Growing up, Brian Helmetag, OD, Resident ‘23, played a lot of soccer, which required him to do a lot of physical therapy training. He knew he wanted to pursue a career in the healthcare field and that experience had him leaning toward becoming a physical therapist or a personal trainer.
Dr. Brian HelmetagDuring his undergraduate studies at the University of Delaware, he even entered the pre-med route and during his freshman year, he interned for a physical therapist. “I ended up really hating it,” said Dr. Helmetag about his experience at his internship. “I wanted to stay in the healthcare field, but I decided to change course. I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do.”
During his third year at the University of Delaware, he took a physics course which included an optics and light section. And, that’s where something clicked— he could combine light optics and healthcare and pursue optometry as a profession. Now Dr. Helmetag finds himself as a member of the 2023 on-campus residency class in primary care and ocular disease at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) at Salus University.
After graduating from Midwestern University Chicago College of Optometry, Dr. Helmetag knew he wanted to complete a residency program, either at a Veterans Affairs hospital or an academic/teaching facility. He applied at both and was matched with PCO/Salus.  “I just wanted to be well-rounded, and I thought a school setting would be perfect for that. Plus, you get to precept, so you basically have knowledgeable technicians which allow you to see more patients and have more exposure to different diseases,” said Dr. Helmetag.
Although he’s only a few months into his residency at The Eye Institute (TEI) and PCO/Salus, he sees the challenges associated with that role as being invaluable to his development as an optometrist. “My school was one of the newer optometry schools, so we didn’t have residents. I was curious how the interaction would go with the students because I never had the chance to interact with residents,” he said. “I didn’t know how the dynamic would be. It’s a lot to get used to.”
He said the residents are expected to be competent and well-informed, not just for the benefit of the patients but also for the Doctor of Optometry students at PCO/Salus who are asking questions on a deeper level than patients would ask. “I thought the studying would end when the tests and exams did, but that’s not true,” said Dr. Helmetag.
Although he hadn’t considered teaching in his future, he’s not dismissing it now that he’s had a chance to precept. “I didn’t really think about teaching, but it’s rewarding,” he said. “I think I would like to work at a teaching hospital. I would like to do clinic-based teaching. In that sense, I’d like to teach, just not in a classroom setting.”
When he’s not working, Dr. Helmetag enjoys the outdoors and hiking. He travels to New York City a lot, reconnecting with his East Coast friends after being away at school in Chicago. Doing his residency is stressful, he said, but it’s a good kind of stress. “I’m learning a lot every single day,” said Dr. Helmetag. “The best way to learn is to also teach because it reinforces everything you’ve learned.”