Salus University didn’t mask its admiration and appreciation for Joel Silbert, OD ‘73, FAAO
, on his last official day at The Eye Institute (TEI) June 30, 2020.
Dr. Silbert — professor and director of the Contact Lens Program and former chief of the Cornea and Specialty Contact Lens Service at TEI — was honored at the retirement ceremony after 46 years at the University.
Because of the rules put in place by the University during the COVID-19 pandemic, only a few family members, colleagues and friends were able to attend the ceremony in person, practicing social distancing while wearing masks. But the greater Salus community did have the opportunity to tune in virtually during a live-stream of the event on Instagram.
Salus president Michael Mittelman, OD ‘80, MPH, MBA, FAAO, FACHE, Melissa Trego, OD ’04, PhD
, dean of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO), associate dean of Optometric Affairs and associate professor at PCO, and Maria Parisi, OD ’85, Resident ‘86, FAAO
, associate dean of Optometric Clinical Affairs at PCO, all gave brief remarks about Dr. Silbert’s extensive contributions to the profession and the University.
Dr. Mittelman, who as a student at PCO had Dr. Silbert as clinical instructor, shared a personal story about his time as a student at PCO under Dr. Silbert’s tutelage.
“I remember doing an exam on a patient and I missed something. Dr. Silbert followed me in and was checking me out. And I hear this 'Michael, Michael, Michael. I can’t believe you didn’t see this.' He made me look again,” said Dr. Mittelman. “I became a much better observer because I didn’t want Dr. Silbert’s voice in my ear anymore. It made me a better clinician.”
Dr. Trego pointed out that Dr. Silbert has been a integral part of PCO’s legacy.
“You are part of the team that helped move the profession forward,” she said. “Every single aspect that Dr. Silbert has touched in our program has made it better. We cannot thank you enough for all the time, patience and dedication that you have given our students, our faculty and of course, our patients.”
Dr. Parisi, speaking on behalf of the residents, also emphasized Dr. Silbert’s influence on future generations of optometrists.
“You really are the foundation of how we got started,” she said. “You’re leaving a legacy because those residents you taught are now specialists who are teaching the next generation. So you’re going to live on forever.”
Accolades continued to stream in for Dr. Silbert, even from those unable to attend the ceremony in person.
Thomas Lewis, OD ’70, PhD, FAAO
, president of PCO from 1989 to 2008 and Salus University president from 2008 to 2013, said that in the 1970s, when the profession of optometry was undergoing evolutionary changes in its scope of practice, Dr. Silbert was helping to create a new generation of faculty with enhanced skills and expertise.
“From the time he joined the faculty, it was clear that Dr. Silbert possessed unusually high intelligence and a desire to lead the wave of changes that were occurring in optometry,” said Dr. Lewis. “But his greatest contribution to the university was as a role model for younger faculty. They could observe his ability to run a successful practice and at the same time remain dedicated to his responsibilities at the university. Clearly Dr. Silbert’s efforts will have a lasting impact on the future direction of PCO in the area of contact lenses."
Anthony Di Stefano, OD ’73, MEd, MPH, FAAO
, who graduated from PCO a year before Dr. Silbert, said Dr. Silbert always stepped up to the challenge.
“Whether is was in advancing the TEI Primary Care Module concept since it’s inception, restructuring and innovating the entire contact lens program or taking on a landmark national contact lens research project to being a mentor to countless students and faculty, Joel has led a distinguished career,” said Dr. Di Stefano. “We all take pride in having Joel as a member of our PCO/Salus family.”
For his part, Dr. Silbert isn’t disappearing from the TEI scene altogether. Exam Room 503 at TEI, where Dr. Silbert spent a lot of time, was dedicated in his name during the retirement ceremony. He’s going to continue working in Advanced Studies in Contact Lenses externally with fourth-year students and will likely continue teaching in a limited capacity.
“This is an honor and I’m very touched,” said Dr. Silbert at the retirement ceremony. “It’s difficult to do something like this during the pandemic. And with my mask on, you can’t see how much I’m smiling.”
He noted that he and his wife Carol are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year. And that coincides with his four years as a student and 46 years as a faculty member at PCO, equaling 50 years. “Anything I’ve done in optometry at the college I could not have done without the support of my lovely wife Carol and my children,” he said.
“It’s amazing that we’ve been able to be part of this grand enterprise that we call The Eye Institute. And clearly all of you, as well as those not here, have been part of my extended family,” said Dr. Silbert. “It’s not an easy thing to say goodbye. So I’m not going to say goodbye. I’m just going to give you a heartfelt thanks. And I promise you that we’ll see each other again.”