Museum of Vision

Dedicated to preserving ophthalmic history

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History of the American Academy of Ophthalmology

The American Academy of Ophthalmology has a long, rich history dating back to 1896.  Starting in an era when ophthalmology as a specialty was scarcely developed, the American Academy of Ophthalmology has worked hard and flourished in the fields of clinical education, practice management, meetings, governmental affairs, patient education, and much more.

Establishment of an Association

AAOO Logo c1900
American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology logo, c1900

The American Academy of Ophthalmology was originally founded as the Western Ophthalmological, Otological, Laryngological, and Rhinological Association in 1896.  Treatment of the eye was generally linked at that time with the treatment of the ear, nose, and throat.  Therefore, Dr. Hal Foster invited both ophthalmologists and otolaryngologists from the central and southern parts of the United States to participate in the first meeting held in Kansas City.  The meeting lasted for two days and included a program of scientific papers.

The new association grew quickly and in 1898 changed its name to the Western Ophthalmic and Oto-Laryngologic Association.  Membership to the Association was still drawn primarily from western states and the south due to numerous similar groups in New England.

Over the next four years membership continued to grow, and the Association acquired a broader base and scope.  In 1903 the constitution was changed to allow membership from all over the United States and the Association adopted the more universal name, American Academy of Ophthalmology and Oto-laryngology (AAOO).

In 1973 the AAOO began to consider splitting into two associations, one strictly for ophthalmologists and one for otolaryngologists.  Among other reasons, the size of the combined association had made it difficult to hold joint meetings.  Separation was approved by the membership in 1978 and the AAOO formally dissolved as a single corporation April 15, 1979.

The result of this separation was two new organizations, one of which is today’s American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) headquartered in San Francisco, California.  The other organization is the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia.

Standardization of Graduate Education

AAOO logo, c1960
American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology logo, c1960

By 1912, the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Oto-laryngology had grown into the largest medical specialty society in the United States.  Academy members began to study and recommend plans to standardize graduate education in both ophthalmology and otolaryngology.  Dr. Edward Jackson expressed the Academy’s position when he commented, “There is a great and pressing need that stable, conservative institutions of learning of the highest type should offer a formal course fitting their graduates for ophthalmic practice.”

Thus, in cooperation with the American Ophthalmological Society and the American Medical Association, the American Board of Ophthalmology (ABO) was established in 1916.  The ABO was the first such medical specialty board in the United States. 

The first exams were held in the Medical School of the University of Tennessee in Memphis.  The exams consisted of both a written portion and an oral portion.  Until 1933 the written part was given in the morning and the oral in the afternoon of the same day.  Papers were read and graded in the late afternoon and results were reported at the Board’s evening meeting, which at times lasted until 2a.m.

Providing Post-graduate Education

Post Graduate Committee
Post Graduate Committee, 1921

As educational standards became increasingly clarified, it became obvious to Academy members and leaders alike that the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Oto-laryngology needed to provide instruction courses of its own.

During the Annual Meeting of the AAOO in 1921, the Academy introduced the concept of formal instruction.  The format of the Annual Meeting was changed to accommodate the courses.  The six-day meeting was split, with the first three days devoted to the meeting and the second three days devoted to post-graduate instruction.  The concept of formal instruction courses is a cornerstone of continuing medical education today.

American Academy of Ophthalmology