College of Optometry Founding Dean Elizabeth Hoppe, OD, MPH, DrPH

Western University of Health Sciences College of Optometry Founding Dean Elizabeth Hoppe, OD, MPH, DrPH, recently completed her one-year term as president of the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) in June 2020.

Hoppe presided over an academic year unlike any other as COVID-19 forced institutions across the country to move to online learning. In her May 2020 President’s Column for ASCO, Hoppe addressed how the profession helped students through this uncertain time.

Through a partnership with the American Academy of Optometry (AAO), 139 speakers presented 202 sessions to 2,331 students. Students participated in a total of 41,256 sessions for an overall total of 28,731 hours of education. Attendees represented all of the schools and colleges in North America as well as 24 other countries.

“Never before in the history of our profession, nor for that matter in the history of our country, has a group of graduates faced the kinds of challenges that our Class of 2020 has had to face these past few months,” Hoppe wrote. “Never before has any other graduating class ever received so much support. The American Academy of Optometry, American Optometric Association, National Glaucoma Society, ABO, BHVI, journals and publications, industry partners, other associations, and many more have all chipped in with resources to support our alternative experiences of clinical education.”

Throughout her tenure as ASCO president, Hoppe promoted the profession of optometry as a great career choice for the future generation of students. ASCO’s “Being an Optometrist Gives Me Life” campaign embodies that idea.

“ASCO’s Optometry Gives Me Life campaign is targeted toward encouraging undergraduate students to learn more about optometry and everything that this wonderful profession has to offer,” Hoppe said. “We are also refreshing and renewing ASCO’s Inspiring Future ODs program. We know that doctors of optometry are the profession’s best advocates and the personal interactions that they have every day with their patients serves as an inspiration that can result in a life-changing career choice. Many times when you talk with doctors of optometry about why they chose the profession, it is because of the admiration for their own optometrist.”

Optometrists’ role in health care is changing. Technology is changing. Scope of practice is changing. Insurance is changing.

“In a time of so much change, we need to bring in the next generation of leaders who can help shape that change and help transform our profession so we will be part of the mainstream and we will continue to be relevant,” Hoppe said. “We must adopt the latest technologies on behalf of our patients to provide optimal care.”

Many young people are unfamiliar with the profession of optometry, unless they have personal experience with an optometrist, Hoppe said.

“Even if they think they know, they don’t know everything an optometrist can do,” Hoppe said. “There is a general lack of awareness. Part of it is getting the word out. Part of the message is showing some of the scope available and the importance of eye and vision care.”

The profession provides a financially fulfilling, stable, great life, Hoppe said. An optometrist can own their own practice or work as an employee.

“Anything you have a passion for you can find it in the profession of optometry,” Hoppe said. “If you love technology, sports, children, serving elders, whatever it is that you love it is somewhere in there, and work-life balance is emphasized. We are hearing more and more how important that is.”

College of Optometry Associate Professor Bennett McAllister, OD, FAAO, serves as a role model for students in finding work-life balance. He was riding his bicycle across the country when Hoppe called him to offer him a job at WesternU in 2010. He plays cello in the La Verne Symphony Orchestra. He speaks at conferences around the world to elevate the profession of optometry.

“You can change lives and yet have a life of your own,” McAllister said.

McAllister said has never examined eyes in his life. He examines people who happen to have eyes.

“I’m not interested in making people see. I’m interested in their quality of life,” he said. “It’s a whole different mindset from just refracting someone to give them glasses. It’s just one of the tools we use to help people’s quality of life.”