Optometry FAQs for National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO) Rates

I heard that NBEO board scores were below the national average – why is that?

Over the last several years, PCO has been closely following the student performance on all board exams. The program has analyzed all program aspects, including curriculum, scheduling, and student study habits, in an effort to better understand student performance. Over the last few years, we have made several key changes and as a result have seen an upward trend in student scores. We are now above the national average in our NBEO Part 1 first time performance. Scores are available on our PCO website.

What does the college do to prepare students for the Boards?

To best support and prepare our students for success on NBEO Part 1, PCO currently offers several initiatives. During the spring semester of the students’ third year, we offer a course in Integrated Decision Making which focuses on student study skills, integrated review materials, and faculty lectures on key basic science and clinical concepts. As a supplement to this course, students are required to take our MOCK NBEO format exam, with the same length, duration, and electronic format of questions is required to assess student preparedness and provide feedback and guidance on specific content areas of weakness. Also as a part of this course, a MOCK NBEO optics exam and subsequent feedback is given focusing thoroughly on course content offered in the optics sequence, as this is a major component of boards.

We also have a lighter scheduled course load during the NBEO exam semester, and provide students with a week off prior to exam administration. While our updated curriculum (2018) does not specifically teach to the NBEO exams, all faculty have evaluated their content with the NBEO outlines and confirmed that their material exceeds the expected levels of content delivery for students to learn NBEO material. Therefore, students are ‘studying’ for boards from day one of their program. Finally, KMK Educational Services are provided access to PCO’s campus during the winter before NBEO Part 1 administration for a student-organized, focused review of NBEO materials.

Why should I choose PCO/Salus if board scores are lower than other programs?

The administration and faculty are fully aware of the choices available to students when selecting their institution for optometric education and factors including board score challenges, and are making the most efficient modifications to make sure students are best prepared. The PCO Dean and administrative team meet with students each year in order to provide full transparency of where we stand on Part 1 performance. Additionally, the University and PCO made the decision to keep students on-campus while they prepare for Part 1 to allow them to be with their peers and faculty, which has been a change that yielded a significant increase in the pass rate. Ultimately, nearly all students are able to pass the NBEO Part 1 examination at the time of graduation.

Since the inception of Salus University’s founding college more than 100 years ago, the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO), and now the University, have advanced integrated healthcare through innovative education, research and clinical services. Two hallmarks of a Salus education are early clinical experience with strong foundation in didactic and interdisciplinary training. Today, Salus graduates represent many health and rehabilitative professions integral to interdisciplinary and inter-professional practice, each with a uniquely important role to play in ensuring the health and well-being of the public.

An early, concentrated, and hands-on approach to direct patient care sets PCO graduates apart from their professional peers. The Eye Institute (TEI), which is where the majority of on-campus clinical training occurs, provides a unique opportunity for students to gain a clinical care perspective from optometry as well as other professions involved in vision and rehabilitation, a decided advantage other schools may not offer. The Eye Institute, and its satellite locations, provide an unrivaled clinical setting for training in comprehensive eye care. With more than 40,000 patient visits each year, this clinical facility provides students with a superior clinical education while serving residents of the Delaware Valley and beyond. The Eye Institute employs a multi-disciplinary approach, giving students an opportunity to work with optometrists, ophthalmologists, physicians, opticians, optometric technicians, and other healthcare professionals to provide total vision care to patients.

PCO has recently updated its curriculum after careful analysis and has emphasized a refined focus in the following areas:

  • Eyecare technology and the role of optometry in the healthcare system
  • Lasers and minor surgical procedures
  • Focused emphasis in neuro-ophthalmic diagnosis and rehabilitative care of the patient
  • Community outreach
  • Interprofessional practice
  • Healthcare, professionalism, and diversity
  • Ocular anatomy and physiology, including basic science aspects of eyecare
  • Systemic medicine and disease
What are some recent updates or student achievements to highlight at PCO/Salus?

Recent University renovations have been completed to keep Salus, PCO, its facilities and technologies, modern and up-to-date including renovations in the Learning Resource Center, updated, state-of-the-art classroom technology to keep PCO at the forefront of optometric education delivery, and the Virtual Reality Simulation Lab adjacent to the new Clinical Procedures Lab.

Tyler Lesko ‘22OD won the 30th AOSA Optometry Student Bowl powered by Essilor in June 2021. Tyler competed against student representatives from every optometry school in a high-stakes, fast-paced competition of optometric knowledge.

PCO Previously won the AOSA Optometry Student Bowl sponsored by Essilor in 2011 by Ian McWherter, OD ‘12, and Nicole Rist, OD ‘16, in 2015.

In 2019, Meghan Thompson, OD ‘19, achieved the highest National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO®) Part I Applied Basic Science Examination score nationally and was also named recipient of the Dr. Norman E. Wallis Award for Excellence This award was established to honor Dr. Wallis and his 25 years of phenomenal service as the executive director of the NBEO. Dr. Wallis was also the Pennsylvania College of Optometry’s president from 1972-1979.

In 2017, Jamie (Roden) Pucci, OD ‘18 was also named the recipient of the Dr. Norman E. Wallis Award for Excellence for achieving the highest score on the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO) Part 1 Basic Science Exam. Her score topped more than 2,000 students who took the exam at testing centers throughout the U.S.

PCO previously won the Dr. Norman E. Wallis Award for Excellence in 2007 when two students – Rebecca Eiss, OD ’08, and Kathryn Gurganus, OD ’08 – tied for the highest national score.

How successful are graduates at finding employment after graduation?

Within six months of graduation, all graduates reported having secured full-time employment – these settings range from corporate and hospitals to a private practice or residency programs. In 2021, PCO applicants received a 76% match rate for residency placements, which is above the national match rate of 72%. A few graduates also had military assignments secured.