Trip to China and Singapore Helps Advance the Salus Mission
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Trip to China and Singapore Helps Advance the Salus Mission

Group photo in front of a presentation

University president Dr. Michael H. Mittelman – who ran a marathon in Germany in September 2019 and is known to take the stairs rather than use the elevators on the University’s Elkins Park, Pa. campus – likes to stress good health and keeping in shape. Even when he’s on the road.

Dr. Mittelman and Dr. Melissa Vitek, director of International and Continuing Education, were able to squeeze in a little exercise on a recent trip to China and Singapore, but most of their time was taken up with the primary mission of the trip – to fulfill Salus University’s mission of advancing integrated healthcare through innovative education, research and clinical sciences and to impact the future of healthcare education and professional practice. 

Drs. Mittelman and Vitek“Our international partnerships elevate Salus’ professions globally and, in the case of optometry, broaden the scope of optometric practice in other countries,” said Dr. Vitek. In addition to responding to requests from our graduates who go back to their institutions and wish to collaborate with us, we speak at university and conferences that align with our strategic priorities.

Along with Drs. Mittelman and Vitek on the China leg of the trip this time were Ken Wong and Jeff Ji of NavPac Advisors, LLC, consultants who are helping Salus establish alliances in China with the Ministry of Education and various other levels of government in an effort to expand patient care outreach through securing funding for qualified student training.

“The intention is to identify new funding sources for our students and identify ways to facilitate the process of students obtaining their visas for coming to the U.S.,” said Dr. Vitek.

The China leg started in the Jinan, Shandong province, where the duo introduced the University’s Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) programs and the PhD program in Biomedicine to the dean and several members of the administration and faculty at the Affiliated Eye Hospital of Shandong University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Two of Salus’ MSc in Clinical Optometry alumni are faculty members at this institution.

“They’re quite interested in implementing Salus programs” said Dr. Vitek. “They want to send students to our Advanced Placement Doctor of Optometry degree program, our MSc in Clinical Optometry with an Advanced Studies certificate degree program and our PhD program.”

From Shandong, Drs. Vitek and Mittelman traveled to Harbin, at the very northern tip of China near the Russian border. There, they visited three eye hospitals – First Eye Hospital and Harbin Medical University, both public institutions, and Jiaoshi Eye Hospital, a private institution. All three, are interested in the Salus MSc in Clinical Optometry with an Advanced Studies certificate degree program. The private hospital is interested in sending a larger number of students to Salus for training because it is opening up several different hospitals throughout its region.

“Right now we could probably take up to 24 students in one cohort,” said Dr. Vitek. “If the student numbers they would like to send come to fruition, we may have to start offering two cohorts a year.”

The hospital visits were followed that evening by dinner with members of the local Harbin municipal government to identify new funding sources and discuss strategies for increasing patient access to comprehensive eye care.

The Singapore leg of the trip featured the two meetings with members of the Singapore Optometric Association to work out the details for implementing a 100-hour diagnostic course in Singapore for practitioners.

“We’re in the middle of discussing an option that would include attendees coming to Salus for the hands-on portion of the clinical training,” said Dr. Vitek. “It’s 100 hours, so they would come for up to two weeks. We’re discerning what will be most cost-effective and what would be most appealing to their practitioners. We’re going to survey our graduates and practicing doctors in Singapore to determine their interests and preferences.”

A highlight of the Singapore trip included an alumni – which number in the hundreds - and friends reception attended by about 25 local alumni that included a tribute to longtime Singapore Optometric Association member and Salus educational program partner, Dr. Roland J. Izaac.

receptionPCO graduate Dr. Izaac, MSc ’04, died suddenly in the summer of 2019. Originally from Singapore, Dr. Izaac helped support several cohorts of students from Singapore going through the BSc in optometry degree completion program and the MSc in Clinical Optometry degree program. He spent a lifetime advancing the profession of optometry in his country. There is a clinical skills bay in PCO’s auxiliary clinical skills lab on  the Elkins Park, Pa. campus that was recently named after Dr. Izaac.

According to Dr. Vitek, the China and Singapore trip also featured a fair amount of discussion about occupational therapy and how it ties into vision rehabilitation. However, that model is not currently utilized in China or Singapore in a formalized way.

“Many were interested in how we’ve been able to do that in the U.S. There was some interest in our BLVS (Blindness and Low Vision) programs, specifically the vision rehabilitation offerings.  They were particularly intrigued by how vision rehabilitation specialists are collaborating with occupational therapists for improving patient outcomes,” she said.

After returning home, Dr. Vitek said the next steps are working out details on which programs are going to align best with the needs of each institution while at the same time working with the contacts made through NavPac on securing funding for the students who are interested in coming to Salus.  “A delegation from the Chinese government will be visiting campus in early February to continue the important work we began in China,” said Dr. Vitek. “We are very hopeful our efforts will achieve the ultimate goal of expanded access to quality healthcare for China’s large population.”