Q&A: Longest-Serving Employees Joel Silbert, OD ’73 Employee since 1974

As we approach the Centennial of the University’s founding college, the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO), it’s an opportune time to focus on some of the institution’s longest-serving faculty and staff. Strong foundations are essential for the strength of an organization and often times, the people who lay the foundation are responsible for holding up and maintaining the steadfast structure through the years.
 
Below is a Q and A with Dr. Joel Silbert, who has served as a faculty member since 1974.
 
Joel Silbert 1975Tell us about your time at Salus/PCO and The Eye Institute; what are some of your favorite memories past and present?
 
As a PCO Grad Class of ‘73, I joined the clinical faculty in 1974 in the newly formed Contact Lens Service, working with Drs. Elwood Kolb, ’50, Mitch Fink, ’69, Michael Spinell, ‘70 and Satya Verma, ‘75.
 
Working with my mentor, Dr. Lester Janoff, ’53, we started the Primary Care Module 1 in The Eye Institute (TEI), which was newly built. The concept of primary care was new in 1976, and doctors were educated to provide most of the needs of their patients, in a small group practice setting (the module), providing routine refractive care and ophthalmic examination, but also treating patients for anterior segment ocular disease as well as contact lenses. At the time, PCO was the only college of optometry that promulgated this teaching concept in their clinics. We had five modules in primary care, all of which practiced in this manner, as well as some specialty clinics (Low Vision, Pediatrics). In other schools, all patients were in one large general clinic. One of my interns was Dr. Michael Mittelman (current Salus University president)!
 
I became chief of Primary Care Module 1 in 1978 and for the next 10 years. I trained many wonderful Primary Care Residents, itself a new concept in optometric education. Some of my residents were: Drs. Christopher Rinehart, ’77, George White, ’78, Andy Gurwood, ’89, Shelley Cutler, ’82, Georgia Crozier, ’84, Stephanie Messner, ’84, and Joseph Bonanno - all of whom have gone on to become outstanding clinicians and optometric educators.
 
Silbert, Robinson and SpinellDr. Norm Wallis, an optometrist from London, became president of PCO and pioneered the development of primary eye care and The Eye Institute. I remember well an early meeting he convened with his young clinical faculty, and stated that as a whole, we were an "undistinguished faculty.” Boy, did that sting! Obviously he did so in order to stimulate us to excel in what we did, and I believe he would be proud of what that young faculty has accomplished over the years, and the caliber of educators they in turn trained. To wit: Dr. Larry Gray, ’72, Dr. Bernard Blaustein, ’67, Drs. Jeff and Neal Nyman, Dr. Linda Casser, Dr. Sue Oleszewski, ’76 and many more!
 
We spent hundreds of hours, in continuing education programs as primary care clinical educators, training optometrists all over the U.S. in diagnostic ophthalmic procedures, use of diagnostic drugs, and again in the use of therapeutic ophthalmic drugs, leading to optometry's gaining of legislative approval to utilize these agents and procedures, something that is taken for granted today, but was not always the case.  Additionally, we traveled all over the world trying to upgrade optometric training and clinical care in numerous countries and continents. Looking back on my years in primary care, I think this is what I am most proud of. And, I would be remiss if I did not mention the equally important contribution of my teacher, colleague, and friend, Dr. Joe Toland in this process of bringing these expanded legislative privileges to ODs here at PCO, in Pennsylvania, and all over the United States.
 
Silbert and JamesonIn 1988, I became chief of the Cornea and Specialty Contact Lens Service at The Eye Institute. Developing this service, we were able to help patients suffering from keratoconus, post-surgical eyes, patients with extreme ametropias, patients in need of prosthetic lenses, corneal disease management, etc. I had the great privilege of training an incredible cadre of cornea and contact lens residents. Many have gone on to become outstanding contact lens specialists and educators. I am very proud of their accomplishments, and grateful to have been part of their education. 
 
I have also been fortunate to have served as clinical preceptor to fourth year optometry students in their externship program for many, many years. Working with them in my private practice of optometry in N.J., as well as in the Cornea & Specialty Contact Lens Service in TEI is something that has been very rewarding.
 
Where will PCO/Salus be in the next 100 years? 

I certainly will not be here to know, but if it is based on the progress, leadership, and accomplishments of the last 100 years, it should be a very exciting place to be.