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Inside the Life of Optometry Dean: Dr. Melissa Trego


Melissa Trego’s, OD ‘04, Resident ‘09, PhD, grandparents played a major role in her life, so when she got a bit older, she was responsible for taking them to their doctors’ appointments. One time, she took her diabetic grandfather to see an ophthalmologist — all he wanted was to read his bible — but the ophthalmologist said there was nothing he could do to help.
Unwilling to give up, Dr. Trego took her grandfather to her personal optometrist, John Ciummei, OD ‘83, a graduate of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO).
“He was a fabulous optometrist and he ended up giving my grandfather a device that allowed him to read his bible,” said Dr. Trego, originally from Sunbury, Pennsylvania. “And, I knew right then that’s what I wanted to do because I knew how much that meant to my grandfather. I wanted to help people improve their quality of life and the influence Dr. Ciummei had on me was remarkable.”
melissa-trego-headshot2aThat influence also led her to PCO for her Doctor of Optometry degree, residency, and then a faculty position at the University. The connection she made at PCO is still going strong; Dr. Trego has been the dean of PCO/Salus since July, 2017.
“I honestly never, in a million years, thought I would end up as dean,” said Dr. Trego, the first female graduate of PCO to be named dean of PCO/Salus. “I consider this role an honor to serve the students and faculty, and it definitely keeps my life interesting.”
So, just what does a day in the life of the dean of PCO/Salus look like? Well, it’s pretty exciting, according to Dr. Trego. She likens it to a Netflix show that always has a different plot line.
“There's always something new and different. There's always something that is coming up,” she said. “Sometimes it’s with students, sometimes there's things that are coming up with faculty, things that are changing in the profession, licensing exams, things that are happening all over. So for me, what I like about it is there's always a new challenge.”
In addition, Dr. Trego still loves teaching course work and seeing patients in The Eye Institute (TEI), the program’s main clinical facility, once a week. It allows her to not only interact with patients, but also with students, residents, and faculty who are so dedicated to teaching students and patients.
“I love being on the floor with faculty and still seeing patients, and then I'm also lecturing,” she said. “So that kind of keeps things exciting. I teach our first-year students and it's just always something exciting.
It’s a ‘good busy.’ You have to have a really good sense of humor. If you have a good sense of humor, you will go really far here,” said Dr. Trego. “And, I try to find goodness in every day. There’s always something good to think about and laugh about.”
She loves TEI, which she believes sets PCO/Salus apart from other optometry schools. TEI allows students to receive early clinical training, an invaluable advantage for graduates going out into the real world.
“We create excellent, competent, caring, and professional clinicians. And, if you want to become a good clinician and be the type of clinician that can handle just about anything sitting in your chair, this is where you come,” she said.
The most challenging part of being the dean is that some people view her differently, despite the fact that she doesn’t see herself any differently.
melissa-trego-pic1“I view myself as being just like everyone else, and that isn't always how people view me. And, so I think sometimes that's a little difficult, but that's kind of more from a personal standpoint,” said Dr. Trego. “I think that it's also sometimes challenging to turn things off since so much is going on all the time. Certainly because of the pandemic, there is more of an expectation to be ‘on’ even after hours, so you're pretty much accessible at all times. So, I think that sometimes there is a challenge in finding a good balance for your mental and emotional health.”
To find that balance, Dr. Trego loves to play tennis. She played when she was younger but had fallen away from the sport. That was until the pandemic forced a lot of people to find outdoor activities in which to participate. Now, she finds time to play four to five times a week, oftentimes competing against Jacqueline Patterson, vice president of Institutional Advancement and Community Relations at Salus; and Chad Killen, OD ‘19, Resident ‘20, FAAO, director of the On-Campus Residency programs at the PCO/Salus.
“I love the mental challenge. I love the ability to get out of my head because when I'm on the court, the only thing I think about is the game,” said Dr. Trego. "And, the only thing I think about is talking smack usually with whoever I'm playing.”
melissa-trego-fall-2023-pic1aBecause she’s been a mainstay around PCO/Salus for a while, there isn’t much that colleagues and friends don’t know about Dr. Trego. One has to go all the way back to when, as a seventh grader, Dr. Trego appeared on a Nickelodeon show called “Outta Here,” a short-lived kids’ program that ran from August 1990 to January 1991, although it does have the distinction of being the very first series to be exclusively produced at Nickelodeon Studios in Orlando, Florida. During the taping, Dr. Trego got to stand up, introduce herself and ask a question. Her question: “How fast does the fastest car go?”
But it’s her passion for training optometrists at PCO/Salus that still burns strong and as fast as the fastest car for Dr. Trego. She is incredibly grateful for the team of associate deans surrounding her: Beth Tonkery, OD, Resident ‘10, MPH ‘13, associate dean of Curriculum and Assessment; Maria Parisi, OD ‘85, Resident ‘86, FAAO, associate dean of Clinical Affairs; Bhawan Minhas, OD, Resident ‘13, FAAO, associate dean of Accelerated Optometric Programs; and Bisant Labib, OD ‘14, Resident ‘15, FAAO, associate dean of Optometric Special Programs. PCO/Salus moves forward based on the hard work and dedication of the entire administrative team. She also cites the PCO/Salus legends that came before her — Thomas Lewis, OD ‘70, PhD, FAAO, president emeritus; Anthony Di Stefano, OD ‘73, MEd, MPH, FAAO, FCOptom (Hon.), vice president emeritus of Academic Affairs; Susan Oleszewski, OD ‘76, Resident ‘78, MA; Felix Barker, OD, MS, FAAO; Pierrette Dayhaw-Barker, PhD, professor emeritus; Lorraine Lombardi, PhD; and Linda Casser, OD, FAAO, FNAP.
“These giants that have come before me, they all had a vision and a passion for creating outstanding clinicians that are at the top of their game,” said Dr. Trego. “And, I still hold that passion. I felt that as a student and I still feel that as a faculty member and the dean. There is no question that all I want for PCO/Salus students and faculty is for it to be the best it possibly can be.”