Sara Berteramo, a Salus University Master of Science (MSc) in Clinical Optometry degree student, attended a convention in her home country of Italy in 2012 featuring an American optometrist from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.
The optometrist was really prepared for his talk that day and he captured the interest of Berteramo, so much so that, from that point on, her dream was to become an optometrist in America.
She and nine other international students are a step closer to realizing their dreams after having spent a week on campus recently. For the first time, the University is utilizing a hybrid online and face-to-face delivery model for the MSc in Clinical Optometry with an Advanced Studies certificate degree program. Salus has been working with the students since the summer of 2020 by conducting online informational webinars that then expanded into online coursework beginning in January 2021.
“It was a great pleasure welcoming the students to campus last week for hands-on activities,” said Melissa Vitek, OD ‘95, FAAO
, director of the Department of International and Continuing Education (DICE). “The students were excited to finally meet their classmates in person and all members of the Department of International and Continuing Education team enjoyed observing the strong connections the students had already formed, albeit through remote communications.”
The students represented nine different countries — Poland, Russia, Cuba, Nigeria, Cameroon, Italy, Saudi Arabia, India and Colombia — and all work in optometry.
Although the degree program has been offered at Salus through DICE since 2015, this was the first time there was representation from so many different regions across the globe said Dr. Vitek.
In addition, Salus president Michael H. Mittelman, OD ‘80, MPH, MBA, FAAO, FACHE
, was able to welcome the students to campus, which he noted was the first time he’s been able to do that face-to-face since the pandemic started.
Berteramo is the daughter of an optician mother and an ophthalmologist father and worked with both as an orthoptist — an advanced optometric technician — in Italy. When she and her husband moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania three years ago, she started to revive her career aspiration of becoming an optometrist in the United States and the DICE program immediately caught her interest.
“Last year I started working with a neuro-ophthalmologist in Lancaster and he said, ‘I think you need to go back to school’ and that’s been my dream for a long time,” said Berteramo. “So, I started looking around and Salus University was the place for me.”
Berteramo said the week of study at Salus was intense, but the students have had the opportunity to practice and also got a closer look at what an optometrist does in America. She also has learned different approaches from the instructors, among which included professor emeritus Bernard Blaustein, OD ‘67, FAAO
Dr. Blaustein, affectionately known as “Uncle Bernie,” served as an assistant and then associate professor at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) at Salus University starting in 1974. For six years, from 2003 to 2009, he also handled the On-Campus Residency Program before retiring three years ago. And, even though he was coming off the retirement bench to once again enter the classroom, Dr. Blaustein didn’t deny the international students any of the expertise of his “Uncle Bernie-ness.”
“I’ve had very good experiences with these doctors,” said Dr. Blaustein. “They’re from all different parts of the world and although on a cultural level we may have differences, we’re all the same with regard with trying to master the skills of our profession. We all think the same way and we all want to do the best we can for our patients.”
He added that his methods of sharing his years of knowledge and experience may be a little different than some of the younger instructors/professors.
“My approach to the students is a little bit more as an uncle would be. I’m giving them my 50 years of experience and a few tricks of the trade,” he said. “The younger instructors are more precision-oriented, teaching skills they need to know, which is very important. I’m showing them some nuances that they can utilize when they get their skill levels a little higher.”
Antonio Martinez Barrera, from Cuba, was among those students listening intently. He said he was thrilled to be on the Salus Elkins Park campus in person for the first time and to benefit from the labs and workshops during the training week.
“Optometry is my passion. I love to help patients who have eye disease. If I can improve my knowledge, I can get my license in the United States,” said Dr. Martinez Barrera, who has lived in Florida for the past five years and would like to help his community there by practicing optometry. “It’s a very good experience and I strongly recommend Salus University for international students and this program.”
The experience was a little bit different for Agnieszka Klechowicz. Born in Poland, she now resides in Philadelphia and has already graduated from optometry school in Scotland. She wants to be a licensed optometrist in the United States and the PCO/Salus program is the path for her accomplishing that goal.
“It was a very good week; very interesting,” she said. “For me, it’s a lot of repetition, which is always a good thing. This is the step I need to advance my career here in the U.S.”
Other students attending the training week included Bashayer Altamimi, Valeriya Forbes, Shankari Garcia, Sibel Lonje, Adanna Obidiegwu and Ginna Vanegas-Hedayat.
In addition to a week of training in April, the group will return to the University’s Elkins Park, Pennsylvania campus in August for approximately three weeks of instruction.