After 23 years of service to both Salus and the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO), Dr. Abraham (Avi) Gonen OD ’73 will leave a legacy of expanding optometry internationally in light of his recent retirement. Since the development and continuation of the founding College’s international programs, nearly 1,000 international degrees have been conferred worldwide.
Expanding the practice and scope of optometry across the globe has always been a passion of Dr. Gonen’s. So much so, that in his yearbook notes from his graduation year, he listed his goals as: to help develop optometric law and a school of optometry in Israel, his homeland. After working in the private sector for 20 years, Dr. Gonen returned to his alma mater to continue to pursue his passion of expanding the scope of optometry around the world.
In the early 90s, PCO was involved in educating optometrists in Spain, and a strategic plan for advancing the profession of optometry worldwide was being mapped out by then-president Thomas Lewis, OD ’70, Anthony Di Stefano, OD ’73, PCO dean at the time, and Louis Catania, OD ’69, former director of what was then the Office of Continuing Education. In 1994, Dr. Gonen joined PCO as the director of Middle East/European Programs to further develop the College’s international impact in that area.
According to Dr. Lewis, the position was a good fit for Dr. Gonen.
“Dr. Gonen has such a unique background that it was sort of a natural position for him,” Dr. Lewis said. “He’s really an international person. He has three different citizenships. He’s lived in Germany and Israel. He speaks numerous languages.”
Dr. Gonen worked alongside this pioneering group to truly meet the needs of optometrists in as many countries as possible. In various countries, optometry is practiced differently - many do not have the same abilities in terms of using diagnostic medications and depth of examinations as is the scope of practice in the United States. Dr. Gonen traveled to countries around Europe and Asia to forge relationships with schools of optometry. PCO would then travel to these countries to educate their students and faculty on the latest developments in the optometric landscape.
“He loved to travel so he was able to rapidly build additional opportunities for us in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and Asia,” Dr. Lewis said. “Most of that was due to his efforts.”
According to Dr. Di Stefano, Dr. Gonen’s relationship building was a key aspect of the international program’s growth. PCO was and continues to be the only academic institution in the United States to offer the Master of Science in Clinical Optometry (MSCO) degree program for international practitioners.
“I think one of the strengths Avi brought was being able to develop a strong relationship with the countries,” he said. “These were the kind of programs that require years of discussions, deliberations, and negotiations. The developed programs were responsive to the needs of each country.”
Salus University’s current Department of International and Continuing Education has continued and expanded upon Dr. Gonen’s drive to educate optometrists worldwide. Salus offers five courses of study for international practitioners – in Optometry and Audiology. It also hosts a variety of international students on-campus as well as educating them in their home countries.