When Neal Nyman, OD, BS, started at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) in 1986, he wanted to make a contribution to the education of his students. And, over the next 33 years, he most certainly did.
A well-respected clinician who easily imparted knowledge to his interns and residents alike, Dr. Nyman greatly expanded the way PCO approached both ethics and patient-doctor communications prior to his retirement in 2019.
For his many years of dedication to teaching PCO students, he has been named a 2020 Presidential Medal of Honor awardee by the University.
“It’s a great honor and very humbling,” said Dr. Nyman on receiving the award. “It’s a cap to my career and I’m very proud to join my esteemed colleagues who have received this award.”
When Dr. Nyman arrived at PCO, the faculty already included his twin brother Jeffrey Nyman OD, FAAO
, associate professor and director of Emergency Services.
He quickly became interested in doctor-patient relationships and since there wasn’t a course at the time in that area, he developed one, which he taught for the next 30 years.
“I emphasized not only the importance of empathy and communication, but of also demonstrating that you can teach people,” said Dr. Nyman. “There is the old myth that you either have it or you don’t. Of course, to some degree that’s true. But certainly in healthcare communication there are methods to teach people how to communicate with empathy and how to be much more sensitive and effective in educating patients.”
In addition to being reunited with his brother, Dr. Nyman realized he was joining faculty members that had already been established as some of the best in the country.
“The most prominent feeling I had, and I remember it vividly now, was joining other faculty here who had done such a tremendous job in creating the reputation that PCO had at the time — as being really the tops in therapeutic training and primary care training,” recalled Dr. Nyman. “It was an honor to me to join the faculty at that time.”
In his recommendation letter for the award, Roger Cummings, OD ‘76, FAAO, Diplomate in Low Vision
, a PCO faculty member for 22 years and a 2019 award recipient, wrote that he has always been impressed by how Dr. Nyman approached each situation with “care and thoughtfulness” and that he possessed “clinical, educational and administrative wisdom in his numerous interactions.”
“The course that he developed is now integrated into various aspects of the current curriculum, but his fingerprints are all over the knowledge that is disseminated,” wrote Dr. Cummings. “He demonstrated his administrative skills by being a ‘front line’ administrator (Module Chief) of a Primary Care Unit, and he was responsible for evaluating the skills of his clinical staff, interns and residents. The quality of our optometric graduates is to a large extent dependent on the skills that these administrators possess.”
Dr. Nyman said his 33 years at PCO went “amazingly fast” and that he appreciates the consideration he was given for the award.
“I was very surprised and was not expecting it all,” he said. “It was the farthest thing from my mind, really. I was very pleased.”