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Photograph of an old building in New Orleans with prominent balconies.

Academy New Orleans: The New Grad Experience

By Dr. Jenny Lee, OD

This year, the American Academy of Optometry (AAO) hosted its annual conference, Academy, in the heart of New Orleans, Louisiana. Held from October 11th to 15th, Academy is one of the most anticipated optometry conferences of the year, hosting over 7,000 attendees!

What makes Academy such a distinguished event?

Every year for a few short but intensive days of learning, celebration, and networking Academy attracts:

  • optometry students
  • exhibitors
  • clinicians
  • academics

First, there is a niche for everyone – from students looking to be exposed to knowledge and ongoing technology beyond the scope of what they’ve learned in optometry school and develop a sense of community with fellow students across the continent, to distinguished key opinion leaders (KOLs) in the field looking to share their knowledge and challenge the current established standard, Academy provides a rich environment for connection and growth.

From workshops that actively boost your techniques (perhaps some that haven’t been practiced since optometry school) to rapid-fire sessions that allow for engagement and multiple perspectives on key hot topics, learning opportunities are abundant.

Particularly as a resident in pediatrics and vision therapy, I felt that I was able to actively tackle areas I was lacking in experience, such as glaucoma and ocular trauma.

Logo of the American Academy of Optometry

AAO provides a seamless experience for students – by simply attending lectures, visiting the exhibit hall and poster program, and network at the residency fair and various other functions, I left Academy last year feeling strongly inspired to seek a Fellowship with the AAO.

Every year Academy also hosts Alumni receptions for each optometry school – this is one of the few events where alumni and students from the University of Waterloo and Université de Montréal come together to share mutual successes and foster connection between the two Canadian schools.

Navigating Costs: Financial Aid and Awards for Academy Attendees

Second, as a new graduate or resident, registration fees are reduced substantially. The cost of attending a conference can be financially intensive, which can make the decision to attend a difficult one.

But being able to obtain an entire cycle’s worth of CE credits within one conference is not something to scoff at, and Academy certainly fits the bill. On top of this, travel fellowships and awards are constantly being offered to residents and optometrists alike to attend Academy!

I had the privilege this year of receiving Allergan’s travel fellowship offered to Residents, which not only allowed me to subsidize some of my costs as a Canadian but also allowed me to network with fellow residents during Allergan’s awards reception and Resident Practitioner Reception.

Photograph of Jenny Lee next to a large presentation on Diplopia, at Academy 2023.

The FAAO Fellowship: Cultivating a Community

Finally, Academy fosters a sense of community and lifelong learning through its’ Fellowship program. The FAAO is an internationally recognized title designating an optometrist as a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry. Adding letters to your professional title aside, this designation is an opportunity for new graduates to set personal goals to further develop their career.

Particularly in light of the pandemic, a sense of community was certainly lacking throughout my time in optometry school as lockdowns had hit hardest during my second and third year.

Visiting Academy both as a student and now-resident reinvigorated this sense of community which I had so desperately needed during the isolation of studying for board examinations and staying at home, connecting me with optometrists and students all around the nation.

Photograph of Dr. Emily Gottschalk being presented as a New Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry.

The Path To Fellowship at Academy

With a 50-point program involving poster presentations and case reports, optometrists can become a Fellow within the span of one to three years. This allows clinicians to not only get a foot in the door in contributing to optometry as an ever-growing profession, but also allows for valuable feedback and communication with other optometrists.

Existing Fellows help to mentor and support upcoming Fellows (or Candidates) and inspire further intraprofessional collaboration. For instance, this year alone my mentor, Dr. Emily Gottschalk (a 2022 UW OD graduate) obtained her Fellowship, as well as my former clinic supervisor, Dr. Jonathan Niavis (a 2019 UW OD graduate).

Their journey as well as those of other Fellows at the University of Waterloo have inspired me to become a Candidate and seek Fellowship!

For those who may be daunted by the idea of poster presentations and case reports, keep in mind these submissions are not something that requires years of experience as an optometrist. Both novel and well-established cases alike have a place in Academy’s scientific and poster programs, and can also lead to further publications in Journals such as Clinical and Refractive Optometry.


Jenny Lee is a current resident in Pediatrics and Vision Therapy at the University of Waterloo. She obtained her optometry degree in 2023 from the Waterloo School of Optometry and Vision Science. Originally from Vancouver, BC, Jenny is an avid hiker, painter, and enjoys paddleboarding making Instagram reels in her spare time.


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Photograph of the author, Jenny Lee, smiling in a large indoor space with provincial flags behind her.

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