Recently I was asked to speak to a group of 7th and 8th grade girls at a STEM awareness conference. For those of you unfamiliar with this program, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. I was quite prepared, had all of my facts and figures, and had my presentation down pat. I walked into this presentation prepared to educate these young ladies about opticianry, but I can truly say these young ladies taught me a great deal also.

Lessons Learned
I was prepared to show the group how opticianry as a profession walks the line between all of the things STEM stands for. As opticians, we are influenced by science as we discuss the anatomy and science of vision; Technology, as we discuss the technology of ophthalmic lens creation; Engineering, as we discuss the manufacturing process of eyeglass frames; and Math, as we discuss the various physical properties of light and its refraction. I was prepared to get into the guts of what we do each and every day, and how what we do helps enhance the way our patients experience their visual world.

However, I found that I needed to put the bus in reverse. What I thought of as the beginning of the story was far different from their interpretation.

Let's Be Clear
The audience had no idea what opticianry was, they had no idea what optometry was, and they had no idea what ophthalmology was. They did, however, know how to look things up much faster than I did on Wikipedia and they do know how important technology is to life as they know it. This demographic understands how important their vision is, but they've never been presented with the idea of the "Three O's" and how we all relate to each other.

It also occurred to me that they do understand who a surgeon is and what they do, they understand who their family practice doctor is and what they do, and they understand who a pharmacist is and what they do. It is the optical world that is a mystery to them. What I took from this realization, is that our profession must be giving mixed messages, or in many cases, no messages at all.

Who is listening?
Sometimes the problem with messaging is identifying the target market. If you don't know who you're speaking to, it's hard to know what to say to them. What I found from this presentation was that it's not just 7th and 8th grade girls who don't know who we are, the chaperones also had many questions about opticianry.

This hit me like a ton of bricks. Basically, while those of us who work in the optical industry know very well of the importance of what we do and how it impacts the lives of those we touch, the population at large seems to know nothing about us. Even those who utilize our services.

The biggest problem I can identify here is that assumptions run rampant within our industry. We assume people already know who we are and what we do, or, we assume someone else will tell them. Worse still, we assume that if people don't know the answer they will take it upon themselves to find out the information. The problem with this is that WE really are the experts. WE should be the ones telling our own story. Waiting for someone else to do it is a dangerous waiting game. Who will ensure the message the public is being told is accurate?

What's the story?
So, does this make you think about what our story is? I hope so! But, we don't have to do it alone, the Opticians Association of America has some tools already put together to assist in telling the story. One of the best is a video posted on the OAA's YouTube channel. This video was the winner of an opticianry Video Contest put on by the OAA in 2014. If you are thinking about what the story of opticianry is or what it should be, I would encourage you to look at this video. I hope you draw some conclusions and begin telling your story to anyone who will listen. Reach out to the organizations you have at your disposal, whether that be your state societies, or even national associations. Becoming a part of these groups gives the power to tell the story more loudly than we can as individuals. In the absence of a story, people will fill in the blanks on their own, instead, let's introduce ourselves to John Q. Public and tell him an accurate story of who opticians are and what we do.

Johnna Dukes, ABOC is currently the owner and operator of an optical boutique, with experience in both the private practice sector as well as the retail chain setting. She has a wide range of experience varying from optical support staff to dispensary management to practice ownership. She lives in Okoboji, Iowa.