AOA 2024: GWCO 2024 Congress to bring networking opportunities for students


The organization's past-president and treasurer give some insights on what to expect at the 2024 Congress event this October.

The Great Western Council of Optometry (GWCO)'s Past-President Gabby Marshall OD, FCOVD, and Treasurer Frank Akers II, OD, give some highlights of the upcoming 2024 Congress meeting, to be held October 17-20, and what plans the organization has for the upcoming year.

Video transcript

Editor's note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Gabby Marshall, OD, FCOVD:

Hi I'm Gabby Marshall. I practice in Oregon. I'm the current immediate past-president for GWCO, the Great Western Council of Optometry.

Frank Akers II, OD:

I'm Frank Akers of Mesa, Arizona, presently the treasurer for GWCO and also chair for the Bronstein Cornea conference in Scottsdale.


[GWCO] is regional. It represents 12 western states and it was started in the early 1990s in order to help support some smaller states in their education, so we are an education meeting, and also for organized optometry in order to bring students together and build leadership skills. It was to support smaller states on the national level at the AOA. We have a president's council that meets twice a year and we are able to collaborate and share ideas and also help support candidates when they want to run for AOA trustee. And also we like to see our states be asked to have doctors on committees with the AOA because that's really great. And we are enjoying a lot of award recipients. It's just really nice to have a voice on the national level. So our meeting, we hold a meeting every year in October, September/October with however it falls out. And this year, our meeting is October 17 through the 20th in Portland, Oregon. And we have a multitrack CE, which Dr. Akers has helped put together this year and we're very excited about it. And we also are doing a new thing with vendors this year. So we're trying to mix things up a little bit and listen to our industry support and offer a different interaction with the attendees. So we're offering a vendor experience, which is a room they can rent for basically the whole meeting and be available.


I want to actually echo what Dr. Marshall just said, is that we're really are trying to listen to our vendor partners and how we can make their interaction with the docs a lot better, because we know we can hold a meeting without our vendors. And we really appreciate all the help and sponsorship we get from him. Our CE is really good this year, covering a lot of neuro. Of course, we always covered the back of the eye as well. But we've got some nice speakers coming in. And we're excited to have you guys attend our meeting.


One other thing I'd like to say about GWCO is that our members are the states and they send a director to GWCO to represent their state. So our board is a working board that plans the meeting then works with our administrative company. And we have a representative from every single GWCO state that worked [unintelligable]. So it's a great team and we are changing our venue up. We're going to be in a hotel now, not in the convention center. So it's going to have a more homely, intimate feeling which everybody's looking forward, having just met all day long and interact.

We have enjoyed having the entire AOA board at our meeting, that started last year. That was really great. It was a wonderful opportunity to have them sit with all of our leaders in our states and answer questions and give reports. The camaraderie was amazing. It really energized a lot of people to come to GWCO.

The CE is always really good. We have a wonderful student presence. There's a big concern right now for doctors to be able to interact with students and basically network and find potential employees or associates. We have a very successful student program started by Dr. Ken Ackland many years ago at Pacific University and he is built it up. We have almost 200 students that come to our meeting on Saturday, and they interact with the doctors. We do state booths, they have their own leadership track. And they love it because they get to talk to the doctors from all 12 western states, which is really nice. It's a little different than going to just a state meeting, which can be very, very fruitful for them but not everybody stays in Oregon that goes to the Pacific.


That's a good point. So a lot of states will have their students attend various meetings, and it's just that state. A lot of times they're just attending the CE. There's a national program for the students to attend, where we're actually trying to help them understand how important organized optometry is, but also get those connections. I think that's just a huge, huge benefit for the students. 200 students will show up. That's huge.


Yeah, and the GWCO board also grants a student grant every year in the memory of Harue Marsden. That is a grant that is gifted to a student that embodies her legacy in organized optometry and supporting students. She was very instrumental in building this program and working with GWCO. And so we'd love to be able to honor her in this grant. And so we have a $3000 grant that we get one student per a year, and they get to attend with all of the leadership events, so they get to go to our President's Council and meet with boards and be recognized. So it's really fun. We love getting awards.

It's really great to see multifactorial CE. So it's not just contact lenses, it's not just back of the eye retina stuff, it's not just dry eye. We always try to pull in a very diverse program. And GWCO actually has been known to pull in binocular vision, functional vision stuff with every meeting. So it's really nice. People from all different specialties within optometry can get something out of this meeting, and we're looking forward to that. We also host some state events so the Oregon Optometric Physicians Association will host a casino night on Friday night. We'll have a president's reception. The Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation is doing their annual gala that Saturday night so attendees can choose to go off site and do an extra activity if they want.

I wouldn't mind rebranding GWCO to the reunion meeting, because it always feels like reunions for a lot of our west coast schools. A lot of people from the same classes get to get together and meet during the meeting there. We have a new optometry school within our region, which is the Rocky Mountain University Doctor of Optometry. And we are very excited, hopefully, to have some students from that school. That would be great.

Dr. Kenji Hamada, who was one of the founding members of GWCO, put in place when he designed the regional was to have it be revenue sharing for the states. So as a member of GWCO, you actually can have non-dues revenue come into your state by having doctors in each state attend the meeting. That is the goal and we have, for the 30 years that we've been in existence, given a lot of money back to our states, which is really exciting. COVID kind of changed things a little bit. I think a lot of organizations are recovering from that trauma. And that's one of our goals is to get back to the points where we can distribute revenue-sharing to our states that are member states. So we're on track for that, which is very exciting. And we're making lots of changes and flexing with the new world. We have a great board. We have a great management company, and a great executive director and we're excited. We want people to come visit us in Oregon.

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