The COPE Accreditation Program – A Tool for ARBO’s Member Boards

Continuing education (CE) has traditionally been the benchmark for measuring continued competence for optometrists. Because currently, CE is the only method, licensing boards have to assure the competence of their licensees and registrants; it is critical that the CE accepted for license renewal meets the highest standards and that the accreditation program is defensible. COPE (Council on Optometric Practitioner Education) Accreditation assures licensing boards that the CE is independent, free from commercial bias, based on valid content, and effective in improving the quality of care delivered to patients.

COPE was created by ARBO to accredit continuing education on behalf of optometric licensing boards. COPE’s Objectives are to:
• Accredit optometric continuing education providers and activities for the public welfare;
• Monitor programs to help assure the quality and independence of continuing education in appropriate settings with adequate administration;
• Reduce duplication of effort by member boards;
• Create a uniform method of recording continuing education activities;
• Be the reference source for member boards for information about continuing education providers and activities utilized by licensed optometrists to fulfill their continuing education requirements.


COPE administrators and providers must meet rigorous standards for educational quality and independence. CE has evolved from merely sharing medical knowledge to developing professional competencies to improve healthcare outcomes. COPE has also changed by adding Standards for Commercial Support (SCS)to assure CE is free from the control of commercial interests. Additionally, the new COPE Accreditation Criteria require CE providers to incorporate the educational needs of their learners in their CE planning process and to analyze changes in the learners based on goals of improving skills, strategies, and patient outcomes. COPE is now the gold standard in optometric CE – there is no higher standard.

Can Licensing Boards Accredit Their Own CE?

If a licensing board has accreditation standards, policies, and procedures in place for accrediting CE, then they can certainly do it themselves. However, are those standards as stringent as COPE’s?
Do they require independence from commercial interests?
Are the course materials reviewed to make sure they comply with the standards?
Are there requirements for educational planning and outcomes assessment?
Do they require the CE to change the skill, strategy, or patient outcomes of the optometrist?
How is the education reviewed to make sure it complies with the requirements?
How does the board handle complaints about CE that isn’t in compliance?
Are there better things that your board could be doing instead of approving CE applications?

You may not have answers to these questions. The good news is that COPE is a tool available for you to assure that the CE you accept for license renewal is of the highest quality and meets the same standards as other healthcare professions.

Why Is COPE Under ARBO?

ARBO is not a CE provider. Therefore, ARBO does not have any conflicts of interest related commercial entities. The COPE SCS provide clear guidelines to identify and manage the conflicts that are present with CE providers when they accept commercial support. The COPE program is an independent system of accreditation based on established standards and aligned with other healthcare professions. State and provincial licensing boards created COPE and those boards, being members of ARBO, can continually review the program to make sure it meets their needs.

Would you want an external body to make accreditation decisions without allowing for your input? Do you consider continuing education requirements for license renewal simply fulfilling a number of hours? With COPE, you have a voice in the accreditation process. CE accreditation under any other organization would not give you the same input into the accreditation requirements ARBO provides. State and provincial regulatory boards need a CE accreditation program that is defensible in meeting their public protection mandate. COPE, the CE accreditation program established by you for you, will stand up to any legislative or medical review and provides the most defensible program for optometric CE.

COPE Joins the Joint Accreditation for Interprofessional Continuing Education Team

Continuing Education Accreditors for Physician Assistants and Optometrists Collaborate with Accreditors in Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy to Advance Healthcare Education for the Team, by the Team

Chicago, IL; Silver Spring, MD; Charlotte, NC; Alexandria, VA

January 19, 2018

Joint Accreditation for Interprofessional Continuing Education™ is pleased to announce a new collaboration with the American Academy of PAs (AAPA) and the Association of Regulatory Boards of Optometry’s Council on Optometric Practitioner Education (ARBO/COPE).

Since 2009, Joint Accreditation has offered organizations the opportunity to be simultaneously accredited to provide continuing education for physicians, pharmacists, and nurses through a unified accreditation process and set of accreditation standards. The new collaboration expands Joint Accreditation, giving jointly accredited interprofessional continuing education (IPCE) organizations the option to include PAs (physician assistants) and optometrists in their education programs, without needing to attain separate accreditations with AAPA and COPE.

The accreditors collaborated to expand Joint Accreditation in response to requests from jointly accredited organizations and because of their commitment to team-based education. The goal of the expansion is to increase the benefits that jointly accredited organizations already receive from the unified accreditation process and to support their efforts to deliver high-quality, effective IPCE that improves team collaboration and patient care.

Leadership Comments

“We celebrate our collaboration with our colleague accreditors, AAPA and COPE, because it empowers educators to expand the diversity of their IPCE programs. With IPCE, all voices are heard—and this collaboration promotes the involvement of more professions in improving team care for the patients we all serve.”—Graham McMahon, MD, MMSc, President and CEO, Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME®)

“Our role as accreditors is to listen to our community of IPCE educators and create more opportunities for them to improve the quality of IPCE. As a result of our collaboration with AAPA and COPE, jointly accredited organizations can bring more professions together to learn from, about, and with each other, with the common goal of addressing healthcare challenges and improving patient care.” — Peter H. Vlasses, PharmD, DSc (Hon), FCCP, Executive Director, Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE)

“Our community of jointly accredited IPCE providers has demonstrably improved collaborative care among healthcare professionals and patient outcomes. This new opportunity enables them to benefit patients by building stronger, more inclusive teams. We welcome our colleague accreditors at AAPA and COPE to our Joint Accreditation team and look forward to working together to advance interprofessional collaborative practice in healthcare education delivery.”—Kathy Chappell, PhD, RN, FNAP, FAAN, Senior Vice President, Accreditation, Certification,

Measurement, and the Institute for Credentialing Research, American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

“AAPA and the PA profession are committed to team practice and collaboration, which are critical to improving patient outcomes. We are excited to work with ACCME, ACPE, ANCC, and COPE on the Joint Accreditation team, and through this effort, add the PA voice to valuable interprofessional conversations about improving team-based care and the patient experience.”—L. Gail Curtis, PA-C, MPAS, DFAAPA, President and Chair of the AAPA Board of Directors

“ARBO is honored and thrilled that COPE has become a member of the Joint Accreditation team. This is the culmination of over 20 years of work to advance and promote high standards and quality in optometric continuing education. It is also a recognition that optometrists are vital members of the healthcare team. The mission of COPE has always been to improve patient outcomes. By entering into this collaboration with ACCME, ACPE, ANCC, and AAPA, all organizations can join together to improve the quality of medical care delivered by the entire healthcare team.”—Richard Orgain, OD, President, Association of Regulatory Boards of Optometry (ARBO)

Joint Accreditation Media Inquiries

Tamar Hosansky 312-245-4066

Megan Peters Jovic 312-245-4054

Joint Accreditation Eligibility Inquiries

Joint Accreditation Speaking Engagements

Joint Accreditation executive leaders are available for speaking engagements to discuss the opportunities for continuing education to advance interprofessional education and collaborative practice through the Joint Accreditation program. For more information, please contact:


About Joint Accreditation for Interprofessional Continuing Education

Joint Accreditation for Interprofessional Continuing Education™ establishes the standards for organizations to deliver continuing education planned by the healthcare team for the healthcare team. This innovation promotes interprofessional continuing education (IPCE) that leads to improved healthcare delivery and better patient outcomes.

Joint Accreditation enables organizations to achieve distinction from the leading healthcare continuing education accreditors in the professions of medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and optometry. Joint Accreditation helps organizations increase operational efficiency, saving time, money, and resources; provide continuing education for physicians, pharmacists, nurses, PAs, and optometrists separately or together; and improve collaboration and reduce hierarchies

among healthcare professions. Jointly accredited providers are entitled to award Interprofessional Continuing Education (IPCE) credits.

Joint Accreditation for Interprofessional Continuing Education was founded in 2009 by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME®), the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). For more information, visit

What is the responsibility of a regulatory board member?

ARBO exists to serve its member boards and to reduce the burden on both your board and the government you serve. Fundamental to our responsibility as a regulatory board member is understanding the lines and boundaries between knowledge of the profession, professional advocacy and regulatory responsibility.

Optometrists are valuable as board members because of the thorough knowledge of the profession. However, most optometrists love what they do and love the profession, and it’s easy to blur the lines of responsibility between what’s best for the public we serve (regulatory) and what’s best for the profession (advocacy). As difficult as this may sometimes be, it is critical that we know the difference and wear the proper hat at the proper time.

So let’s go over some fundamentals.

Regulatory 101

What’s the point of regulation in our profession?

  • To reduce the risk of public harm
  • Regulation creates in law, a licensing and enforcement system

So what exactly do we do as an optometric regulatory board member?

  • We enforce initial licensure standards by ensuring that new licensees have graduated from an accredited school of optometry, have successfully passed an accredited examination that tests entry level competence and experience and finally, are they of good moral character.
  • We investigate complaints and enforce the Practice Act of our state or province.
  • We investigate with the power to discipline practitioners who fail to meet the standards of practice and/or are accused of misconduct, incompetence, or incapacity.
  • We establish and enforce rules for license renewal and continued competence.
  • We are the guardians of public safety for the optometric profession – no small task and with great responsibility.

What are the characteristics of a good regulator?

  • Works as a team player. Develops consensus among board members
  • Devoted to the public welfare
  • Objective and able to look at issues from various perspectives
  • A good communicator
  • Respectful, fair and honest

The Elevator Speech

(from Dale Atkinson’s talk at the Washington DC ARBO meeting in June 2017)

That roll-off-your-tongue explanation of what we do as regulators. You should know it by heart. It used to be “we protect the public” was the standard line, but that’s just not enough anymore to really capture the essence of what we do as regulators. We need to cover some more basic elements:

  • Our regulatory board was created by statute
  • The standards we follow are set forth in law, which includes statutes as well as rules and regulations
  • We are delegated with the authority to enforce the laws, rules and regulations
  • We are subject to appropriate government oversight
  • We are authorized to promulgate rules and regulations
  • AND….we protect the public.

So, if you put it all together…

“The optometry board is statutorily created and delegated with the authority to regulate the optometry profession in the interest of protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public. With necessary oversight by government, the board enforces standards and criteria set forth in statute and adds specificity through the promulgation of regulations. The effectiveness and efficiencies of the board is enhanced by populating the board with a combination of consumer members as well as those with the expertise necessary to address the complexities of profession specific issues. An administrative regulatory system provides consumers with an assurance of the qualifications of licensees along with a means of enforcement for the benefit of the public.”

– Dale J. Atkinson, Esq.

COPE Achieves Substantial Equivalency with ACCME

Charlotte, NC – The Council on Optometric Practitioner Education (COPE®) CE accreditation system has been deemed Substantially Equivalent to the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME®) CME accreditation system. To achieve this status, COPE submitted to an extensive, voluntary, review process and was deemed substantially equivalent to the ACCME’s accreditation requirements, criteria, policies, and decision-making process. The process also included an accreditation interview and verification of the successful implementation of the COPE provider accreditation program.

CE/CME Accreditors are considered substantially equivalent by the ACCME if they support CE/CME that: enhances physician performance; is based on data describing physicians’ educational needs; has effectiveness assessed as it relates to physician performance or health status improvements; and is developed with the control of the content, quality and scientific integrity being the responsibility of the CE/CME provider.

To meet the needs of a continuously changing environment, COPE has adapted over time to be consistent with the CE/CME accreditation community. In 2010, COPE implemented Standards for Commercial Support (SCS) and later adopted the ACCME SCS aligning with other healthcare professions. Uniformity in the principles and outcomes of accredited CE/CME is valuable and physician learners are assured their educational programs meet consistent and high standards regardless of profession.

COPE has historically accredited individual CE activities. In January, an option was introduced for accreditation of CE providers, thus allowing greater freedom and flexibility. “We’ve modernized the COPE accreditation system to align with other health professions. CE/CME is no longer simply about getting hours because you need them for license renewal. Research shows that CE/CME is most effective when it’s based upon practice-based needs assessment and focused on outcomes. With these changes, we’re able to demonstrate that COPE accredited CE has positive effects on optometrists’ knowledge, performance, and patient outcomes,” says Dr. James Campbell, COPE Committee Chair.

Dr. Richard Orgain, ARBO President, commented, “We’re very excited that COPE has achieved substantial equivalency with ACCME. With healthcare moving towards a team-based approach, CE/CME now often requires collaborative education efforts. With COPE’s accreditation process COPE Press Release August 2017 recognized as equivalent to the other healthcare professions, the door is open for optometrists to participate in interprofessional continuing education.”

COPE was established in 1993 to accredit continuing education on behalf of optometric licensing boards for the public welfare. Over 52,000 activities have been accredited since the inception of the program. ARBO is a non-profit organization based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and serves 66 regulatory agencies in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. For more information on ARBO, please contact Lisa Fennell, ARBO Executive Director, 200 South College Street, Suite 2030, Charlotte, NC 28202 ph: (704) 970-2710 or e-mail:

New Members Elected to ARBO Board of Directors

At its recent annual meeting in Washington, DC, the Association of Regulatory Boards of Optometry (ARBO) elected Thomas M. Bobst, O.D., F.A.A.O., and Jeffery B. Yunker to its Board of Directors. New ARBO board members introduced below.

Dr. Bobst is a graduate of Illinois College of Optometry who practices optometry in North Olmsted, Ohio. Dr. Bobst has served on the Ohio State Board of Optometry since 2011 and was President of the Board in 2014. Prior to being elected to the Board of Directors, Dr. Bobst served on ARBO’s COPE and National Board Exam Review Committees and was Chair of the National Board Exam Review Committee in 2016- 2017. Dr. Bobst is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry and a member of the American Optometric Association and Ohio Optometric Association.

Dr. Yunker is a graduate of Indiana University School of Optometry who practices optometry at Lifetime Vision in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Dr. Yunker has served on the North Dakota Board of Optometry since 2005 and has been Chairman of the Board of Optometry for eight years. Prior to being elected to the Board of Directors, Dr. Yunker served on ARBO’s OE TRACKER and Nominating Committees and has been Chair of the OE TRACKER Committee since 2014. Dr. Yunker is also a member of the American Optometric Association, North Dakota Optometric Association, and Professional Eye Care Associates of America.

New Officers for ARBO Board of Directors

At its recent Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, the Association of Regulatory Boards of Optometry (ARBO) elected new officers for their Board of Directors for the 2017- 2018 term. The new officers are:

President: Richard C. Orgain, O.D., Tennessee

Vice President: James S. Campbell, O.D., West Virginia

Secretary-Treasurer: Patrick W. O’Neill, O.D., F.A.A.O., Minnesota

Immediate Past President: Gregory S. Moore, O.D., West Virginia

The other Directors of the ARBO Board for the 2017-2018 term are:

  • Thomas M. Bobst, O.D., F.A.A.O., Ohio
  • William B. Rafferty, O.D., F.A.A.O., North Carolina
  • Coby S. Ramsey, O.D., Wyoming
  • Jerry A. Richt, O.D., Tennessee
  • Susy Yu, O.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.O., California
  • Jeffery B. Yunker, O.D., North Dakota

COPE Holds Successful Training Workshop

Charlotte, NC – The Council on Optometric Practitioner Education (COPE) held a training workshop on Friday, April 1, 2016 to educate CE providers on its new accreditation criteria and changes to the COPE accreditation processes. Over 100 people attended the workshop which took place at the Loews Chicago O’Hare Hotel in Rosemont, Illinois. Attendees of the workshop included Optometry/Medical Schools, State/Regional Optometric Associations, Insurance/Health Benefits Companies, Media/Journals, Ophthalmology Practices, National CE Providers, Medical Education Companies, International CE Providers, and State Boards of Optometry.

The workshop was designed to assist optometric CE professionals in developing strategies to ensure their organizational compliance with the COPE Accreditation Criteria, Standards for Commercial Support, and COPE policies. In addition to representatives from COPE, there were speakers at the workshop from the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medication Education (ACCME), the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), and the Alliance for Continuing Education in the Health Professions (ACEHP). There was also a presentation on Best Practices in CE/CME from the Veterans Health Administration Employee Education System (VHA EES). COPE announced in 2015 that it was changing its CE accreditation system to be equivalent to other healthcare professions, to support the overall direction towards collaborative, inter-disciplinary care for better patient outcomes and improved community health.

The workshop provided participants with an interactive platform to engage with their CE colleagues as well as members of the COPE Committee and ARBO Staff. Following the meeting attendees reported having a better understanding of why COPE accreditation is evolving and how the new requirements, which align COPE with other healthcare accreditors, will strengthen their CE programs. One attendee, Diana Durham, Associate Director for Accreditation, Veterans Health Administration Employee Education System (VHA EES), remarked, “I’m truly excited about the changes COPE is making to go in an interprofessional direction. We are currently accredited to provide continuing education to 18 different professions and I’m thrilled to add optometry to the list. Becoming a COPE Accredited Provider will allow the VHA EES to educate our optometrists to provide better care for veterans, which is the ultimate goal.”

COPE has historically accredited individual CE activities. Starting in 2017, CE providers will be able to choose to become an Accredited Provider, which allows them greater freedom and flexibility, or to continue to have their activities individually accredited by COPE. Dr. Susy Yu, ARBO President, commented, “The workshop was a huge success! We brought together a community of optometric CE professionals to learn the new process and share ideas with each other. We had such a great response to the workshop that we’re planning to make this an annual event.”

ARBO established COPE in 1993 to accredit continuing education on behalf of optometric licensing boards for the public welfare. There are over 2,000 CE Providers in the COPE system who have presented over 48,000 COPE accredited courses and events. ARBO is a non-profit organization based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and serves 66 Boards of Optometry in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. For more information on ARBO, please contact Lisa Fennell, ARBO Executive Director, 200 South College Street, Suite 2030, Charlotte, NC 28202 ph: (704) 970-2710 or e-mail:

COPE Policy Change Announcement

COPE issued a call for public comment regarding changes to COPE policies in October 2014. There were 88 responses to the call for comment. COPE would like to thank those who commented. The COPE Committee reviewed the responses at their March 1, 2015 meeting and made recommendations to the ARBO Board of Directors who approved the following changes at their April 11, 2015 Board meeting. The COPE policy changes will be reported to the ARBO’s Member Boards at the ARBO Annual Meeting June 21-23, 2015. The changes will be effective July 1, 2015.

I. Instructor Qualification – The policy for instructor qualification will be amended to include nondoctorate level instructors who have expertise gained through specific training or experience. The expertise will have to be demonstrated in their CV. The CV must provide clear evidence that they are qualified to teach the course.

II. Distance Learning Policy – The distance learning policy regarding sponsoring the post-course test will continue to allow schools of medicine, pharmacy and osteopathy to sponsor the test in addition to schools of optometry. The distance learning policy will be modified to specify that the sponsoring school will be responsible for ensuring that the test and answer key are valid and that the grading process is objective. The school must ensure the administration and grading of the test is unbiased, if they are not grading the test themselves. This will allow COPE Administrators to do computerbased testing if the school has reviewed their grading process and can assure that it is not biased.

III. Credit Hours – The COPE policy on credit hours will be modified to allow credit to be granted for courses less than one hour in length.

  • 0.25 hours/units, corresponding to 15 minutes of instructional time
  • 0.5 hours/units, corresponding to 25 minutes of instructional time
  • 1.0 hours/units, corresponding to 50 minutes of instructional time

NOTE: Some responses questioned the necessity of a 15-minute course. Courses with smaller increment hours are being utilized in other healthcare professions and by moving forward with smaller increments, COPE is allowing for more creativity in courses. Initially, shorter courses will most likely only be used for distance learning.

Michael Ohlson Named Optometrist of the Year

Michael Ohlson, OD, FAAO, ARBO Immediate Past President, was named Optometrist of the Year by the Iowa Optometric Association. Dr. Ohlson graduated from the University Of Houston College Of Optometry. He has been awarded Diplomate status in the American Academy of Optometry Primary Care Section and the American Board of Certification in Medical Optometry. Dr. Ohlson was also inducted as a Distinguished Practitioner and Fellow of the National Academies of Practice in 2013.

Dr. Ohlson practices in West Union, Iowa. He serves as the low vision consultant to Iowa Educational Services for the Blind & Visually Impaired. His volunteer efforts include InfantSEE, Head Start, Lions Clubs International/Special Olympics Opening Eyes, and Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity/International. Dr. Ohlson resides in rural Iowa with his wife, Joleen, and daughter, Samantha.