Over the last 2 years, I’ve had the privilege of attending Optometry’s Meeting (OM) in Chicago and San Diego, Vision Expo East (VEE) in New York, Vision Expo West (VEW) in Vegas, the South Eastern Congress of Optometry (SECO) in Atlanta and the Congressional Advocacy Conference (CAC) in Washington, D.C. A lot of students don’t give much thought or are really aware of the opportunity to attend these hugely beneficial conferences. Here’s my take on why you should attend a few conferences as an optometry student, and how each one is different.
How these conferences work:
You can usually find a decent deal on registration and hotel as long as you start planning early. The centerpiece of each conference is usually the exhibit hall and features frame companies, equipment dealers, websites, specialty products, and more. Throughout the show, there is a wide variety of continuing education courses–FREE for students–on topics such as clinical advice to business and marketing. There are also various events and parties to attend, some educational with a complimentary lunch/dinner and networking included.
This is the meeting that is most synonymous with students, which is what sets it apart from the others. It’s held in a different city each year. It has events such as the popular Student Bowl, and some great parties at night. It also has many student-geared programs and CE’s. That being said, the size and variety of the exhibit hall is on the small side. I feel the attendance of optometrists (and your opportunity for casual conversations and encounters walking around the exhibit hall floor, which is important for making connections and networking) is low compared to other conferences. I would still try to attend this conference every year, as it is a very fun trip and a chance to meet students from other schools and bond more with your classmates. As a side note: don’t underestimate the importance of meeting other students. You get a different view on optometry school and they may have connections or plans once they graduate, and could be looking for someone to join them.
Vision Expo East
As far as the sheer size of this international conference, no other can even compare. Held every year in New York, the exhibit hall is absolutely amazing. Want a worldly, well-rounded view of every aspect of the profession, one that you won’t get in your school’s lecture halls and clinic? Go to VEE. Cutting edge technology, business, eyewear, medical companies, huge elaborate exhibits, a model runway show displaying the latest trends in eyewear… this is one that I would recommend you go to at least once before you graduate. Also, VEE is probably second to OM as far as student attendance, and they have student-geared programs, travel grant opportunities and parties at night.
Vision Expo West
Held in Las Vegas every year, it’s the same concept as VEE, just on a smaller scale. If you’re on the West Coast and can’t make it out to NYC for VEE, VEW is a good alternative. They have plenty of CE’s and offer more for students every year. Also, it’s VEGAS!
South Eastern Congress of Optometry (SECO)
You may not have heard of this one (known as SECO, pronounced ‘see-ko’), but I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Organizers are making a conscious effort to get students involved and offer more networking with optometrists. They had good deals on hotels and gave a $100 cash stipend to help with food and travel. I found that the concept of ‘southern hospitality’ rang true during my trip. I had many conversations with optometrists, who offered advice (and sometimes a future job!). Also, school representatives, non-profit groups and industry professionals took more time to have a chat, educate us and offer their perspective. They also had an awesome concert event (80’s theme with Journey and a costume contest!) and parties to attend at night.
Congressional Advocacy Conference
This conference is the most important of all of them. Optometry wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for political lobbying. This is your chance to learn about the process and be immersed and involved in it. There is also something about being in our nation’s capital that gives you a sense of the unified goals of our profession, and the crucial role optometry has in our healthcare system. You get to meet, learn from and hang out with congressman, lobbyists and politicians (meeting Senator Boozman pictured left), then go to the Hill and lobby for optometry bills. It is truly an amazing experience and is good for your personal growth and the growth of optometry.
Overall, I’d say these conferences give you a taste of the real world. They round out your experience as a student and better prepare you to be successful in practice. One quick piece of advice for CE classes, at least what I like to do: attend as many business classes as possible. This aspect of optometry is not touched on nearly enough in school, so take advantage of free advice that successful OD’s and experts give. Remember, there are still tons of other fantastic conferences out there!! I plan on attending the AAO and COVD within the next year or two. Have any further advice on these conferences? Which ones have you attended? Please don’t hesitate to comment below!