An Optometry Legend Among Us: Clayton Hicks (OD’70)

Dr. Sylvia Jones interviews optometry legend Clayton Hicks (OD’70)
Dr. Clayton Hicks
Dr. Clayton Hicks in his office

For my final article, I interviewed one of optometry’s legends, Clayton Hicks (OD’70), with whom I had the honor of working at his office during my time in optometry school. Dr. Hicks has imparted valuable lessons to me, such as the importance of always having business cards and the efficiency of getting it right the first time!

Dr. Hicks is the founder and owner of Driving Park Vision Center on the near east side of Columbus. For 54 years, Dr. Hicks has provided vision care services to 30,000 patients, including children, adults, and the elderly. He is passionate about reducing health disparities, especially in the Driving Park community.

The biggest question I had when taking on this endeavor was, “How can I capture such an extraordinary life in a simple magazine article?” I decided to do what my mom would normally advise. She would always say, “Honey, just do your best!” So, I decided that a timeline was appropriate. Here it goes!

1940s and 1950s: Clayton Nathaniel Hicks was born on May 2, 1943, in Columbus, Ohio, on the south side.

1960s: Dr. Hicks graduated from South High School in 1961. He immediately went to The Ohio State University, and in 1964 he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology. In 1966, he was recruited into the optometry school. At the time, Dr. Hicks recalls that there were few African Americans in the health sciences at Ohio State, and there were efforts by the federal government to desegregate the university.

Dr. Hicks remembers, “I worked part-time [as a research microbiologist for the Ohio Department of Health], and I was lucky I got a scholarship to go to optometry school. It didn’t cost me a penny to get my degree, which was really kind of neat.” He credits this scholarship as the primary reason for becoming an optometrist.

1970s: In the spring of 1970, Dr. Hicks graduated from The Ohio State University College of Optometry as a doctor of optometry. The Class of 1970 was one of the earliest classes to receive the OD title. Prior to that, it was a bachelor of science degree.
Of optometry school, Dr. Hicks recalls, “It was a pleasant experience. The thing I had going for me was that most of my classmates were from small towns, and they had no experience at all with Black folks. They looked up to me because I knew a lot, was older, and already had a degree. In fact, they elected me vice president of my class.”

Dr. Clayton Hicks graduation photo
Dr. Hicks' graduation photo

Upon graduation, Dr. Hicks was only the fifth African American to graduate from the Ohio State Optometry program. He was the only African American in his class, and he remembers that there were only two women.

In 1970, he started his own practice, Driving Park Vision Center. He continued to work as a clinical instructor at the College of Optometry for 16 years.

In 1976, Dr. Hicks assumed the role of Vision Care Consultant for the Ohio Department of Medicaid, where he played a crucial role in establishing the Ohio Medicaid Vision Program. Drawing from extensive research on vision programs in other states, Dr. Hicks provided recommendations that incorporated the best practices into Ohio’s program, resulting in improved access to quality vision care for millions of state residents.

1980s: Dr. Hicks received numerous accolades for his outstanding contributions to the field of optometry. In 1981, he was honored with the Outstanding Service Award from his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha. The following year, he was named Optometrist of the Year by the National Optometric Association, and in 1983, he was elected as the association’s president. Dr. Hicks has been actively involved in the National Optometric Association for many years, currently holding the position of executive director of the National Optometric Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting visual health among minority populations.

1990s: Dr. Hicks recognized the increasing prevalence of obesity and cardiovascular disease and founded the Driving Park Walking Club in the ‘90s, which has since become a model walking club for the City of Columbus. When asked about the motivation behind starting the walking club, Dr. Hicks cited the high rates of cardiovascular disease in his neighborhood and his desire to make a positive impact on the community’s health. Over the years, Dr. Hicks has received several awards for his community leadership, including the Outstanding Alumnus Award from The Ohio State University Black Alumni Society in 1995 and the Driving Park Area Commission’s Distinguished Leadership Community Award in 1999. In addition, he was elected President of the Livingston Avenue Collaborative for Community Development in 1996.

2000s: Dr. Hicks continued to be recognized for his contributions to healthcare and community service. In 2003, he was awarded the Community Building Award by Ohio Governor Bob Taft, followed by the Theodore Berry Community Service Award from Alpha Phi Alpha in 2007 and the Cheryl Boyce Excellence in Healthcare Award in 2008. In 2010, he was honored with the Community Champions Award from Molina Healthcare of Ohio, and in 2011, he was recognized as an Esteemed Alumnus in 100 Years of African American Achievement at The Ohio State University.

As of 2023, Dr. Hicks remains actively engaged in his private practice and continues to serve in various leadership roles, including his 60-year membership in Alpha Phi Alpha and his position as executive director emeritus of the Alpha Rho Lambda Education Foundation. He is a Life Member of the American Optometric Association and a Life Member of the Ohio Optometric Association, Epsilon Psi Epsilon, and the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners (Board of Directors).

When asked for advice to optometry students and young optometrists, Dr. Hicks emphasizes the importance of finding a mentor to receive guidance and avoid common pitfalls in the field. It has been a pleasure to reflect upon Dr. Hicks’ exemplary life and career, and we gratefully acknowledge his unwavering commitment to his profession, his community, and his mentoring efforts in optometry. We sincerely thank him for his significant contributions.

Dr. Clayton Hicks in his exam room
Dr. Hicks in his exam room