The American Academy of Optometry’s Diplomate Programs: Are you up to the challenge?


Chief Optometric Editor Ernie Bowling discusses the learning process that accompanies achieving Diplomate status in the American Academy of Optometry.

Last week was the annual meeting of the American Academy of Optometry, held this year in beautiful Seattle. While I’m fortunate to attend several national meetings a year, the Academy has always been my favorite. I’ve been attending the meeting since I was a student, and I became an Academy Fellow a few years after graduation. Each meeting, it is a pleasure to see all the new Fellows with their bright yellow ribbons adorning their name badges. Soon after I became a Fellow, I submitted my application to the Primary Care Diplomate Program. 

According to the Academy’s bylaws, “Each Academy Section is required to establish a Diplomate program to provide an avenue for distinction achieved by doctors of optometry who strive to attain a level of excellence beyond the regular American Academy of Optometry Fellowship program.” More information can be obtained about any of the Academy’s eight sections’ Diplomate requirements from the Academy’s Web site.

I am a Diplomate of the Primary Care Section. I say that with pride. The PCS Diplomate process is all about learning. When I first considered trying my hand at the process, I had been in rural Georgia for about 10 years in my own little two-office solo practice. I was bored. Truth be told, I was probably burned out. I felt I was slipping clinically and becoming stale. I needed a challenge, something to get me out of my rut. With the blessing of my wife, I decided to try for a PCS Diplomate.

I personally believe the PCS Diplomate to be the hardest of the Diplomate programs. While I admit I’m biased and that statement may or may not be true, as I’m certain Diplomates of the other sections will say the same of their program, I can tell you this: It is without a doubt the hardest thing I have ever attempted in my professional career. I almost quit a dozen times, including after my written and oral exams, even on the evening before my practical exam. But with the support of the members of the PCS, I ground on through. Didn’t pass on the first attempt either. And now it is what I am most proud of in my career. The process is demanding, grueling, and frustrating at times-yet it gave me the confidence to face anything that comes my way in the exam room.

Why did I do it? I didn’t do it for a promotion or to gain a credential. I did it to be a better doctor. The process did that for me. If you’re interested, it can do it for you. Of course, it’s nice to have the credential. Just sayin’.

Optometry Times Editor-in Chief Gretchyn Bailey passed her written and oral exams at this year’s meeting and is now a candidate for Diplomate in the Academy’s Public Health Section. She is taking the journey as well, and I am so proud of her accomplishment !

In this day and age we all strive to be the best at what we do, and there are many avenues available to further our optometric education and training. If you are seeking a challenge, might I recommend you consider an Academy Diplomate program? There is one for practically any area of interest in our profession. But ultimately, the journey is up to you!

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