Note: This first appeared in Optimum VA, The Official Newsletter of the National Association of VA Optometrists, January/February 2022.
The Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE) is requiring each optometry residency program to list the advanced competencies their residents are expected to attain. The National Board of Examiners in Optometry’s (NBEO) Advanced Competence in Medical Optometry (ACMO) exam is a nationally recognized test that validates these competencies and is already a metric being used by many VA residencies.
Once a residency-trained optometrist passes the ACMO examination, they may apply for Board Certification with the American Board of Certification in Medical Optometry (ABCMO). Both the ACMO exam and Board Certification through ABCMO offer residents an opportunity to create a distinction for themselves consistent with the medical model that incorporates specialty residency training and national testing. This is an idea we all try to encourage in them and often is the main reason why they elected to do a VA residency.
As you probably know, if a resident chooses VA employment after finishing residency there are employee recognition awards, in particular, the Special Advancement for Achievement (SAA), that the ACMO exam alone used to satisfy. However, with 2019 updates to the VA Handbook 5017, SAAs are no longer given for passing the testing component, but now ONLY for the attainment of Board Certification.
While it was previously advantageous for a resident to wait to take the ACMO until federally employed, they are now financially incentivized to take the ACMO exam during residency as the exam fee is discounted by $300 for residents. Further, the old notion that an SAA opportunity will be lost no longer applies. The passage of ACMO as a resident moves VA employees one step closer toward ABCMO Certification eligibility to meet that SAA criteria.
Requiring VA optometry residents to take the ACMO exam during their residency will also help with the following:
- Satisfy the ACOE’s updated Optometric Residency Standards 2.1 and 2.4 that address residents’ attainment of advanced competencies upon completion of the program
- Advance residency-trained optometrists toward ABCMO Board Certification eligibility
- Save money by taking advantage of NBEO’s discounted ACMO fee for residents
- Position future VA optometrists for SAA opportunities early in their career
The ACMO exam is offered annually. To register for the test or for more information, please visit
The message is simple: Times have changed. With the updates to the VA Handbook 5017, it is in the best interest of residents to take the ACMO examination during residency. Likewise, programs will be in compliance with updated ACOE standards.
-Richard Zimbalist O.D., FAAO, Truman VA Hospital, Vice President ABCMO
-Douglas Rett O.D., FAAO, Chief Boston VA, Board of Directors ABCMO