torietami
Drs. Torie and Tami Soriano

In recent years, the UMSL College of Optometry has greatly benefitted from the fact that 13 graduates (or soon to graduate) from the Classes of 2017, 2018, and 2019 have a parent who also graduated from the College.  While some students who have a parent’s practice waiting for them upon graduation might be tempted to not live up to their potential, that was not the case with Dr. Torie Soriano (’17). She was a hard-working, dedicated, and motivated student who ultimately graduated with honors.  As a result of the type of person and role model her mother, Dr. Tami Soriano (’88) represented, Torie was able to find out for herself at a young age what a difference an optometrist can make in the lives of other people. “My mom had every influence in my career choice. She loves her job and showed me how to love people while at work. My interest in optometry started when I went to Haiti on my first mission trip when I was 15 years old. My parents took my sister and me on an eye care mission in St. Louis du Nord, Haiti. I couldn’t believe how much vision impacts a person’s life on a daily basis and how much we take it for granted. A few years and a couple of trips later, I decided to pursue my career as an optometrist.”

img_0249But let’s start at the beginning.  Like her daughter, Tami’s interest in optometry began at a relatively young age. “I chose optometry when I was a sophomore in high school. We had to do a semester-long project that included personality testing and aptitude testing. We had to research three fields of interest, choose one and give a presentation on it. I chose optometry and never wavered from that point. I was very focused in undergrad and checked off all the required classes and decided to apply a year early.  Much to my surprise, I did get accepted to UMSL!”

‪Tami Soriano was, quite simply, a dream student.  She was motivated, caring, and one of the nicest individuals you could ever meet and have the privilege to teach.  And she was very pleased with her education. “UMSL School of Optometry was a challenging, rigorous course of study. I not only learned about eye care, I learned how to work hard to achieve my goals. Although supportive, the instructors encouraged independent thinking.”

img_0754After graduation, she wanted to take the great initiative (and risk) of pursuing private practice and serve those in need of vision care in her relatively small community. “We started Carthage Eye Care on December 1, 1992. I purchased an existing practice that was in serious decline due to poor choices by the previous doctor. I remember that my original goal was to see eight patients per day. We are now three full-time doctors strong with very busy schedules every day! We just did a large addition and extensive remodel to the building to accommodate our robust growth. It has been a very challenging but rewarding ride!”

Thankfully for UMSL, Torie made the decision to attend her mother’s alma mater. She was very happy with the decision and the close friendships she developed by being part of the UMSL family. “I chose UMSL because I saw the skill and camaraderie that my mother gained as a student there. She looks back on her years there so fondly. She’s always so thankful for her time there which ultimately got her to where she is today. I hoped to gain that experience as well.  I think I really learned how to overcome obstacles and work hard at UMSL. I don’t think I really knew what a challenge was until our first round of tests that first year. At the same time, I made some amazing friends who taught me that life is short and you have to laugh at yourself sometimes.”

The only question for Torie remained: was she going to follow her mother to Carthage Eye Care?  Unlike many others presented with the same situation, Torie did not enter optometry school with the assumption that she was going to join her mother. Tami explains, “Torie joined the practice immediately after graduation. Her decision to join was never a given. Initially she didn’t think she wanted to go back to a small town, but after much consideration and some mentoring by a preceptor that she greatly respected, she came home. My partner and I knew that we were going to have to find another doctor, so the timing was perfect!”  For Torie it was – most definitely – the right decision. “In a private practice setting, I’ve found that both of those skills (overcoming obstacles and hard work) are important. Private practice requires you to be almost stubborn in how hard you’ll work to get what you want. The demands are never ending, but the rewards are great and it’s so worth it. Then, when you mess up, you have to laugh at yourself and learn from it because no one has all the answers.”

What Drs. Tami and Torie Soriano continue to give back to the profession is enormous. And it all started at UMSL, as Tami explains. “When I was at UMSL I went to Mexico with VOSH, and I knew that I would one day make this type of practice a big part of my life. It took close to 20 years to get there, but our first trip was to Haiti. I called someone I knew who was the Director of Foreign Missions for CIY and asked him where the place of greatest need would be. He immediately said Haiti and put me in touch with Northwest Haiti Christian Mission. I called them, and it just so happened that an ophthalmologist from Kansas City had recently become involved with the mission and was building a clinic and surgery center on the compound. I contacted Dr. White, and so it began. I have been to Haiti 12 times – I particularly like this mission because as a team we can do everything from glasses to surgery and prosthetic eyes. After we leave, a Haitian doctor comes once per month to do post ops and glaucoma treatment. It is a challenging clinic with cases I would never see here, so I have learned so much. I have literally witnessed patients be led into our clinic one day and the next day pick up their skirts and dance for joy!  I have also been to Togo, Africa, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. These trips are just a team I put together with my family and employees. We do complete exams with handheld equipment. To make the necessary glasses we write the name of the patient, their age and RX on a white board and take a picture of them holding it. When we get home, we “fit” the patient with glasses based on their particular size and facial shape. I have several frame companies and labs that for the most part donate new materials to make the glasses. From there, depending on the location, we either take another trip to dispense the glasses or we ship them to an individual in that country that we trained to adjust glasses on the original trip. It works beautifully, and it is so rewarding to go back and see the difference something that we take for granted can change someone’s life.”

With Tami on many of her missions – and learning to love how her profession can be so life-changing – was Torie. “I’ve been to Haiti, Guatemala, and Ghana. I’ll never be able to say enough about how these places and the people I’ve encountered there have impacted me over the years. I’ve seen women jump up, praise Jesus, and dance after their cataract post op bandages are removed because they can see again. I’ve seen adults cry because they’ve been given a pair of reading glasses and they haven’t been able to read in years. I’ve seen little kids who can go back to school now because they underwent strabismus surgery and no longer will be looked at as cursed by the general public for their eye turn. It’s hard to put into words what these people and experiences mean to me. Every time I go, I know I will be taught new lessons and will have memories that continue to mold how I live my life and work here in small town Carthage, MO. I truly love it and I encourage anyone to GO who hasn’t gone before!”

For Torie, her mom has been both her inspiration and her teacher. “She’s extremely good at what she does, and I still learn from her every day. There’s so much you don’t learn in school- staff management, insurance, taxes, payroll, billing… it’s never ending! She had to learn it all on her own so I’m definitely lucky to have her.” For Tami, the pride she has for her daughter is greatly apparent: “Torie is a warm, kind-hearted individual, so it is nice to see her interaction with patients. I love watching her grow more confident every day. I am very proud of her!”

Having taught both Tami and Torie, the greatest compliment I can give Torie is that she is a beautiful person who truly cares about other people.  In other words, in many ways, she IS her mother.  What a blessing for UMSL to have had the privilege to help them prepare for their unselfish journey to improve the quality of life for so many thousands of people.

 

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