History of the Asian American Optometric Society
By Rodger T. Kame, O.D., F.A.A.O.
Published in Contacto, the National Eye Research Foundation, International Journal of Clinical Eye and Healthcare, Volume 39, Number 2, July 1996
In 1966, during an eight hour round trip drive to one of the early California Optometric Association Contact Lens Seminars held in Fresno, doctors; Arthur T. Sugino, Takao Shishino and Rodger T. Kame had conceptualized a “Japanese American Optometric Society” to address the needs of an emerging group of young optometrists. There existed a desire to fraternize the existing Japanese American optometric community, which tended to consist of isolated individual practices, which were not in touch with one another. The implementation of these ideas was put on hold due to the untimely and unfortunate death of Dr. Sugino in an airplane crash in June of 1966.
In the early 1970’s, a “chartering” meeting was called for Japanese American optometrists who expressed interest in such an organization. This initial meeting, attended by Drs. Rodger Kame, Mike Nakamatsu, Sammy Otsuji, Tak Shimazaki, Takao Shishino, and Paul Sumida, addressed the possible need of a Japanese American optometric community. Further input and support was gained from a group of optometrists from Gardena, Torrance and the surrounding areas who regularly met for lunch. Many of these doctors had attended optometry school during the same era and had become close friends as well as colleagues. This was an ideal group to encourage the concept of such an organization.
The by-laws were patterned after those of the established Japanese American Medical Association (JAMA) and the Japanese American Dental Association (JADA). The Southern California Japanese American Optometric Society (SCJAOS or JAOS) was formally launched in 1972 with 34 charter members. The membership was open and available to any licensed optometrist.
As originally stated in the SCJAOS By-Laws, “the specific and primary purpose of this society is to promote and maintain a social, cultural, scientific, and educational interchange of information and experiences among the members.” It was resolved that the organization should follow the tenets of the California Optometric Association (COA) but not compete with nor supplant it. Therefore, the new organization should not be political but rather educational and social.
One of the primary reasons that prompted the formation of the organization was the sharing of educational and professional experiences and knowledge. Japanese American optometrists actively discussed ideas and participated in a professional organization with much more ease and comfort. The doctors began to meet each other and got along well. They were able to openly express their ideas and experiences without feelings of discomfort or inadequacy. The sharing of individual interests in any aspect of the profession was much more open and uninhibited than at the local society meetings or COA functions. These exchanges of information, concepts and experiences mutually helped the members and fostered a solid basis of respect and camaraderie among them that had not previously existed.
Along with the practical information shared among the members, formal seminars were arranged featuring leading educators. Among the earliest speakers for the educational seminars were Dr. Frank Brazelton and Dr. Richard L. Hopping of the Southern California College of Optometry; Ron Akashi, M.D.; Henry Noguchi, M.D.; Charles Garoni (Administrator of the COA); Dr. Rodger Kame (Contact Lens investigator and researcher) and others. These educational seminars are being conducted to this day and are open to members and guests.
Health Fair vision screening programs, coordinated by ophthalmologist Dr. Ron Akashi, were manned by SCJAOS in the Little Tokyo area of Los Angeles. Subsequent screenings where SCJAOS members participated were conducted at Health Fairs held in West Los Angeles and San Gabriel.
In addition to the myriad of educational programs ranging from Pathology, Contact Lenses, Developmental Vision, Cataract Surgery and After Care, Glaucoma Detection and Treatment, CPR Certification, Practice Management, Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO), Evaluation of Practices, Eyewear and Fashion, Wills and Trusts, How to Handle IRS Audits, etc., the SCJAOS has sponsored many social events such as family picnics, golf tournaments, deep sea fishing trips, bowling tournaments, tennis tournaments, and racquetball tournaments. These social activities are very valuable facets of the organization, where the doctors get to know their colleagues on a more informal level and the families have the opportunity to meet one another.
In 1974, a scholarship award presented to a fourth year student attending the Southern California College of Optometry was established, honoring the memory of Dr. Arthur T. Sugino. Shortly thereafter, a second award in memory of Dr. William Yamamoto was created. These presentations are made annually in addition to a more recently created scholarship given to a fourth year student matriculating at the University of California at Berkeley School of Optometry.
Bestowal of these awards takes place at an annual dinner honoring all Asian American senior students attending both schools. Following dinner, a program featuring a panel of established practicing optometrists acquainting new graduates with “Professional Life After Graduation” is presented. An active question and answer then ensues. Students are encouraged to contact SCJAOS members for advice and information regarding practice opportunities. In the past, many students and new licentiates have thus gained employment or associateships.
The initial concept of being apolitical had changed over the years due to the changing optometric climate of the 70’s. Whenever the California Optometric Association has issued a call for O.D.’s to correspond with their legislators on behalf of the profession, the SCJAOS has responded well. Members have served on the State Board of Optometry. It has also supported professional optometry as well as the two schools of Optometry in California. The SCJAOS, as a group, holds two designations of “Founders” of the Southern California College of Optometry. “Founders” are individuals, corporations, or organizations that had contributed $10,000 or more when the SCCO campus was moved from Los Angeles to Fullerton in 1973. Three members of SCJAOS are also “Founders” on individual basis. A primary objective of the SCJAOS is the encouragement of political involvement with the COA and use of the organization as a possible steppingstone for more individual involvement in COA leadership roles. Asian enrollment now constitutes a large percentage in the schools of optometry and the organization has become a significant body within the profession. Based on membership size, the SCJAOS would qualify as the fifth or sixth largest society if it were a local society of the California Optometric Association.
Early in its history, the SCJAOS established a disability coverage program to come to the aid of members in the unfortunate event of illness or injury. This office coverage provides members with valuable support during such disabilities. Implementation of this program has occurred on two long term occasions allowing the respective practices to continue uninterrupted.
Another important achievement was the formation of a buying group to take advantage of volume discounts. SCJAOS was among the forerunners of purchasing optometric materials utilizing a group-buying concept.
In the late 1980’s, the name of the organization was changed from the Southern California Japanese American Optometric Society to the Asian American Optometric Society. This was done to encourage and encompass other Asian optometrists to enjoy the fellowship of the organization. The majority of the membership approved the name change, which was officially completed in 1989.
The Asian American Optometric Society continues to concern itself with helping its members and their families, professional optometry, and the schools of optometry and their students. In any given year, the number of dues paying member has ranged from 110 to 130 members. The majority of the membership practices in the Southern California area of Los Angeles and surrounding counties, with other members located in Northern California, Hawaii, and a few of the other western states. On the formal side, continuing education, political involvement, and supporting the COA and the Optometry schools wherever possible, practical discussion of patient care, procedures and materials, and future considerations for its members professionally and personally, are constantly addressed by the board and its members. On the informal side, family considerations and involvement, social activities, and the concern and camaraderie among the members remain important goals of the Asian American Optometric Society.
Rodger T. Kame, O.D., F.A.A.O.