Every spring, members and student members of the American Optometric Association descend on Washington DC for the annual Congressional Advocacy Conference. I mentioned in my last post that I was going to get the opportunity to make the trip this year, so here’s a recap of all that we did and of course a handful of photos!
Departure day. The conference didn’t start until Sunday late afternoon but my traveling partners, Amber and Taylor, and I figured we’d make a weekend of it and I’m very glad we did. Instead of going to DC on Saturday we decided to go to Baltimore for the day and night since Taylor’s boyfriend lives in Baltimore. The day started early, with a departure around 8:30 am so we could get into town mid-afternoon and still do things around Baltimore. While my classmates went out around town for the day and night, I headed downtown. If you have read my “About Kevin” page, you’re likely well aware I am a huge baseball fan – so much so that no matter what city I’m traveling to, I’m bound to check the local baseball schedules to see if anyone was playing at home. I think I could get written out of the family will if I didn’t…
Regardless, the scheduling worked out perfectly because the hometown Baltimore Orioles were home for a weekend series and I had never been to a game at Camden Yards! Besides finally getting a new ballpark for my list (now at 21 current and former stadiums), an added benefit to all of this was getting to go to the game with my older brother! He actually lives in DC, so he made a trip up to Baltimore to go to the game. The Orioles won, we got to enjoy Baltimore a bit, and the weekend was off to a great start.
My brother and I hung around Baltimore in the morning since neither of us had spent lots of time there. We grabbed some brunch and then ended up out at Fort McHenry, the site of the battle for Battle for Baltimore in the War of 1812. Fort McHenry is infamous for holding off the British and inspiring Francis Scott Key to pen the words to The Star-Spangled Banner. It was really interesting to see how they built these forts back in the day. Forts are surprisingly ingenious. It has multiple tiers, providing different levels of protection and is highly organized to keep people out and help more those inside effectively. My favorite by far though was the bomb shelter, complete with circa 1800s air vents.
After visiting the fort, we traveled down to DC. In DC I met up with Taylor and Amber, we checked into the hotel and then had a couple hours to kill before the first event of the conference. In the second fortuitous scheduling event of the weekend, the cherry blossoms were in full, and I literally mean, full bloom! We made our way down to the tidal basal, around the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial. If you get a chance, go check out the cherry blossoms. They were absolutely gorgeous. Be prepared to fight the massive crowds, but the trees don’t leave you disappointed as evidenced by my many photos of them.
After visiting the blossoms, the conference started with a welcome reception. That was a great time to mingle with doctor and students from other schools. In total, 11 students from Ohio State went to the conference and we all finally got to meet at the reception and meet many of the doctors from Ohio. A large number of the Ohio doctors are the members of the board for the Ohio Optometric Association (OOA) but we also met a number of others who were Ohio State alums. What is really neat about Ohio State Optometry is that the connections made at the school span all sense of time. Even with just being a first year (almost second year!) I felt as if I had been part of the Ohio delegation for 10 plus years. It’s really neat to see that the pride and excitement everyone has Ohio State never goes away. Side note: if you’re ever at an optometric conference and want to find where the Ohio State crew is, just shout a quick “O-H!” – you’ll hear us.
The reception was also a nice opportunity to meet other students who were there. I got to connect with some first year students from Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) and chat about their experience this year. It was interesting to hear how similar and different each of our programs are, especially since I had considered going to PCO.
Not a lot really happened on Monday. For most of it we were in meetings about the legislation we were going to be advocating for on Tuesday. In the evening after our meetings, the members of the OOA took all the students out for dinner. It was a great meal and a unique opportunity to chat and learn from doctors who are high up within the profession in Ohio. It also was a great chance to learn about the profession that occurs outside of the classroom we’ve been sitting in all year and in some ways, I think that’s equally important.
Seeing as we were leaving almost immediately after Tuesdays meeting to get back to Columbus, Monday was our last free time in DC to explore. Some of us ended up going down to the monuments at night, which is a really near experience. It’s a lot quieter since the crowds of the day have left and you can really enjoy the monuments I think. A crew of us ended up at the Lincoln Memorial and enjoyed a really nice spring evening.
Tuesday – Hill Visit Day!
Tuesday of the conference is “descend on the hill” day and it’s nothing short of that. Some 500 doctors and students from all around the country all hit the capitol to meet with as many representative and senators as possible. Collectively all 11 of us students were assigned to different congressmen and women from Ohio. In most cases we ended up talking with aids for the member of congress but I felt like each meeting was productive and effective in explaining the issues facing optometry and why our proposed legislation should be considered. Everyone we met with seemed receptive to our proposals and even if nothing else comes of it in the short term, getting the opportunity to directly talk with the men and women who represent us is a very unique experience. Hopefully I’ll be able to go again next year, school schedule permitting of course. Who knows, maybe I’ll get to another baseball game if the Washington Nationals are home next season!
Other than the DC trip. the mad dash to the end of the year is here. We had a neuroanatomy lab practical today and classes end on Monday. Finals begin on Wednesday and wrap around the weekend to the following Tuesday. The following week is something we call Keystone, a program designed to the best of my knowledge, to pull all of 1st year together. The light at the end of the tunnel of the next 2-3 weeks is our White Coat ceremony we’ve been working so hard this year to get to. I can’t wait for that day and the feeling that all the hard work over the course of the school will have paid off. It will be a special day and a very well earned reward for all of us.