Written By Jess Evora || Photos: C.Oliveira
At the young age of 32, Fall River-native Cassy Oliveira is an optometrist. She is an alumna of a prestigious Ivy League institution, and the owner of her own private practice in Providence, RI.
What’s more impressive is that Cassy accomplished all of her goals while overcoming the countless barriers that come along with being both a first-generation college student, as well as a first-generation American. She overcame these barriers with grace, and she did so with family in mind.
Cassy’s parents moved to the U.S. in the mid-80s from the Azores (autonomous region of Portugal). Shortly after, they welcomed their first child, a daughter, Cassandra Oliveira (Cassy). A year later, they had their second and last child, Vanessa (Cassy’s younger sister).
“Portuguese was actually my first language,” Cassy said. “My parents didn’t begin to learn English until they got to the U.S., so they spoke to me in Portuguese.” Her native language has played a large role in how Cassy would contribute to her community.
An Interest in Medicine
Cassy first toyed with the idea of becoming a doctor when she began accompanying her grandparents to their doctor’s visits, which happened often. During these visits, Cassy would translate English into Portuguese for them.
“I decided at that time that I wanted to be a doctor one day,” Cassy said. “I was very young at the time, but even then I realized the difference between a good doctor and a bad doctor. A lot of the difference had to do with communication, and how the doctors interacted with their patients.”
“I saw how the good doctors developed sincere relationships with their patients,” Cassy said. “I wanted to do that.”
Overcoming First-Generation Challenges
“I knew I wanted to go to school to become a doctor,” Cassy said. “So like many first-generation college students, I knew if I wanted to go to college, I just had to figure it out on my own. I never fully knew exactly what I was doing, but I knew if I didn’t fill out the FAFSA for example, I wasn’t going to college. So my parents gave me their tax returns, and I just figured it out.”
“My parents, of course, wanted to help me, but they didn’t have the opportunity to go to college, so how could they help?,” Cassy said. “They had never filled out a FAFSA. They had never submitted applications. They never lived on a college campus.”
The fact that Cassy is a first-generation American adds a second layer to her responsibility to the family. “My parents uprooted their own lives to come to a country they didn’t know, where they didn’t speak the language, just to make sure my sister and I had better opportunities than they did.” Cassy said. “Although I work hard for myself, of course, I also do it because I want my parents to know that their sacrifice was worth it, and I want to make them proud.”
Cassy did just that. She figured things out. She did very well in school. After graduating from Bishop Connolly (a Catholic high school in Fall River, MA), Cassy earned grades good enough to get her into many highly-selective schools.
Choosing Brown University. Choosing Diversity
Brown University was Cassy’s first choice.
“I realized I liked Brown when I went to visit the school for my campus visit,” Cassy said. “I met the most diverse group of people during my visit. It just felt right to me.”
“I went to Catholic school. Everyone I knew growing up was just like me,” Cassy said. “And so the diversity at Brown was just so enlightening.”
Although Cassy earned her undergraduate degree in Neuroscience, she was intentional in seeking out courses that would allow her to dive deeper into her own culture, as well as expand her knowledge of cultures outside of her own.
While at Brown, Cassy took 4 years of Spanish, and enrolled in courses on Portuguese history. She even joined the Cape Verdean Student Association.
When Cassy was in her sophomore year, she began seeking opportunities to take her research interests abroad. She emailed a guest speaker from one her classes who had discussed medical issues in Cabo Verde.
“He emailed me right back,” Cassy said. “He asked me if I wanted to work with him on creating a project in Cape Verde. It was called the Brown University in Cape Verde Health Collaboration.”
Cassy accepted the offer with no hesitation. Cassy traveled to Cape Verde for 3 months in the Summer of 2006. She helped develop a research study at a nursing school in Praia, Cabo Verde (the nation’s capital). She also developed a course in Portuguese that the nursing school would use to teach nurses proper HIV treatment practices.
Stumbling Upon Optometry
After graduating from Brown in 2008, Cassy earned her Master’s in Health Services Research from Boston University while working full-time as a researcher at Rhode Island Hospital. She was still contemplating what type of clinical medicine she would pursue.
However, that soon changed. One afternoon, while accompanying her grandfather to their family eye doctor, the optometrist asked Cassy why she doesn’t consider optometry. “It was something I never really thought of, but he [the doctor] knew I wanted a job where I wasn’t on-call and where I could control my time with my family. I also realized I already took quite a few courses in Neuroscience that discussed vision, and I realized this was something I might be interested in pursuing.”
Ultimately, Cassy decided that this was the root she would go. She successfully applied and enrolled in the optometry program at MCPHS University. She graduated after 4 years of rigorous studies, Cassy achieved her dream of becoming a doctor. However, she wasn’t done yet.
Becoming a Young Entrepreneur
In 2016, she began working full-time for Dr. Paul DeCesare at his private practice, DeCesare Eye Associates. However, Dr. DeCesare soon began discussing with Cassy the opportunity to buy the practice from him.
“I’m the type of person that I always knew that I wanted to work for myself,” Cassy said. “I really liked the idea of one day opening up my own practice and working for myself.”
And so, Cassy began planning. She began saving. She figured things out. And in March of 2018, she purchased DeCesare Eye Associates becoming the new young owner of the company.
Cassy explained that there are many challenges that come with owning your own private practice, but she is grateful to have Dr. DeCesare still working part-time to assist in the transition.
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” Cassy said. “My main thing is I try really hard to understand where people are coming from. That’s really important for me. I want to develop relationships with people. See the same patients.”
“It was already such a great practice, and so I just want to make it even better,” Cassy said. “And to see the changes and being able to put a fresh spin on things is so satisfying. It’s a lot more work, but it’s also so much more gratifying.”
At 32-year-old, Cassy is now happily growing into her new role as owner of the practice.
“I think that the spirit of an immigrant speaks volumes here,” Cassy said. “It was always emphasized that my parents came to this country so that I could have a better life. The work ethic was always there. I saw how hard they worked to provide the basics. I work hard for them, and I continue to work hard for myself.”
As Cassy’s story illustrates, hard work certainly does pays off.
Congratulations Cassy on your private practice. Keep being the fierce, young female entrepreneur & doctor that you are. We’re rooting for you.
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