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AOA's newest trustee shares his views


Chief Optometric Editor Ben Casella, OD, FAAO, chats with Curtis Ono, OD. Dr. Ono was recently elected as trustee for the American Optometric Association (AOA).

Ben Casella, OD, FAAO: Hello, I am Ben Casella, chief optometric editor for Optometry Times®, and I have the profound pleasure of being joined by the newest trustee of the American Optometric Association (AOA) board, Dr. Curtis Ono. Dr. Ono, how are you, sir?

Curtis Ono, OD: I am doing just great. Thank you.

Dr. Casella: Everybody staying safe up in your neck of the woods?

Dr. Ono: Yes, thankfully, so yes, thank you.

Dr. Casella: Now, you are in Washington. You guys got hit a little bit early on. It seems like y’all have learned the ropes earlier than a lot of us have.

The epicenter of COVID

Dr. Ono: Yeah, and I think because we were the epicenter, we took it very seriously, I think. And I think as we were just discussing the mask and the gloves and the washing the hands and the good hygiene in order to prevent infection from spreading is just part of our lives. Not that we don’t have people who don’t always comply. But I would say about 90 percent of people comply and patients have been, very accepting of the fact that they have to wear protection when they come in, not only for themselves, but for the staff members, as well.

Dr. Casella: I completely understand that, and well said. We are starting to see numbers creep up in Georgia here. So hopefully, we can take a play out of the Washington playbook and do things the way you guys did it. I know that you were recently sworn in and a heartfelt congratulations to my good friend. And what was it like being sworn in virtually? Did you feel like it wasn’t—obviously, it wasn't quite the same. Explain the experience to me.

Dr. Ono: It is very different than what I expected when I first decided to run over a year ago when we had Optometry’s Meeting in St. Louis. I have been in organized optometry and in the AOA leadership structure for quite a while, serving as a membership chair. So, I have always seen it from the delegation side of watching them go through the ceremony and being up there and raising the right hand, you know, and then there is the receiving line afterwards.

It was very different this year. And it will definitely be very memorable. But to me, it was just as special, just as significant. Because it is a large responsibility that I am really going to try my best to leave the board better than what I came in, where it is now. And it was just as special during that moment in time. So, even though it was different and less conventional than in past years, it really was very significant, a very significant moment for me.

Dr. Casella: So, I am hearing that it is not about the wedding. It is about the marriage.

Dr. Ono: (Laughs) It really is. You know, again serving at the pleasure of the board, I have seen how hard the board members work and really come in with open eyes. They really do sacrifice a lot with family time, with also their time in the practices. So, I know how hard they work. I have gotten text messages asking me about membership or about having them have a membership idea. I know how hard they work, and I am ready to do that on the part of AOA and the members and the affiliates.

Virtual meetings

Dr. Casella: So, I know that there are dozens and dozens of travel days for trustees of the board, and it seems as though we are not going to be going anywhere for a minute.

Do you foresee a day in the foreseeable—I mean, make me feel better Curtis, I miss my optometry family. I really do. I mean, I hope to be at Academy. I miss you guys, and I want to see you. Do you foresee a day in the foreseeable future here?

Dr. Ono: Yes. Well, I will say that it will go back to a different normal, but it will go back to normal. You know, there needs to be treatment plans to be able to treat COVID but also a vaccine, certainly. So there will be a day. However, I think that in many ways, we as an optometric community really have still remained connected not only in this avenue on Zoom meetings, but also just in terms of making sure that we all check in with each other.

Certainly, AOA has been very strong as you know in providing information to its members about COVID resources including PPP, the paycheck protection program. Jeff Michaels has led 7 of them, I believe, as well as telehealth. But also, I participated in fun things too, like virtual happy hours, which has been one of my favorites, as well as virtual coffee hour. So, we are finding methods to be able to still stay connected and be a community. So, I think that is really special within our organization within our profession.

Dr. Casella: Absolutely. Hats off to you. And, again, you mentioned, Jeff Michaels and Andy Morgenstern— hats off to all of the tireless advocates, and you are a tireless advocate for us and for our patients. And I have had the privilege of knowing you for a number of years, and I am very proud to call you a friend. I will close with one final question.

Dr. Ono: Yes.

Dr. Casella: We are on Zoom.

Dr. Ono: Yes.

Dr. Casella: I am not wearing shoes. Are you wearing shoes?

Dr. Ono: (Laughs) I am wearing shoes. I did prep today. So I did. They and, not only that, but I will share also something else, I am wearing pants, too. So, pants and shoes. Yes. But that is only because I am at work.

Dr. Casella: Curtis 2, Ben 0. Hah! Well, listen, Dr. Ono, thank you so much for your willingness to continue to serve. And we know that optometry is in very, very good hands, and I appreciate your time, my friend!

Dr. Ono: Thank you very much and stay safe. All is going to be well, believe me. We are going to be stronger coming out of this than ever. Once we get through this.

Dr. Casella: Stay safe, wear a mask, and we will talk soon my friend.

Dr. Ono: Great. Thank you.

Dr. Casella: Thank you.

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