Presidential Medal of Honor 2024 — Patricia Modica, OD ‘88, Resident ‘89
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Presidential Medal of Honor 2024 — Patricia Modica, OD ‘88, Resident ‘89

Patricia Modica teaching

During her time at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO), Patricia Modica, OD ‘88, Resident ‘89, FAAO, had three mentors who helped shape the professional she would become.

There was Lawrence Gray, OD ‘72, FAAO, associate professor at PCO and chief of the Neuro-Ophthalmic Disease service at The Eye Institute (TEI), which he maintained from 1980 until his death in 2004; Lorraine Lombardi, PhD, professor emerita, regarded as a PCO trailblazer in neuro-ophthalmic disease; and Susan Oleszewski, OD ‘76, Resident ‘78, FAAO, professor emerita, who held several significant roles at PCO/Salus, including being the founder of the “Looking Out For Kids” (LOFK) vision care initiative, over more than four decades with the University.

That’s a pretty impressive big three from which to shape a career path. And, that’s not lost on Dr. Modica.

Patricia Modica at table“When I look at who I am, I’m a hybrid of those three people, because of what they were willing to share with me,” she said.

With Dr. Gray, it was his passion for neuro-ophthalmic disease; with Dr. Lombardi, it was her amazing organization and ability to break down, simplify and apply neuroanatomical pathways and her enthusiasm for teaching; and with Dr. Oleszewski, it was her incredible work ethic and standard of excellence, not to mention her sense of humor.

So, it should come as no surprise to those who know Dr. Modica and have followed her career from PCO to the State University of New York (SUNY) College of Optometry that she has now joined the ranks of her three mentors — all previous Presidential Medal recipients themselves — in being named a Salus Presidential Medal of Honor for 2024.

Dr. Modica and four other medal recipients were honored at the University’s Annual Recognition Reception on Sunday, June 2, at PineCrest Country Club in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.

Dr. Modica, daughter of Conrad Modica, OD ‘54, followed her father’s footsteps into the profession of optometry. She said she was so well-trained in that era and that the PCO students were confident when they entered the professional world, even more so if they also had completed a residency at PCO.

“Our externship supervisors were so comfortable with us and what we knew and were more than willing to defer a lot of decision-making to us because they were confident in what we were able to do,” she said. “And, we were given the hardest cases as residents because we were learning from those challenges. There was a lot thrown at us, but we were told that we were chosen for the residency because we could handle it.”

It was during her on-campus residency at The Eye Institute (TEI) studying with Dr. Gray where she first became interested in neuro-ophthalmic disease. When her residency was completed, she was able to secure a two-year fellowship at TEI to continue that educational path.

MHM and Patricia Modica with Medal Award“Those were the best two years of my professional career,” said Dr. Modica. “I completely immersed myself in neuro. I was able to distinguish myself as one of the first formally trained neuro-ophthalmic optometrists.”

From that fellowship, Dr. Modica went on to SUNY College of Optometry, where she remains to this day as a clinical professor teaching neuroanatomy and neuro-ophthalmic disease. Over more than three decades, SUNY has provided Dr. Modica with numerous opportunities to create and grow the same type of neuro-ophthalmic disease program that exists at PCO/Salus.

“My foundation certainly came from PCO, but I was able to take that and use it to create something at SUNY,” she said. “PCO has been a driving force behind this over the years because it has an established neuro-ophthalmic disease residency program that is feeding other programs and helping grow the specialty in the optometric profession.”

Dr. Modica was nominated for the award by Jonathan Stevens, OD ‘88.

“Her accomplishments speak for themselves and she is most deserving of the PCO/Salus Presidential Medal for her pioneering spirit, dedication, and commitment to our profession and for exhibiting her ‘PCO style leadership,’” wrote Dr. Stevens. “She is a leader, innovator, and pioneer alumnus and has earned the privilege to join the many others who have come before her to make optometry what it has become, while proudly representing our alma mater and our profession.”

Dr. Modica said she still loves teaching but admits that she’s getting closer to the sunset of her career. But there’s still one thing she wants to accomplish and that is to write a book.

“Before I retire, I want to publish a textbook, and I don’t want to retire until that book is written,” she said. “You start to think, what legacy can I leave for those who come after me that reflects what I’ve done at SUNY after leaving PCO. I’d like that final piece to be a book.”