Midtown: Community

Midtown Muse: Mother-daughter duo work together as opthamologists in Raleigh

Dr. Carmen McLean and her mother, Dr. Frances Foster, work together at the McLean Eye Care Center in Raleigh.
Dr. Carmen McLean and her mother, Dr. Frances Foster, work together at the McLean Eye Care Center in Raleigh. COURTESY OF DR. CARMEN MCLEAN

Growing up in Kansas, when Dr. Carmen McLean thought of home as an adult, she dreamed of a place living next door to her mother, “raising flowers.”

What she didn’t imagine was that she’d follow her mom’s footsteps to become an ophthalmologist, and coax her mother out of retirement to work side-by-side with her to start her own practice and pioneer a mobile, modern-day house-calls service to senior and assisted-living facilities.

Since 2012, McLean and her mother, Dr. Frances Foster, have worked together at McLean Eye Care Center in Midtown. The practice has grown into a renovated space at 4400 Falls of Neuse Road.

“I’m still waiting for her to plant the flowers,” Foster said. “But we definitely go to lunch – and we work together. That has really been a blessing.

“I’m pleased Carmen has grown up to be a lovely young lady and just a nice person. That’s good, but that we get a chance as physicians to work together, that’s like a little cherry on top. It’s really special.”

McLean said the plan always was for her mother to retire to whatever city her daughter landed. Asking to help start her practice was a surprise. So was the idea to include a mobile practice.

“I wanted to not only have a practice, but I wanted to also see patients in assisted-living and in senior communities,” McLean said, noting many seniors have trouble finding transportation to doctor appointments.

For those suffering from memory issues such as dementia, there’s an added obstacle of remembering medications and the confusing discomfort of being in different environments.

“We take everything you have in a doctor’s office, and they just come right down the hall to see us,” said McLean, whose mobile service, which includes heavy equipment and travel to other cities, operates three days a week. “It’s been really rewarding to be able to provide services, both in the office and in mobile facilities.”

The mobile practice sold Foster, initially wary of starting another practice.

“That was really attractive,” she said. “It’s something different and something that’s needed. It’s really worth it.”

McLean said she never expected to be in Raleigh. Then her husband, Dr. Sean McLean, a pediatric surgeon, chose a position at UNC Hospitals.

With a family history rooted in the rural Scotland County town of Laurinburg, where her great-grandparents started the Laurinburg Institute in 1904, McLean remembered a depressive environment.

Even as a student at Duke University, she recalls, “The North Carolina I knew wasn’t so positive for African-Americans.”

McLean lived and worked in Kansas with her mom at the Foster Eye Care Center after graduation. Later, after marriage, she spent time in St. Louis and Ann Arbor, Mich.

“I asked my husband, ‘Do you really want to go to North Carolina and raise two black boys?’ ” McLean recalled. “But we’ve been really encouraged because it’s different. It’s wonderful to be in Raleigh, and it’s wonderful to work with my mom again.”

McLean not only treats patients, she also seizes opportunities to build relationships with them, and to make a difference in lives and communities.

It is a philosophy that grew out of a story McLean’s mother recounted from her own father that led Foster to fight the odds as a black woman and seek admission into medical school in the mid-1960s.

As the story goes, when a white doctor was called to treat a family friend who’d worked for him for years raising his children, the doctor turned the woman with his foot, saying if he touched her with his hands, he could never again touch his wife.

“It’s really good in the community to see people of color who have businesses,” McLean said. “Maybe some little girl will see me and realize she can do it, too.

“It’s an amazing platform.”