Becoming a Fellow in the American Academy of Optometry is more than just letters behind your name; it’s an honor.
It’s a way to set yourself apart within our profession and show your patients and colleagues that you are dedicated to practicing at the highest level while helping optometry move forward. If you’ve ever considered earning your Fellowship, and I truly hope you have, here are 5 tips to make that process easier for you from someone who just did it!
1. Take advantage of the discounts offered by AAO
When it comes to sitting for your Fellowship, it pays not to procrastinate. There are two categories of payments you’ll make when declaring your candidacy: your application fee and your candidate dues. Both of these are discounted if you sit early. The candidate fee of $60 is completely waived for student and resident members, so as long as you are a member of American Academy of Optometry and apply at the end of your 4th year or during residency, you can keep that $60!
Dues are expected Jan. 1 of each year and are handled on a sliding scale. For those who graduated from professional school during the current calendar year, your dues are…..ZERO! That means that if a current fourth year were to apply anytime during 2016 and he or she had student AAO membership during that fourth year, it would cost ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to apply to become a Fellow. How awesome is that?!?
After the calendar year during which you graduate, the dues increase each year. Currently, those dues are set at:
- $175 for those who graduated during the previous calendar year
- $265 for those who graduated two calendar years ago
- $355 for those who graduated three or more calendar years ago
So, as you can see, the earlier you apply, the better! Keep in mind that you have three years after declaring candidacy to successfully complete your Fellowship, so you don’t have to put the pressure on yourself to finish the year you graduate. Just make sure you apply so that you can save your $$$!
2. Select your topics carefully
In order to become a FAAO as a clinical candidate (the category most practicing ODs will qualify under), you must first accumulate 50 points then sit for and pass an oral exam. Your points may come through case reports, publications, posters, papers, Academy lectures, or leadership contributions–all of which are worth 10 points each. Successfully completing a residency or publishing a professionally related book will earn you 20 points. All clinical candidates are required to submit at least one case report.
Regardless of the combination of ways in which you reach your 50 points, make sure that the topics you cover are ones you feel confident discussing. Your oral exam will be based upon the cases/posters/etc. that you submit, so choosing an extremely rare, super-complicated topic will only make your discussion more challenging. On the other end of the spectrum, selecting a case that is overwhelmingly common (such as fitting a -2.00 myope in a soft contact lens) will likely not be smiled upon by your review committee.
Try to find a happy middle ground. Choose cases in which you understand why you did what you did and what you would do differently next time. Possibly most importantly, listen to the feedback you get on your written submissions. Those giving you that feedback are the same people who will be administering your oral exam. If you take their suggestions and questions to heart, you will enter your oral much more prepared.
3. Make sure you know the deadlines!
There are multiple steps in the Fellowship process, and missing a deadline is an easy way to make sure you aren’t successful for that year. The AAO website does a great job of outlining those deadlines for you, so make sure you are familiar with them prior to beginning your candidacy. Currently, the deadlines are as follows:
April 1: deadline to submit first case report for clinical candidates and proposed plan for all candidates
June 1: deadline for submitting the remainder of your written work
August 1: deadline for submitting corrections to your written work
August 15: deadline for notifying the Vice-Chair of Admittance that you are ready to schedule your oral exam (This step may only be taken after successful approval of all your written work by your subcommittee).
Your written work and CV will be submitted through an online portal which will time stamp each submission. Make sure you don’t risk being overdue!
4. Communicate with your Subcommittee Chair
Once you have applied for Fellowship, you will be assigned a Subcommittee Chair. This person will be responsible for leading the review of your point submissions, as well as your oral exam. He or she is a great resource for understanding what your review committee is looking for in your work and can be extremely helpful throughout the process.
5. Treat your oral exam as you would an important job interview
In other words….be professional and punctual. Make sure you are dressed appropriately- suits are the most common choice among candidates. You will be given a time and location for your oral exam. Familiarize yourself with the location ahead of time if need be in order to alleviate any scrambling on the day of the test. It will be suggested to arrive 15-30 min ahead of your assigned time…HEED THAT SUGGESTION. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been present when I was called, as the committee was running approximately 15 min ahead of time.
In addition, make sure you take time to prepare. Review your cases and be familiar with what you did, why you did it, and what could have been done differently. Staying up to date on current topics within optometry is also suggested, as each committee’s questions are somewhat different.
Lastly, breathe and be confident in yourself! You made it that far…you can absolutely make it past the final hurdle!
As you navigate your candidacy, make sure to keep these five tips in mind and check out AAO’s website, which will walk you through everything you need to know to become a Fellow. I have no doubt that you can take this step successfully, and we at NGO look forward to watching many new grads become Fellows of the American Academy of Optometry very soon! Good luck, and please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions you may have!