Melissa Trego, OD, PhD, has been appointed by Salus University to the position of dean of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO). Dr. Trego, PCO class of 2004, is the first female graduate of PCO to hold this position, and she says that she’s truly humbled by the honor. “I went to PCO, grew up here and my loyalty lies with PCO,” she says. “We have an unbelievably great team; we are already very proud of what we’ve done, and I’m excited to be a part of our next chapter.”
Dr. Trego says that she envisioned herself in an academic setting as she went through her time at PCO, but she didn’t imagine herself in administration so soon, she says. After a two-year primary care residency at The Eye Institute of Salus University, she earned her PhD in cellular and molecular biology from Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. At PCO, she advanced from an assistant professor to associate dean of optometric academic affairs, then associate dean of the Accelerated Scholars Program and became interim dean in May 2016.
Dr. Trego says that she’s found academia and administration offer “the best of all potential opportunities because you can influence not just students but the profession. Educating the ODs of tomorrow is how you can change the profession and patients’ lives. I still love seeing patients, and that’s not something I want to lose. You have to be entrenched as a clinician.”
The university’s Accelerated Scholars Program was the first three-year optometry program in the U.S. not requiring a PhD or other doctoral degree. The first class graduated this past May. “Medicine, dentistry and nursing were offering accelerated programs, and we saw it as an opportunity to have a small program with students who were highly motivated to earn their degree in less time than the traditional four years,” Dr. Trego says. She and Beth Tonkery, OD, MPH, poured all of their efforts into this program, and she says that the outcome measures have shown that it’s been a success. (Read WO’s story on the program.)
The first class had 100 percent pass rates on all three parts of the national board testing. “I’ve watched these students grow and become these excellent clinicians in a very short amount of time. I’m really very proud, not just of the scholar students, but of all
of our PCO students.”
PCO and other schools face a rapidly changing profession, she says, and her goal with her team is to improve PCO a little bit every day. After being appointed as the dean, Dr. Trego sent an email to the college and students about challenges ahead. “At times I know it appears we have many mountains to move; I strongly believe that if we all work together, moving a mountain amounts to moving a few stones—and there is no greater group of individuals that I can imagine working in the trenches with.”
Dr. Trego joins these fellow leaders as female deans: Jennifer Coyle, OD, MS, FAAO, Pacific University College of Optometry; Elizabeth Hoppe, OD, MPH, DrPH, Western University of Health Sciences’ College of Optometry; Stephanie Messner, OD, FAAO, Illinois College of Optometry; Kelly Nichols, OD, MPH, PhD, FAAO, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry; and Karla Zadnik, OD, PhD, Ohio State University College of Optometry.