Dr. Elmer


South Jersey: A History 1624-1924

Mother Knows Best
by Dr. Elmer S. Friedberg, O.D., F.A.A.O.

The Great Depression and a decisive mother created the beginning of a beautiful career.

It was in June 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, that I graduated from high school in Camden, NJ. at the age of 16. Coming from a Jewish family, I was expected to become a physician, lawyer or accountant - none of which appealed to me. My mother, a practical and strong-willed lady, decided my future profession.

Fate issues a decree

"Elmer," she declared ex cathedra, "you are going to be an optometrist. My friend, Dr. Alice Galanter (the only distaff optometrist in the area) is making a good living even in this Depression, so this must be a wonderful profession."

I meekly agreed, knowing it was useless to object. Optometry was completely unknown to me; I vaguely recalled that it had something to do with glasses.

It was a different time

My mother and I paid a visit to what was then The Pennsylvania State College of Optometry (now referred to as the Pennsylvania College of Optometry, or PCO) in Philadelphia and met with the registrar and director of admissions, the late Dr. T. Richard Simpson. He looked over my grades - which, charitably put, were mediocre - and admitted me on the spot. There were no Optometry College Admissions Tests then, no formal interviews, undergraduate college credits or letters of recommendation; all that was required was a warm body and a high school diploma. Because of the hard economic conditions throughout the country then, it was difficult for schools to enroll a sufficient number of students to fill classes. Nevertheless, the college's curriculum was of the highest standards, with an excellent faculty.

Nose to the grindstone

I had gravitated toward the humanities in school, so it was difficult for me to keep up scholastically with my classmates. And God forbid I should fail after my mother twisted the arms of my two uncles to come up with the tuition!

So out of sheer desperation, I hit the books hard, burning the midnight oil way into the wee hours. Happily, I did manage to scrape through.

Doing what I do best

In my senior year, when we attended the clinic and saw real patients, everything came together. I like people and, as patients are Homo sapiens, we bonded. They sensed my genuine interest in them and returned the warm feelings with alacrity. An eye exam is a physically close process; empathy between doctor and patient is a sine qua non that came easily to me. I'm certain that it helped me build a successful practice.

Amply rewarded

I graduated in 1938 and retired 17 years ago. Whenever I run into my former patients, they invariably smile at me. Recently, I was in my bank when a matronly lady approached me and breathlessly exclaimed, "Oh, Dr. Friedberg, how good to see you! I thought you were dead!" Well, I'm still here at age 87 and grateful for a loving wife and family, good friends and a fulfilling, as well as financially rewarding, profession. Hail optometry!