Childhood memories remain strong in the mind of Dr. Jasmine Nguyen as she works with patients in her City Heights optometry office.
“I grew up in a neighborhood like this,” she said, recalling her youth as an immigrant in Santa Ana, Calif. There, she lived in a two-bedroom apartment with her parents, grandmother, and seven siblings. The family came from Vietnam during the fall of Saigon in 1975.
Her parents owned a print shop in Vietnam, but worked in a manufacturing business here. During the 1970s, Vietnamese refugees were just starting to move into Orange County, which meant there were few Vietnamese classmates for Nguyen to relate to. She said kids made fun of her “funny clothes and thick glasses.” Those thick glasses would later become a driving force in her career choice.
Nguyen’s father emphasized education for all his children. He encouraged, if not insisted, that they pursue careers in the medical field, which they all have. His logic was that the pay is good, the jobs are plentiful, and the hours are flexible. Nguyen says she was attracted to optometry because “it isn’t messy.”
After graduating from UC Irvine with a degree in biological sciences, Nguyen enrolled in an optometry school back East. Upon graduation she returned to Orange County and gained experience working for several doctors.
Her big career move came 11 years ago when her brother bought a building on University Avenue and invited Nguyen and several other doctors to open their own practices there. The idea was to set up a one-stop shop for medical needs, including dental, internal medicine, optometry, and general practice.
Nguyen said the move at first it was a challenge. She had four patients her first month. Her office was open seven days a week. When she wasn’t in her own office she was picking up extra work at other optometry offices. She says it took three years before the business became viable. Most of her business has come through word of mouth.
When Nguyen opened the City Heights office, her intention was to open a second office in a higher-income, such as Del Mar. Because 85 percent of her clients are on Medi-Cal, she is reimbursed only a fraction of what she can earn from cash paying customers. Now, however, Nguyen has decided against opening a second office and will focus instead on growing her business in City Heights.
“I feel appreciated here. Patients listen to me. They say, `Thank you for helping me.’”
Nguyen says part of her attachment to City Heights is the desire to help clients pick out “cute glasses.” Remembering her difficult experience as a youth, she wants to help make the lives of current and future refugees better than she had it.
To reach more clients, she is moving her offices a few blocks west to the new City Heights Square on 43rd Street and University Avenue. Her new office will have an additional exam room, expanded hours, and an additional optometrist. She hopes to move by Sept. 1, with hours set at 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. She is considering renaming her practice, but for now it is still the office of Dr. Jasmine Nguyen. She accepts most insurances, including Medi-Cal. To make an appointment call 619-284-3937.