It’s not a long list, but it is a distinguished one in the history of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) at Salus University: Albert Fitch, OD ‘36, founder and president of what was then called the Pennsylvania State College of Optometry (PSCO); Norman Wallis, OD, PhD, FAAO, president of PCO from 1972 to 1979; and Thomas Lewis, OD ‘70, PhD, FAAO, president of PCO from 1989 to 2008 and president of Salus University from 2008 to 2013.
Melissa Trego in ClinicAll three were presidents of the University’s founding institution. And, all three served as president of the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO), the academic leadership organization committed to advancing optometric education and research to enhance the health and well-being of the public.
You can now add one more PCO/Salus name to that list: Melissa E. Trego, OD ‘04, Resident ‘09, PhD, dean of PCO/Salus, who assumed the duties of the ASCO president at the organization’s annual meeting in June 2022 at the American Optometric Association (AOA) conference in Chicago.
“These are some of the original founders and giants of this institution,” said Dr. Trego. “Certainly, we’ve come a long way from where we used to be, but it’s really humbling to know that these individuals served ASCO before me.”
Melissa Trego in Virtual LabDr. Fitch was, in fact, the group’s first president from 1941 to 1945. Dr. Wallis served from 1975-1977 and Dr. Lewis was president in 1996-97. Dr. Trego becomes the fifth woman to assume the title in the association’s history and the first female from PCO/Salus to serve in that capacity.
She describes ASCO as an organization that has a lot of moving parts, with a great team of people from different schools and optometry colleges of optometry from across the nation and in Puerto Rico with one collective goal in mind: To make sure it recruits and retains diverse and qualified applicants into the profession of optometry.
“I think a lot of what the ASCO president does is making sure that ASCO remains a voice of advocacy for optometric education as well as making sure that we have a lot of collaboration, not just within the individual schools and colleges of optometry, but also with the American Optometric Association (AOA), the American Academy of Optometry (AAO), the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO) and the Association of Regulatory Boards of Optometry (ARBO),” said Dr. Trego.
The association as a whole is dedicated to pushing its “Optometry Gives Me Life” initiative, a campaign born out of the concern among ASCO and its 23-member institutions about a troubling decline, in recent years, of qualified applicants to fulfill each institution’s first-year class. And, it also pushes for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in its efforts.
During her one-year term as ASCO president, Dr. Trego would like to focus on something that has been front and center since the start of the pandemic —the overall mental health and well-being of optometrists and Doctor of Optometry students.
“Optometry is such an amazing profession and, still some of the best people to sell this profession are optometrists themselves. What’s concerning is that we have optometrists that are starting to get burned out,” said Dr. Trego.
Melissa Trego at podiumIt is in this realm that she thinks she can have the most impact.
“And, so I think how ASCO can help is going to be, let’s continue to recruit and get these diverse applicants, but once they get here, how do we make that we retain them? How do we make sure that they’re able to go through this process?” she said.
Never one to walk away from a challenge or an adventure, Dr. Trego said she’s looking forward to her year as ASCO president.
“I think this should be a pretty wild ride and I’m ready to go,” she said. “I’m lucky enough to have a great support system at PCO/Salus and then I’ve got a lot of great support at ASCO and the executive board. I’m lucky to be surrounded by good people.”