Last year was a big year for Robert Bittel, OD ‘83
. Not only was he named the 2021 Optometrist of the Year in Pennsylvania, but also the 2021 Optometrist of the Year by the Western Optometric Association, an award he’s won two other times during his distinguished career.
And the hits keep coming for Dr. Bittel now that the calendar has turned the page. He can add the 2022 Presidential Medal of Honor from Salus University to his list of award recognitions.
“I have knowledge of some of the previous medal recipients and it’s quite an accomplished group,” said Dr. Bittel. “I feel humbled to be included.”
Dr. Bittel has spent his entire career working in support of Pennsylvania optometrists. As chairman of the Pennsylvania Optometric Association’s Legislative Action Committee, Dr. Bittel played a key role in ensuring that Pennsylvania’s scope of practice bill, for the first time in more than 20 years, passed and has resulted in an expanded scope of practice for Pennsylvania optometrists. This singular achievement alone deserves special recognition and qualifies him for the Salus Presidential Award.
He said the profession of optometry “unfolded in front of me” after his graduation from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) in 1983.
“I look back on those years at PCO as a very good foundation for the way the profession was going to expand. Of course, I didn’t know at the time how it was going to expand,” he said.
PCO taught the medical model of optometry which was the visionary model, according to Dr. Bittel.
“The medical model of optometry is the reason the profession has changed, expanded and flourished over the course of my career,” he said. “PCO/Salus was at the forefront of medical optometry and it had a vision for the future of the profession.”
For more than 35 years, Dr. Bittel has owned Bittel Vision Care Centers in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. His son, Matthew Bittel, OD ‘10
, joined him in the practice after graduating from PCO/Salus.
Dr. Robert Bittel has been involved in laser vision consultation since 1998, when the FDA first approved laser for vision correction. He has also served on the advisory board of a national laser center. Dr. Bittel is active in local, state and national optometric organizations. He was president of the Pennsylvania Optometric Association in 2010 and currently serves as a member of the state government relations committee for the American Optometric Association (AOA). He has served on optometric advisory committees for both the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and Highmark Blue Shield. His clinical interests include ocular disease treatment, glaucoma and specialty contact lenses.
“I’ve been involved with organized optometry my whole career, and the industry changes that sought to take parts of what optometry does for our patients and move those to different areas,” said Dr. Bittel. “The fact that optometry kept up with scope of practice and the medical model allowed us to compete for our place in the marketplace with the other eyecare providers.”
He admits that he’s now “putting together an exit strategy” for retirement. A lifelong fisherman, Dr. Bittel enjoys all types — salt water, fresh water and ice fishing — boating and relaxing with his wife, Debbie. And, he hopes retirement provides opportunities to do more of all of those things.
“I have reduced my patient care hours recently and I hope to spend more time with my family and grandchildren,” he said.