PCO and Salus Legacy: – The Orrens

Orren FamilyIn the summer of 1983, fate put PCO soulmates, Rita Verma Orren, OD ’87 and G. William (Bill) Orren III, OD ’87 together as they started their first year at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO). What followed were not only 29 years of marriage and two very successful careers as optometrists, but also the start of a legacy. Of their two children, their son Brett continued Rita’s legacy as University of Pittsburgh alum, while their daughter, Nisha, is a first year Physician Assistant student at Salus.

When asked why they chose to be optometrists, Bill and Rita both have extraordinary stories.

For Bill, it was an auto accident at the age of fourteen that sparked his interest in optometry. After having glass removed from his cornea, he learned he would also need glasses. From that point on, Bill knew optometry was the right career path for him.

In 1976, Bill joined the army and worked as an optical lab specialist, making glasses for basic training troops in South Carolina, and then as an optometric assistant in Vicenza, Italy where he was in charge of the optometry clinic. After four years, he received both the Good Conduct Medal and the Army Commendation Medal before returning to the U.S. with plans to get his bachelor’s and Doctor of Optometry degree. When conducting research, he decided on Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. and enrolled in its three year accelerated program with PCO.

As for Rita, while she was pursuing her bachelor of science at the University of Pittsburgh in Johnstown, Pa., she worked as an intern for PCO legend, Freda Sattel, OD ‘43. Rita reflects upon her experience as the moment she knew she wanted to have a career in healthcare involving the eyes. “To this day, Dr. Sattel is still one of my closest friends and I’m thankful she introduced me to this profession and this school,” she said.

orrens-cpi-;e.jpgWhen Bill and Rita met, they instantly became good friends. As they went through their first year of optometry school together, the pair grew closer and started dating later the same year.

“It was wonderful to have a best friend by your side to lean on for support,” the couple said. “It was incredible to have a built in study partner throughout optometry school as we worked together to prepare ourselves for the future.”

For the first three years after graduation, the couple lived apart while Rita returned to the greater Pittsburgh area and Bill moved to Harrisburg. After seven years of dating, the couple got married and began living together in the Harrisburg area.

Rita has worked for Betz Ophthalmology in Lewisburg, Pa., for last 26 years, specializing in contact lens fitting and therapeutic treatment of various ocular conditions including low vision. In 2000, Rita was nominated for the Pennsylvania Optometric Association (POA) Optometrist of the Year.

Over the years, Bill worked for Calvin “Jerry” Wolfberg, OD – brother of the fourth PCO president, Melvin Wolfberg, OD ’51 – in Northumberland, Pa. where he then started his own practice in 1993, where he still remains today. Bill also now works part time for The Eye Center of Central, Pa.

Orrens Family - White Coat CeremonyAs for their daughter, Nisha, when asked what kind of influence her parents’ careers had on her while growing up she said, “I always dreamt of working in the medial field, when I was little, I didn’t have a huge interest specifically in the eyes, so I knew I wanted to do something more general.” Growing up, she had a lot of family friends who are physicians and who started telling her about the PA world and how great of a career path they thought it would be. “I started doing more research and I was hooked,” she said. “I used to love to listen to my parent’s stories of various patients and their relationships with them, and I knew the patient care that I saw them experiencing was something that I wanted with my future job. It’s funny that now, after learning about the eyes in detail in the PA program, I have more of an interest in ocular medicine. I love calling my parents from school and sharing all that I learned that day about the eyes!”

When asked about her experiences at Salus, Nisha said, “I really love the PA program at Salus! It definitely keeps me busy and on my toes, but the amount of information that I am learning that I will be able to take into the real world is incredible.” She went on to praise the PA faculty. “They really take time to get to know the students and understand what our goals are,” she said. “I really like our clinical problem solving class because we get to create real-life case scenarios to present to the class, and then work as a team to try and figure out a diagnosis.”
Looking to the future, Nisha said, “I am excited to start practicing my skills in a new area! Having gone to undergrad close by, I really love the Philadelphia area, but I am excited to move somewhere new and experience a different area and patient population.” In the future, she plans on pursuing family medicine or pediatrics, but that might change as she learns more about the different specialties.  

As for Bill and Rita’s future plans, they said, “we both continue to enjoy practicing optometry and are excited to see what the future holds for our children.”

Orren Family photo