New Members' Guide


The American Ophthalmological Society (AOS) was established in 1864. It is the first specialty society in the United States to continue without interruption into the twenty-first century. The constitutional objective of the Society is “the advancement of ophthalmic science and art”. The Society, from its inception to the present, has sought to meet this objective by providing a forum for the presentation and discussion of original scientific papers. Annual publication and indexing of these papers and their accompanying formal discussions communicate the presented information to the scientific community and public at large.

Copies of the original handwritten Constitution, Bylaws, and Signature Book are contained in a publication accompanying Frank W. Newell’s The American Ophthalmological Society: A Continuation of Wheeler’s First Hundred Years, which was published in 1989 (Johnson Printing, Rochester, MN). The original documents, as well as the AOS recorded minutes from 1864 to 1916, are housed in the Rare Book Room at the New York Academy of Medicine. The recorded minutes and entire volumes from 1864 to 2000 are also found at PubMedCentral. Since 2000 only the papers and theses are available at PubMed Central and the minutes are only posted at

Most amendments to the Constitution have been devoted to criteria for membership or to matters regarding the legal structure of the Society. From the time of the Society’s origin, members have signed the Signature Book, thereby indicating their willingness to subscribe to the Constitution and Bylaws. Modifications and additions to the Bylaws have occasionally been introduced over the past few decades.

In spite of the age and stability of the AOS, questions regarding the operations of the Society frequently arise. This information is provided as an explanation of legal, political, and social issues that may be of importance to the members, particularly those who are new to the Society. Major sections of this publication are devoted to: (1) criteria for membership; (2) membership application process; (3) pathway of submitted theses; (4) publication policies; (5) categories of membership; (6) forfeiture of membership; (7) legal structure of the Society; (8) political organization of the Society; and (9) academic, business, and social aspects of the Annual Meeting.

Criteria for Membership

Candidates for membership must be graduates in medicine in good professional standing, as evidenced by an unrestricted license to practice medicine in all states in which they are licensed. Candidates for membership must have been granted a certificate by the American Board of Ophthalmology. A similar certificate from a medical specialty board outside of the U.S. may be acceptable.

Although criteria regarding academic achievement are not precise, candidates should have a record of excellence in ophthalmology in one or more of the following areas: clinical practice, scientific productivity, education, administration, or public service. The apparent ability of a candidate to produce an appropriate thesis is considered important. A general guideline suggests that a candidate should have produced a minimum of six articles in major refereed journals within the five years preceding his or her nomination. In cases of “exceptional merit”, as determined by the Council, exceptions to these guidelines can be considered.

Membership Application Process

Candidates for membership in the Society are formally nominated in writing. The Committee on Membership also actively seeks new members upon approval of the Council and monitors the progression of the application. The application process begins with letters of support, directed to the Executive Vice President, from two Active or Emeritus Members of the Society. The letters and information are requested in a specific format and should speak to the individual’s academic credentials, ethics, collegiality, and expected contributions to the Society. Honorary Members may not nominate or second candidates. There is no limit to the number of candidates that Active and Emeritus Members may nominate per year. The proposer and seconder should have appropriate knowledge of the candidate’s qualifications. The primary nomination letter should not be submitted from a prior mentor or member of a past or present department of the candidate. If the primary letter is from a prior mentor or department member, then two seconding letters will be required outside this circle. The purpose of this requirement is to confirm the domestic or international stature of the candidate. Nominating and seconding letters must be received by the Executive Vice President by April 30. This allows sufficient time to document that each candidate has been nominated by an Active or Emeritus Member and has been certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology or alternate certification.

At the Annual Meeting, usually held in May, the names of nominated individuals and their respective proposers are presented at the meeting of the Council and later to those members in attendance at the Executive Session. A list of these individuals is then included in the annual Confidential Report, which is sent to members following the Annual Meeting. This report also requests that members provide the Council with meaningful comments regarding these candidates. Following the Annual Meeting, an application form is sent to each candidate listed in the Confidential Report.

Candidate applications and letters of nomination are subsequently reviewed by the Committee on Membership prior to the autumn meeting of the Council. The Committee on Membership submits a recommendation for each candidate to the Council.

At the annual autumn meeting of the Council, the Committee on Membership’s recommendation is reviewed by the Council and officers of the Society. By a majority vote, each application is reviewed and the respective candidate is invited to submit a thesis, or the application is rejected. All candidates and their sponsors are notified by mail of the outcome of this process.

Candidates who are asked to write a thesis are informed that their work may be submitted to the Executive Vice President prior to the deadline of any of the following three years. Guidelines for the Preparation of an American Ophthalmological Society Thesis are posted on the AOS website for reference. The authors should follow the Author Information that is present on the website the year that their thesis or revision is submitted. The deadline for submission of a thesis is absolute. Extensions are not allowed. If a candidate does not submit a thesis within the required three years, he or she can be nominated again after a period of two years.

Pathway of Submitted Theses

The authors are requested to provide one (1) digital copy of their thesis, and the theses are then sent for review to the three members of the Committee on Theses. Following a review and discussion of each thesis, the committee provides a written recommendation to the Council. Theses are recommended for acceptance or revision.

During the spring meeting of the Council (traditionally held in May immediately before the Annual Meeting), the Chair of the Committee on Theses provides a report regarding theses that were submitted by the deadline. The Council may accept or reject, in whole or in part, the report of the Committee on Theses, although the report is usually accepted in toto. The Council proposes authors of accepted theses for Membership to the members of the Society at the Executive Session. A favorable vote of three-fourths of the members in attendance is required for approval of this Council recommendation. Candidates and their sponsors are notified of the acceptance of the thesis and new Member status by mail, immediately following the meeting.

Authors of theses that are returned for revision are assigned a new deadline that is currently a maximum of six (6) months after notification of the need to revise. The author receives a summary of the comments and critiques of the Committee on Theses, and the revision of the thesis should be limited to a response to these specific items. In addition, the author is asked to submit a cover letter that describes, point by point, the means by which he or she modified the thesis in response to the review of the committee.

Authors of theses requiring major revision may, if time allows, submit a new thesis on another topic, prior to the time of their original deadline. Otherwise, they may be again proposed for membership any time after one year following the meeting at which their thesis was not accepted after three (3) attempts. The process and timeline for reapplication for membership are the same as the initial application process.

Publication Policies

All accepted theses, and all paper and poster abstracts are published in the Transactions of the American Ophthalmological Society in the respective year. The Transactions is now an online only journal indexed in PubMed with full text available at PubMed Central. Authors of papers may publish their work in other journals provided that theses have been accepted by the Council prior to their appearance, and papers presented at the Annual Meeting have not been published prior to the time of the meeting.

Categories of Membership

Membership in the American Ophthalmological Society is divided into the following categories: Active Membership, Emeritus Membership, and Honorary Membership.


Acceptance of a thesis is the final step in the author becoming a Member of the Society. A new member is subject to the payment of annual dues, as well as an initiation fee, and he or she is notified when the Transactions is published online annually. A new member has all the rights and privileges of active membership immediately upon acceptance.


Active Members are subject to the payment of annual dues and are notified when the Transactions are published online annually. They have full voting privileges, can be elected or appointed to office, may nominate candidates for membership, and can serve on committees.


Any individual who has been a member for a total of 25 years, or who has reached the age of 70 years, or who has retired from active practice, may request Emeritus membership. This request must be approved by the Council and then by an affirmative vote of 75% of the members present at Executive Session.

Emeritus Members are exempt from annual dues. Annual Meeting attendance is not required, although it is highly encouraged. They may propose or second individuals for membership in the Society. Emeritus Members may not vote in Executive Session, be elected to office, or be appointed to any standing committee except the Committee on Prizes.


Physicians engaged in other branches of medicine or surgery can be recommended for Honorary Membership by the Council. A unanimous vote of the members present at Executive Session is required for election. Honorary Members are exempt from annual dues. Annual meeting attendance is not required, although it is highly encouraged. Honorary Members may not propose or second individuals for membership in the Society. They may not vote in Executive Session, be elected to office, or be appointed to standing committees.

Forfeiture of Membership

Any Active Member who is absent from meetings for three consecutive years may be removed from the membership roll. An excuse for absence is generally valid only when the member or a member of his or her immediate family is ill. This rule does not apply to Honorary Members, Emeritus Members, members of 20 years or more, and members serving in the armed forces.

The Society Bylaws state that, “Any member found guilty of unethical conduct, as defined by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, shall automatically cease to be a member of the Society.” An accusation of unethical conduct prompts a full and complete investigation by the Council, and a hearing is then held for the member in question to present his or her defense.

Active Members who have not paid their dues within one year from the date of the initial dues billing will be formally notified that they may be dropped from membership unless payment is made within three months of the date of this written notification.

Legal Structure of the Society


The AOS existed as an unincorporated organization for more than 100 years. The Society was incorporated in the state of Minnesota as a public 501(c) (3) non-private foundation under section 509(a) (3) of the tax code on May 22, 1992.


This entity was established as a supporting organization of the AOS on April 15, 1997. This 501(c) (3) corporation operates exclusively to support and benefit the charitable, educational, and scientific purposes of the AOS. The President and officers of the CES Board of Directors (Board) are the Chair and members of the Council of the AOS.

The CES underwrites the production of the Transactions. CES funds have also been used to award educational travel grants for selected young nonmembers to attend the Annual Meeting of the Society, and for poster session and audio visual expenses for the Scientific Session.


This fund, a 501(c)(3) supporting organization of the AOS, is operated exclusively to support, benefit, and assist in carrying out the charitable, educational, and scientific purposes of the AOS. The governing body of the Knapp Fund consists of the Chair and Members of the Council of the AOS who are known as the Board of Trustees (Trustees). The Knapp Fund currently provides financial support for an annual AOS-Knapp Symposium and for some expenses of The Transactions.


Several other funds have been established to support various functions of the Society. These include the Endowment, Howe Medal, Verhoeff, Holloway, and Kennedy-Snell Funds.

The Endowment Fund is designated for new member initiation fees. The accumulated interest from this fund may be dispensed at the discretion of the Council to purchase equipment that will improve the facilities of the scientific program.

The Howe Medal Fund was established with funds contributed by Dr. Lucien Howe. The interest from this fund is used to defray the expenses of awarding the medal. The Howe Medal may be awarded annually for distinguished service to ophthalmology. Granting of this award is based upon an individual’s achievement of one or more of the following:

  • Discoveries so notable as to advance the progress of ophthalmology in all parts of the world.
  • Conspicuous service as a writer or teacher, or, long years of devotion to our science and other contributions that constitute unusually distinguished service to ophthalmology.
  • Outstanding original investigation in the field of ophthalmology.

The Frederick H. Verhoeff Lecture Fund was established to add prestige to, and recognition of the Society, while honoring the name of a distinguished ophthalmic pathologist. Interest from the fund may be used at the discretion of the Council, who shall also be responsible for selecting the Verhoeff lecturer and for designating the date for delivery of the lecture.

The Thomas B. Holloway Fund was established to aid the Society in publishing scientific papers and theses. Disbursement of this fund is at the discretion of the Council.

The Kennedy-Snell Fund was established for the advancement of ophthalmic science and art. Only interest from the fund may be disbursed with the Council’s approval.

Political Organization of the Society

The political structure of the AOS includes the members of the Council, the officers of the Society, the standing committees, and representatives of the organization.


The general management of the affairs of the AOS is conducted by the Council, which is composed of five members. One new Council member is appointed annually to a five- year term by the Council. The senior member of the Council serves as its Chair. Ex officio members of the Council include the President, President-Elect, Executive Vice President, and Editor of the Transactions. All Council members, including ex officio members, have full voting privileges.

The Council conducts the business matters of the Society. It serves as the Nominating Committee for the officers of the Society and makes decisions regarding which applicants should be proposed for membership and which applicants are invited to write a thesis.


The officers of the Society include the President, Executive Vice President, and Editor of the Transactions. These officers are nominated by the Council and elected by a vote of the Society at the Executive Session of each Annual Meeting. They have full voting rights as ex officio members of the Council.

President. The President serves a one-year term. He or she presides at the Executive Session, and as an ex officio member of the Council. Appointments made by the President at the spring meeting of the Council include a new member of the: Council, Committee on Theses, Committee on Prizes, Committee on New Members, Committee on Membership, Committee on Programs, and Emeritus Committee. When necessary, the President appoints an author to prepare the obituary of a deceased member for publication in the Transactions. The President also makes appointments for representatives to various organizations.

Executive Vice President. The Executive Vice President is responsible for the recording of minutes, the financial matters of the Society, the organization of the membership application process (including the reception and distribution of theses to the Committee on Theses), and for various communications to all members of the Society (including the Confidential Report and notices regarding the Annual Meeting). The Executive Vice President is assisted in these and other administrative matters by members of the Association Management Services department of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). The Executive Vice President serves as an ex officio member of the Council and as an ad hoc member of most committees. He or she serves a one-year term but can be re-nominated by the Council.

Editor of the Transactions. The Editor of the Transactions is responsible for its publication. This journal contains all accepted theses for the year, all papers and discussions presented at the annual meeting, the minutes of the Executive Session proceedings, and the obituaries of deceased members for the year. He or she serves as an ex officio member of the Council. The Editor serves a one-year term but can be re- nominated by the Council for a maximum of ten (10) one-year terms.


In addition to the Council, Standing Committees of the Society include the Committee on Membership, Committee on New Members, Committee on Prizes, Committee on Programs, Committee on Publications, and Committee on Theses.

Committee on Membership. The Committee on Membership consists of four Active Members, one appointed each year by the Council, to serve for a term of four years. The Committee member most senior in service serves as the Chair. The Committee identifies and solicits qualified candidates for membership in the Society. It reviews the nomination letters and applications of candidates for membership and recommends acceptance and invitation to submit a thesis, or rejection, to the Council. The Committee on Membership also makes recommendations to the Council regarding candidates for Honorary Membership.

Committee on New Members. The Committee on New Members consists of a married member and his or her spouse. Their responsibilities include corresponding with new members prior to their first meeting, hosting the New Members’ Luncheon, and heading the receiving line for the New Members’ Reception. They are appointed to a three-year term by the Council, and they may be re-nominated.

Committee on Prizes. The Committee on Prizes consists of three members, one appointed each year by the Council, to serve a three-year term. The committee member most senior in service serves as its Chair. The committee is empowered to select recipients of honorary awards of the Society, including the Howe Medal.

Committee on Programs. The Committee on Programs consists of four members, one appointed each year by the Council, to a four-year term. The Committee member most senior in service serves as the Chair. The Committee reviews and critiques abstracts submitted for potential presentation at the annual meeting, and selects by ranking, the papers to be read before the Society. The committee arranges the order of presentation of the papers and may select specific subjects for consideration and discussion. The Committee on Programs also works with the Council on selection, implementation and coordination of the Verhoeff Lecture, Blodi Lecture, and special Knapp symposia, when they are part of the Scientific Session

Committee on Publications. The Committee on Publications consists of three members—the Editor of the Transactions, the Executive Vice President, and a third member appointed by the President when needed. Although the Editor makes most decisions regarding the editing and publication of the Transactions, the committee is empowered to assist the Editor in these duties.

Committee on Theses. The Committee on Theses consists of three members, one appointed each year by the Executive Vice President, to serve a three-year term. The committee member most senior in service serves as its Chair. In special situations, a member may ask an associate with knowledge in a specific field for assistance in judging the content of a particular thesis. Following a discussion and vote regarding each thesis, the Committee Chair provides a report to the Council. Theses are recommended for acceptance or revision.

Representatives. A number of members serve as representatives of the Society at meetings of other organizations. These include the Council of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American College of Surgeons, the American Orthoptic Council, the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology, the International Council of Ophthalmology, and the Pan American Association of Ophthalmology.

Meeting: Academic, Business, and Social Aspects

The Annual Meeting of the AOS provides opportunities for its members to work, learn, and play in a unique environment. The meeting is usually held in May. The requirements for membership, the diversity of subspecialists and age groups, the inclusion of spouses or significant others, and the quality of the traditional meeting locations all contribute to an event which is both memorable and meaningful. The scientific highlights of the meeting center on the morning papers and formal discussions, but the opportunities to visit and exchange information with peers add significantly to the academic aspects of the meeting. A business meeting of the Society, known as the Executive Session, is held at a specified time during the first morning. Social activities include a wide variety of gatherings and sporting opportunities.


The primary function of the Annual Meeting is to serve as a forum for the presentation of papers during the Scientific Program. Pre-meeting academic activities include a submission of abstracts for proposed papers; a selection of topics, speakers and discussants; and a decision regarding invitations for special speakers.

Submission of Abstracts. A mailing of materials describing the upcoming Annual Meeting is sent to members of all categories in late November or early December. This includes a “Call for Papers”, precise “Instructions for Abstracts”, as well as registration forms for the meeting and hotel. Structured abstracts are returned to the Chair of the Committee on Programs by a specific date in early January. The listing of authors should be according to proper ethics of authorship and should be exactly the same for the abstract, the meeting program, the submitted paper, and publication in another journal. The presenter does not need to be the first author but should be indicated with an asterisk. The presenter may be a guest. The AOS member must be one of the authors and must be in attendance for both presentation and discussion but does not need to be the presenter.

The submitted abstracts are independently reviewed and scored by the members of the Committee on Programs. A decision regarding the titles and number of papers to be presented is made during a conference call between committee members. Individuals submitting abstracts receive notice of acceptance or rejection within a month of the submission date. The Committee on Programs attempts to accept as many papers as possible. The Committee on Programs also selects an invited primary discussant of each accepted paper. Papers should be presented in no more than eight (8) minutes, and the invited and initial discussion should last no more than three (3) minutes.

Preparation of Manuscripts. Authors of accepted papers are required to send a draft of the manuscript and figures to the assigned discussant well in advance of the meeting. Invited discussants may provide the respective authors with copies of their manuscripts in advance of the meeting, but this is not required.

Conduct of the Scientific Program. Papers are presented in the order in which they appear in the printed program, which is available electronically before the Annual Meeting and in print at the meeting. Following the presentation of a paper and the invited discussion, any member or guest at the Scientific Program may comment upon the respective topic using designated microphones. The discussant is limited to 1 minute and the President may limit further discussion or discussants at any time. Following the presentations of the discussants, the author responds to the questions and comments, and provides closing remarks.

This format results in an inability to provide a precise time that most papers will be delivered. Although a presentation of six to eight papers each morning is intended, this number may vary considerably due to the length and liveliness of the discussions.


The annual business meeting of the Society, the Executive Session, is traditionally held at some time during the first or second day either before or after the Scientific Program. The President presides and is responsible for appointing a Parliamentarian. Formal reports, which are ultimately published in the Transactions, are then provided by the Executive Vice President; the Editor of the Transactions; the Chairs of the Committee on Programs, Committee on Theses, and Emeritus Member Committee; and the Archivist. The Chair of the Council then provides a report regarding both the autumn and spring meetings of the Council.

Appointments made by the Council are then announced, and motions for approval of these recommendations are followed by a vote of the members.

The remainder of the Executive Session takes place at the banquet on the last evening of the Meeting. The master of ceremonies is the Chair of the Council, who formally introduces the President, who in turn presides at the meeting. Reports are provided by the Chairs of the Committee on New Members and the Committee on Athletics. The highlight of the meeting is the annual awarding of the Lucien Howe Medal, presented by the Chair of the Committee on Prizes.


Planned social activities include a variety of receptions, dinners, and scheduled sporting events. In addition, the Annual Meeting provides an opportunity for old and new friends to visit while engaged in the multitude of activities typically provided at the meeting site.


Scheduled Gatherings include the New Members’ Luncheon; New Members Spotlight Session; the New Members’ Reception; the Spouses’ Coffee; the Emeritus Members’ Luncheon; the Informal Cocktail Party; and the Presidential Reception, Banquet, and Dance.

New Members’ Luncheon. This event is held at noon on a day early in the Annual Meeting. A small affair, it provides an opportunity for the new members and their spouses or significant others, to meet each other as well as the members of the Council, the President, and the other officers of the AOS and their respective spouses. In addition, each new member signs the Signature Book, attesting that he or she will support the Constitution and Bylaws of the Society.

New Member Spotlight Session. A new addition to the annual meeting, this session is usually held the afternoon of registration day. The new members introduce themselves to the Society in an informal way and without use of slides within a 10 minute time frame, indicating their thesis topic, their areas of academic interest, and the personal special people and interests in their lives. All members and their spouses are encouraged to attend.

New Members’ Reception. This is held one of the first evenings of the Annual Meeting. Traditionally, the new members and their spouses form a receiving line that is headed by the Chair of the Council, the President, the Chair of the Committee of New Members’, and their respective spouses. All attendees pass through this line and greet the honorees. This event is “black tie optional affair.” This function features a full bar and hors d’ouevres. Members and guests usually schedule dining activities to follow the reception.

Spouses’ Coffee. Traditionally held on the first morning of the Scientific Program, this event is hosted by the spouse of the Council Chair, and provides spouses and guests an opportunity to meet and visit.

Emeritus Members’ Luncheon. A gathering of Emeritus Members and their spouses, this luncheon is traditionally held following the Scientific Program on the first or second day of the meeting.

Informal Cocktail Reception. Scheduled for the evening following the first day of the Scientific Program, this reception typically features wine, beer, soft drinks and light hors d’ouevres. Dress is informal. Members and guests schedule dining activities to follow the reception.

AOS Presidential Banquet. This event occurs on the last evening of the meeting. This “black tie optional affair” begins with a cocktail reception, followed by dinner and dancing. During the evening, the Executive Session is reconvened for remarks from the Council Chair and the President, introduction of new members, awarding of trophies for sporting tournaments, and presentation of the Lucien Howe Medal. Members and guests may make reservations for seating prior to the time of the banquet.

Sporting Events

Athletic events are held during the Annual meeting but vary according to the Resort or Hotel venues. All members will be notified at the time of the Annual Meeting mailing which events are available for the selected hotel or resort. Prior events have included:

Men’s Golf Tournament

Women’s Golf Tournament

Men’s Tennis Tournament

Women’s Tennis Tournament

Mixed Doubles Tennis Tournament

Bridge, Flyfishing, Skeet Shooting, and Lawn Bowling Tournaments


The American Ophthalmological Society has played a major role in the evolution of ophthalmology in the United States. Established in 1864, the Society is the first American specialty society that remains intact, and its members have been intimately involved in important academic and political ophthalmological achievements for more than 140 years. The first medical specialty board in the United States was created when members of the Society, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and the Eye Section of the American Medical Association established the American Board of Ophthalmology in 1916. A multitude of important scientific advances have been first presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society or as an original thesis.

Evolution in society and in all aspects of medicine has affected virtually all individual ophthalmologists and the organizations to which they belong. Nevertheless, the role of the AOS in American ophthalmology remains an important one in the continued effort to advance the science and art of this remarkable subspecialty. Admission to membership in the Society continues to represent special recognition of personal achievement, and the Annual Meeting remains a unique opportunity for learning and fellowship.

Updated October 2014