The Eyewear Gallery’s newest addition, Dr. Do Nguyen, is proud of his heritage. His family emigrated to the United States from Vietnam by way of Indonesia as a part of the mass migration from the war-torn country that occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“We were the last of the boat people,” said Nguyen who was about 4 months old when he came to the U.S.
The Nguyens are a traditionally large Asian family – Do, who was born in June 1986, is the youngest of seven siblings. His parents had scrimped and save for a decade to bring the family to the United States, and times were tough when the clan first arrived in Memphis.
“My parents were laborers making minimum wage,” Nguyen said. “I think it was $3.25 [an hour] back then when they got here.”
In the 1980s, the United States accepted more than 800,000 refugees fleeing the aftermath of the decades of war and subsequent Communist reprisals in Southeast Asia, and Memphis became the home to a large and close-nit Vietnamese community known as The Big Family.
“We were the original group,” Nguyen said. “We were probably 85 percent of the Vietnamese people in Memphis at the time. There would be get togethers with a hundred people every weekend. It was a lot of fun. It was a very close culture.”
Even though their means were humble, his family and community encouraged him to succeed in whatever he set his mind to.
“I don’t know I would say my parents pushed me, but it was kind of expected,” he said.
His brothers and sisters all went on to earn advanced professional degrees and become successful in their fields: Two of them became computer engineers, one a pediatrician, one an architect, one a rheumatology fellow, and one also an optometrist.
“My siblings were always there for me,” he said. “They gave me direction and guidance. Seeing them work hard and make something of themselves. I didn’t want to be the one who messed up.”
Nguyen said he first considered becoming a medical doctor, because he was inspired by other family members who were in the medical profession. But it was optometry that caught his eye, so to speak.
“We were probably 85 percent of the Vietnamese people in Memphis at the time. There would be get togethers with a hundred people every weekend. It was a lot of fun. It was a very close culture.”
“I was intrigued with vision when I started having to wear glasses when I was a little kid,” he said. “I felt optometry was the best fit for me, because of all of the different ways you can practice: You can do private practice, you can teach, you can go commercial, or you can do research.”
Ultimately, it was the human element that helped him decide on a field.
“I wanted to spend a lot of time with patients,” Nguyen said.
After graduating from White Station High School, Nguyen attended Brown University, the Ivy League school in Providence, R.I.
“The best thing about college are all of the people you meet,” he said.
When it came time to choose a graduate school, he considered the New England College of Optometry in Boston and the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in Philadelphia, but decided to return to Memphis to attend the Southern College of Optometry.
“My sister had gone to SCO, and I knew, unbiasedly speaking, that it is one of the better optometry schools in the nation,” he said.
As his time at the Southern College of Optometry grew short, he was faced with the decision of where to begin his career.
“As a fourth year, I was looking at a lot of residencies,” he said.
But it was Dr. Warren Johnson at the Eyewear Gallery who convinced him to stay in Memphis. “I thought, this opportunity only comes along once in a blue moon,” Nguyen said. “It’s a great job. It’s in my hometown, my parents and family are here, and he is a great doctor, and this is a great practice. It’s the job every graduate dreams of getting, and I was lucky enough to get it.”
Nguyen said he is looking forward to building a thriving practice at the Eyewear Gallery and giving back to the Memphis community that helped him succeed.
“My siblings set such a great example for me by mentoring and volunteering in the community,” he said. “I am trying to do some of that now with mentoring programs across the city.”