In recognition of the year 2020 and the significance of 20/20 in the field of optometry, the UAB School of Optometry is recognizing alumni whose careers have impacted communities, set precedents or moved the profession forward in some way. With this in mind, meet Paula Newsome, OD, MS, FAAO, FAARM, CHC. She opened the first optometry practice owned by an African-American female in the state of North Carolina.

What year did you graduate from UABSO? What is the name of your practice and where is it?

I graduated in 1981 from the UAB School of Optometry with an MS in Physiological Optics and also my OD. That was the first year that UAB offered students an opportunity to earn dual degrees.

My practice’s name is Advantage Vision Center, OD, PA and it was the first practice of optometry to be established by an African-American female in the state of North Carolina. We have truly been blessed and are in a central location near the Panther Stadium in bustling, downtown Charlotte. 

 Describe your optometry career path and how you discovered optometry as a career option.

I always knew I wanted to be a doctor.  When I had my eyes examined my senior year in high school, I was fascinated with my exam and have been in love with optometry ever since. As stated, I did obtain an MS and an OD and upon graduation, pursued a residency at The Eye Institute at PCO in primary care. This was the first time at PCO that an African American had pursued a residency there.

After my residency, I taught at the UMSL School of Optometry. I taught ocular pharmacology, some parts of preclinic, ocular pathology, and geriatric and pediatric optometry. 

The bug hit me around 1984 and in March, I moved to Charlotte to pursue private practice. We had our open house on March 17, 1984, and started “solo HOT” and have been working it ever since. 

We have owned our own real estate most of that journey, with a couple of exceptions, when I discovered that I had an eye for real estate. In addition to practicing, I got into the real estate field and wound up owning some 29 single-family units in Charlotte, with the majority of the portfolio in 4 bedroom houses. In 2017, I sold 26 units for a couple of millions of dollars.

What challenges did you face when starting your career? What were the results of you accepting the challenges faced?

The biggest challenge I faced was being a black single female. It is illegal now, but when trying to obtain financing, I was asked questions like are you planning on having a baby and if so, then when?  Are you planning on getting married and a host of other questions?  Additionally, I moved to a city where I did not know anyone so I had to get out and meet people and make it happen.  To that end, I was super involved with the community and organizations here. 

Where did you find the strength to face and overcome the challenges faced?

Although many said that Charlotte was not ready for me, we are still standing. That is the power of an awesome God and a made-up mind!

My faith, belief, and trust in a higher power (God) have sustained me through these many years. As a Christian, knowing that God has me not only now but through all my ups and my downs is a very comforting thought and allows me to dream big dreams!

Who/What influenced the direction for your optometry career?

My parents were both educators, although my dad went into administration after obtaining his master’s degree, and set an amazing standard for excellence, critical thinking, and curiosity.  With that grounding, it was expected that anything that I undertook I would do well. With the cornerstones of integrity, honor, compassion, and excellence as values, we have enjoyed each and every day here in the Queen City.

In what ways has your career path been rewarding or why this path a good fit for you?

I love sharing the gift of sight. I love sharing empowerment strategies with people to keep their eyesight and I love sharing strategies with people for them to preserve their vision. This career path has taken me to practice my God-given talent with people for free and in need on almost every continent. Our most recent mission trip was to Eastern North Carolina to provide free eye services to Hurricane Florence victims, many of whom are still displaced after two years of trying to rebuild.

It has often been said that if you are willing to do your job for free, it is no longer a job but a passion.  Primary care optometry has been a passion for me. It is my pleasure to be able to share that gift not only with citizens of my local community but with the world. Our practice has a family feel and to that end, we host a Day of Service annually where we do free eye care in Charlotte for people with no insurance. Not only do we provide eye care but we also provide glasses.