after one accomplishes a goal in his/her professional life, one may ask ‘what’s next’? Although, it may be easy to become complacent in our professional pursuits after graduation, it is important to keep upgrading ourselves because the profession is continually evolving, so perhaps fellowship could be a next step!
The next 2022 Academy meeting is in San Diego, so hopefully more of us can attend this year. Fingers crossed!
Jaclyn: Great advice! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and experience on this topic with our audience!
For more information on fellowship, visit: https://www.aaopt.org/membership/becoming
Jaclyn Chang, OD
Dr. Jaclyn Chang graduated from the University of Waterloo (UW) with an Honours Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences before continuing at Waterloo to complete her Doctor of Optometry degree. She is currently a practicing optometrist in Toronto.
Dr. Chang is committed to sharing information and bringing new resources to her colleagues. As a student, she sat on the Board of Trustees for the American Optometric Student Association, organizing events to connect students with industry. She was the Co-Founder/Co-President of the award-winning UW Advancement of Independent Optometry Club, the first club at UW dedicated to private practice optometry. Dr. Chang is also a passionate writer, who aims to make information accessible and easily digestible to her colleagues. She has published in Optometry & Vision Science and has contributed to Foresight and Optik magazine. She is excited to bring valuable resources to Canada’s next generation of optometrists with NewOptometrist.ca.