At 25, Dr. Caitlin Toso decided to make a career change.
The former receptionist worked her way up from an optometric assistant to a corneal specialist. She’s now the owner and optometrist at Toso Family Eye Care, located at 827 Commercial St.
Toso recently graduated in May from the Indiana University School of Optometry.
She said she reached out to Dr. Patricia Dorsey three years ago when she heard Dorsey was searching for someone to take over her practice. Toso started working with her in July and took over at the end of August. On Sept. 1, her practice officially became Toso Family Eye Care.
“As an eye doctor, I’m confident in my skills,” Toso said. “I’ve been in the eye field for 10-plus years. It’s definitely like following a legacy. Dr. Dorsey has been here for 30 years. Her patients know her really well, everybody in town knows her well.”
Toso said she wanted to continue that legacy of trust that Dorsey had established with her patients over the years.
“I wanted to continue that trend and be someone in town that people can expect the same thing from, be someone that they see the same person every year and know their history and know what to expect when they come in,” she said. “I think people value that, and I think that is something Dr. Dorsey and her team gave people comfort in knowing they are being taken care of by somebody local.”
Born in Kansas City, Toso moved to Emporia at age 12, where her father, a local pastor, was born and raised. She is from a family of musicians and music educators. So, after she graduated from Emporia High School in 2008, Toso earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in music.
She and her husband Justin Toso, an Emporia native, wanted to be closer to family after living in Indiana for four years. Her parents and grandparents reside in Emporia. In her third year of optometry school, the two welcomed twins: Oliver and Ava.
She credits the birth of her twins as giving her resiliency during a difficult time juggling exams, clinicals and late nights studying.
“It made me handle pressure and stress phenomenally well because I got used to this constant state of busyness,” she said. “It made me handle the unknown situations and stressful encounters a little bit better.”
There are challenges, but also moments in her career that have made a big impact, such as mentors and teachers along the way. Her husband also encouraged her to go to optometry school.
“Being young and female is always a challenge for any kind of doctor and in many professions,” she said. “Specifically being young, there’s always that level of distrust. Sometimes you have to prove yourself to people based on being young and female.”
Toso worked in Kansas City at America’s Best Contacts and Eyeglasses as a receptionist, and at Sabates Eye Centers as an assistant to a corneal specialist, in addition to her 10 years of schooling. While working at Sabates, she discovered ocular diseases and learned about glaucoma, LASIK and cataract surgery.
“I was astounded that this tiny little organ that you don’t think much about, but there’s so many things that can happen inside the eye,” she said. “There are so many different types of surgeries. That’s what sparked my interest in continuing in the eye field. I always tell people don’t feel bad if you change your career late in life.”
During clinicals, she worked with Dr. Damon Dierker at Eye Surgeons of Indiana, one of her many mentors.
“The way that he was always focused on making the person feel better, whatever symptoms they had, he would hunt and hunt to try to find something to help them, and I appreciated that,” she said. “I think that is important because a lot of people are looking for symptom relief or they think there is something wrong with their eyes but never been able to figure out what it is. I appreciated the time he took with patients.”
Toso said taking care of the patients and connecting with people are her favorite aspects of the job. As many optometrists opt out of private practice, she makes it a point to know the patient and learn their history, so that patients feel comfortable coming back year after year.
“I want to be a resource if somebody is looking for a home town, local place to see the same doctor every year for primary eye care,” she said. “I want to be somewhere that people can come for routine care and outlet for specialized areas like frames, specialized prescription or a little extra time in an exam.”
Toso Family Eye Care is open from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday - Friday, and Dr. Toso is also reachable after hours for emergencies.
A ribbon cutting will be held at the building at 11:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 4.