Where did you grow up?
I was born in Brooklyn, moved to Long Island at age five, and grew up in Oceanside, Long Island. My mom was a teacher’s aide for kindergarten, now retired. My father and are I in business together in an optical, and my mother takes cares of the money. [Laughs]
Why private practice and not industry or academia?
I’ve done a lot of different things. I initially worked at a Pearle Vision Center. Then I got bored with that and did a residency; at the time I wanted to pursue academia. In a way, I was upset that I didn’t go that track initially, but now I’m thankful because I did need to put some years under my belt. I came back to New York City after my residency into the optical with my father.
Why did you follow your father?
My father immigrated to this country at age 16. He joined the Marines at 18—he wasn’t even a citizen—and went to Vietnam. When he returned, he didn’t know what he was going to do. So, a friend of his was an optometrist, and from there he got interested in opticianry. The military paid for him to go to school to become an optician. My father was in Albany taking his opticianry exam and practical to get his licensing on the day I was born. He always says he was the last one to know I was born. [Laughs]
Previous Q&A: Cheryl Donnelly, CEO, British Contact Lens Association
What has it been like to working with family?
It has its ups and downs. My father was an optician in the 1970s and 1980s in the heyday of no insurance and lots of cash-paying patients, a different way than optometry and even opticianry is practiced now. When I finished my residency in 2002 and came back to New York City, I wanted to incorporate a lot of things that he wasn’t used to. It was a big challenge for both of us—when I started dilating patients, he said, “What are you doing that for?” He didn’t understand. I said, “No, Dad. This is a new era and we have to move forward and take care of our patients in a new and better way.” He eventually came around. What’s great is that we can have our differences, but at the end of the day we’re family.
How does your practice successfully compete in New York City?
We’ve had a presence in the Upper East Side since the 1980s. We’ve been in this particular place since 1992. The community knows us. We don’t even advertise. Down the block is Cohen’s Optical. I have LensCrafters, other private practitioners, Warby Parker opened down the block. It shows that we’ve been here throughout the years, people trust us. We’re here to make a living and be part of the community as well.
What do you do for downtime?
I like music and going to concerts, I dabble in guitar. Right now I’m trying to teach myself piano. Growing up, I was heavily involved with theater and music. My only paid acting gig was an extra in Howard Stern’s Private Parts. [Laughs] That was the summer right before I started optometry school.
Why low vision?
I found low vision by accident. In 2009, I wanted to switch careers. I went to Florida to get my teaching license, and I needed a job in the 12-month interim for free schooling. I ended up working for Miami Lighthouse for the Blind for a few years providing exams to children in a mobile unit. When the low-vision OD left, I was given a crash course in low vision and took on that role. About 18 months later, my father said he needed me back in New York. I said I want to incorporate low vision into our practice because I love it and found a purpose helping individuals.