In the late 1980s, Satya Verma, OD ‘75, FAAO, DPNAP, Diplomate
, moved his family from King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, up the road six miles to Blue Bell.
Dr. Verma had been at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) at Salus University for 17 years at that point and had established his professional and personal networks, so the move didn’t change much for him.
But for his young daughters, that six-mile journey was another world.
“My oldest daughter, who was 10 at the time, said ‘Dad, it’s not fair.’ And, I said, we didn’t move that far away, it was only six miles,” Dr. Verma recalled. “And, she said, ‘Yes, for you. Your work is the same and your friends are the same. You are meeting them in the same ways. But my school is different, my classmates are different, and I have to start all over again.’ I really took that to heart.”
That partially explains why Dr. Verma, who completed his 50th year of working at PCO/Salus in June 2021, stayed all those years. Sure, there were several other reasons — he also had a practice here that he didn’t believe he could just up and leave — but he never forgot those words from his daughter about the difficulties associated with change. And, after half a century, Dr. Verma is officially going to retire, effective at the end of the year.
“No matter where you go, you’re going to find challenges. So, you can’t run away from issues, you try to make them better,” he said. “The reason I stayed here is because once you come to some place, you develop a comfort zone. You not only have a professional life, you have a personal life as well.”
It wasn’t necessarily that way early in his career. He had earned a degree in optometry in his home country of India, where in the late 1960s and early 1970s, optometrists didn’t need a license and were dilating patients. Arriving in the U.S. and eventually landing in Berkeley, California, in 1971, Dr. Verma found that U.S. optometrists needed to be licensed, but at the time, couldn’t even put drops in eyes to check for pressure or glaucoma.
“I thought I was coming to a forward country but I realized, no, not really. In certain areas we were behind, even though we were licensed here,” he said.
By 1972, Dr. Verma had arrived in the Philadelphia area at PCO/Salus. And, although he had an opportunity in the early 1980s to leave for a dean’s position at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico School of Optometry, he chose to stay, and has been here ever since.
During his career at PCO/Salus, Dr. Verma has been quite involved with the University, serving in various capacities. Those include: as secretary and president of the Faculty Organization of PCO (FOPCO); chair of the Protection of Human Subjects committee; member of the Learning Resources committee; on the Judicial committee; the Academic Standards Taskforce; the Accelerated Doctor of Optometry Taskforce; as chair of the Tenure committee; chair of the Educational Policy and Curriculum committee; member of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committee; the University Development Day committee; the University Retirement Advisory committee; the Board of Trustees/Academic Leadership/Mentorship group; and chair of the Committee on Academic Promotion (PCO).
Dr. Verma started the first low vision service at PCO’s clinical facility – The Eye Institute - and wrote the first lab manual for low vision. He was the clinical supervisor for the Philadelphia Interdisciplinary Health and Education Program (PHIHEP), Contact Lens and Low Vision service, and has been part of the Externship Program for second-year students. He started the Community Eye Care Service program, a clinical experience for students that provided eye care to the homebound elderly population in Philadelphia, the first of its kind. He also developed and has taught an elective course in geriatric optometry for PCO/Salus students. Dr. Verma started the first External Residency Program and developed up to 10 residency programs.
The accolades have also stacked up during Dr. Verma’s career. He was selected as a delegate to the 1995 White House Conference on Aging and for a Primary Care Health Policy Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), one of only four optometrists in Pennsylvania ever selected for the honor. And, he’s the only optometrist in Pennsylvania who was honored twice by the Chester Delaware County Optometric Association going on to receive the American Optometric Association’s (AOA) “Optometrist of the Year” award.
In 2019, Dr. Verma received the Nicholas A. Cummings Award from the National Academies of Practice (NAP). He received the Presidential Medal of Honor from PCO/Salus during its Centennial Celebration and was a 2020 inductee into the National Optometric Hall of Fame.
Although he and his wife, Asha — the longtime head of readers’ services at the Montgomery County-Norristown Public Library before retiring earlier this year — plan to do some more traveling and spend more time with their four grandchildren, Dr. Verma will still be involved with the optometry profession and other organizations.
He’ll continue to serve on the American Optometric Association’s Ethics and Values committee, the American Academy of Optometry’s Vision and Aging committee, and will volunteer his services to the Pennsylvania Optometric Association (POA). And, after serving on the board and as secretary for the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, Dr. Verma has just been elected as vice chair of the group, which will keep him engaged for the next four years.
PCO/Salus, he said, has been a “very good family” whose faculty and staff are “personable and nice.” He appreciates the way his colleagues do their work in a pleasant way, which has made working together all these years easier and enjoyable.
“This has been an evolution. I have seen the profession’s growth,” he said. “I feel blessed to have been a part of that evolution.”