ELKINS PARK — Salus University Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) has partnered with Hampton University to offer a new articulation agreement to address the shortage of Black students in optometric education and the health care profession.

The partnership will give students who complete a bachelor of science degree at Hampton a pathway to earn a doctor of optometry degree through Salus PCO in Elkins Park, Montgomery County. Hampton is a historically Black university based in Hampton, Virginia.

“The agreement between Salus PCO and Hampton University will help ensure comprehensive eye and vision health care, and decrease health disparities in the Black community as it increases the number of Black optometrists in the U.S.,” said Dr. Paula Harmon Boone, director of the National Optometric Association’s HBCU mentorship program.

“It is important to recognize that the agreement comes at a time of the Black Lives Matter movement. The goal of the NOA has always been to advance the visual health of minority populations; to uphold the ideals of cultural diversity, equality and inclusivity in eye care,” said Boone, who helped initiate and lead the effort.

Students enrolled in the program will receive both financial and academic assistance from the NOA, advising from the pre-health program at Hampton and mentorship from a Salus PCO faculty advisor.

“This is a unique opportunity to work directly with the school’s advisers in nurturing relationships and providing a pathway for their best students to pursue their optometry degree,” said Dr. Ruth Shoge, a Salus PCO assistant professor. “We look forward to this relationship and the doors it may open with other HBCUs.”

The partnership aims to increase the number of Black students pursuing an optometric education, creating accessible equitable care — and improved health outcomes for all patients — according to the NOA and officials from both schools.

Monae Kelsey, associate director of student engagement and assistant director of admissions, and Shanae Johnson, admissions officer, started recruitment efforts with Hampton on behalf of Salus several years ago.

Michael Druitt, pre-health program director at Hampton, said the NOA has already helped several Hampton students pursuing an optometric education.

“Developing special relations such as this can take some time,” Druitt said. “However, the catalyst behind this partnership is my friend, Dr. Paula Boone from the NOA, Indiana University School of Optometry and Virginia Union University alumna — and the first African American female optometrist in the state of Virginia.”

Founded in 1969 by Dr. C. Clayton Powell, the late Dr. John Howlette and 25 other Black optometrists in Richmond, Virginia, the NOA promotes optometrists of color.

The NOA offers education programs to increase awareness and decrease visual impairment from diseases like diabetes and glaucoma. The organization has provided nearly $25 million in scholarships throughout its history and remains committed to addressing eye health disparities for underserved communities.

With more than 1,200 students, Salus operates four clinical facilities in Philadelphia and Montgomery counties that provide highly specialized vision, hearing and balance, and speech-language pathology services.

Salus partners with colleges and universities on a local, regional and national scale to offer specialized opportunities to students who want to accelerate their academic careers in health science.

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