The Association of Regulatory Boards of Optometry (ARBO) is the federation of state, provincial, and territorial boards of optometry throughout North America. Boards of optometry serve as the licensing and regulatory arm of the optometric profession by formulating rules, or regulations, that govern and enforce the laws that grant the privilege to practice optometry, which are enacted by state legislatures.
Most organizations are created due to meet the needs of a group with something in common. The first ARBO President, W.S. Todd of Hartford, Connecticut, had been talking to other leaders of the profession since 1913, and believed in the need to address the quality of optometric education and assure more uniform licensure by jurisdictions. But it wasn't until 1919 that ARBO was formally organized as the International Board of Boards (IBB) by twenty-seven people representing nineteen U.S. state boards and two Canadian provincial boards at a meeting in Rochester, New York. Even though ARBO has played a significant role in obtaining solutions for Dr. Todd's two issues of 1919, the profession itself has continued to expand over the years. ARBO has grown with it, incorporating two name changes along the way, the first in the late 1920's to the more encompassing International Association of Boards of Examiners in Optometry (IAB), and the second, in 1999, to its current name, ARBO. Both changes were designed to closely align the organization with its evolving mission, and communicate a concise and clear identity to both the general public and the optometric profession.
At the outset, there was great concern regarding the education of optometrists. The boards also realized there was a need to establish standards for licensure. In 1919 a meeting was held with representatives of ARBO and the Federation of Optometry Schools (the forerunner of today's Association of Schools & Colleges of Optometry) to try and establish a common educational model. The outcome of the meeting was a request to the American Optometric Association (AOA) to fund a Joint Conference on Education, which was held in St. Louis in January 1922. The first Syllabus for Optometry Schools was published and distributed by AOA and ARBO as a result of that conference.
ARBO also had concerns about the educational quality of the various schools and the curriculum of each, and this resulted in the recognition of a need to visit the schools and accredit each. ARBO was involved in recruiting qualified faculty members and researching appropriate textbooks for the optometric curriculum. These actions helped to develop: a quality education affordable to the student; an education accomplished within a reasonable amount of time; and, an assurance to licensing boards that, at graduation, students would be sufficiently prepared to pass an examination for licensure.
In prior years and today, enforcement of optometric laws has fallen to each optometric board. The early founders of ARBO worked hard to develop a model statute for adoption by legislative bodies that would provide public protection. Licensure by common examination, and the concept of reciprocity were recurring themes at ARBO meetings; and to this end, model laws were drafted and circulated to member boards. History repeats itself today as both ARBO and AOA continue to develop and circulate such model laws to cover the changing scope of practice.
Several of ARBO's early projects are now undertaken by other organizations. After many years of discussion, some of which were quite heated, ARBO recognized the
Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE) as the accrediting body for optometry schools. ARBO contributes to members to the Council and they must be serving as current board members when they are nominated. And now, each year, ACOE presents a report on the optometry schools it has accredited at the ARBO Annual Meeting; this report is adopted by the ARBO House of Delegates, and by each member board, as needed.
ARBO saw a need in the 1930's to develop a data bank of questions in order that boards could develop quality examinations for licensure. This task was undertaken by ARBO, and the bank of questions was made available to any member board conducting examination. Over time, the questions became widely used, and ARBO began to pursue the concept of a uniform national examination. In 1949 an ARBO resolution created the National Board Of Examiners in Optometry, with members from both ARBO and ASCO to represent the educational and licensing bodies in optometry in the examination development process. The first examination of the National Board was given in 1952. Today, the outcome of that initial ARBO resolution is that most licensing jurisdictions require successful passage of National Board examinations prior to jurisdictional licensure. The result is a further assurance for the public of the competency of the thousands of practicing optometrists.
Early in the legislative effort for therapeutic pharmaceuticals in optometry (also known as "TPAs"), ARBO recognized the expanded scope for the profession and the need to credential optometrists to obtain its usage. In order for the licensure effort to be successful, ARBO contracted with the National Board to develop a credentialing examination known as the Treatment and Management of Ocular Disease (TMOD). For more than ten years this examination has provided the necessary testing for practitioners to demonstrate competence in TPA usage and accordingly achieve TPA licensure privileges, thus serving to enhance optometric practice.
Today, ARBO is addressing member boards' concerns regarding evaluation methods for the continuing competency of practicing optometrists, and the uniform quality of continuing education for the profession. ARBO has also developed a practitioner database that it plans to utilize to provide statistics about optometry assuring the profession's role in the health care arena of the future. Through its work with ACOE, ARBO continues to monitor the schools and the education of future optometrists. The testing and licensure process is continually evaluated and reviewed with the goal of obtaining as great a uniformity of licensure as possible; a savings to licensing boards and governmental budgets.
Standardizing the review and approval of continuing education, a requirement for license renewal of all fifty state boards of optometry (and the District of Columbia, Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico) has been the mandate of ARBO's latest success: the Council on Optometric Practitioner Education (COPE). COPE is a centralized, uniform, evaluation and standardization process for continuing education programs offered on a national and regional basis. The COPE program is currently accepted by 50 North American boards of optometry, and provides complete access to its entire database on the Internet for all interested parties.
Since the early days of the 20th century, from the beginnings of the formation of Optometry, literally thousands of optometrists have served their profession as members of these regulatory boards and many of these people have been leaders of ARBO. Throughout its history, ARBO has been the forum for all licensing and regulatory agencies to meet, develop, and exchange ideas. ARBO can look to its history and view many instances of great wisdom for the profession. Indeed, in many cases the issues that were raised by ARBO leaders were ahead of their time, and ahead of the thinking of the majority of the profession! Today, the possibilities for the future of the profession remain as exciting as those early ARBO leaders envisioned. However, ever diminishing resources in all of health care and governmental budgets impact on the progress yet to come. We will look to the next century as a great challenge for optometry, and know that strong leaders in the profession, and within ARBO, must keep optometry advancing in its developments for better health care.