Fall 2016
Norma McCormack Family Medicine Award Established

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Karen Thiele, M.D.

Family Medicine

Karen Thiele, M.D.'16, is the inaugural recipient of the Norma McCormack Family Medicine Award. Photo by Anne McMillin, APR.

Story by Seema Donahoe

In the spirit of celebrating fate and honoring his late wife, Roger McCormack established the Norma McCormack Family Medicine Award at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine.

The award is presented to a graduating medical student with just one qualifying criteria: the student must have matched into a family medicine residency. Of the qualified students, one is selected at random to receive the award.

Karen Thiele, M.D.'16, was selected as the inaugural recipient of the Norma McCormack Family Medicine Award. She is in her first year of residency with UNR Med's Department of Family and Community Medicine in Reno.

"I chose the random chance method of selection, because I am a believer in fate," said Roger. He notes that all medical students are bright and wanted the opportunity of the award to be available to any student who would pursue family medicine.

As a father of two children who both went on to become family medicine physicians, Roger is keenly aware of the financial challenges that face graduates as they begin residency. He also recognized the shortage of family practice physicians in Nevada and wanted to do something that could ease a student's path into this career.

"In talking with [my children] Brian and Marie about the financial difficulties as they pursued their careers, they both felt that the transition from school to resident location was the time that finances were tightest," said Roger.

Marie is a UNR Med alumna, Class of 1992, and rural medical director for Renown Medical Group.

"It's when you begin residency that the reality sets in," said Marie. "You've worked so hard and you finally get to begin your specialty training. You may have had to move, you might be managing a family, and it's also when your loans become due and you start making those payments."

Marie's own calling to medicine came after a run as a firefighter for the Bureau of Land Management and work in contracting for Project Fire Team. She was on a trajectory for success, but something was missing. When all signs pointed to medicine, she hesitated, but she recalls the encouragement she received from her family to answer her calling.

"This is absolutely what I was meant to do, and I think everyone else knew it before I did," she said.

As a UNR Med student, Marie recalls delivering a baby and being certain that obstetrics and gynecology would be her specialty. It wasn't until further into her time as a student that she found her true passion was family medicine.

"The best part of family medicine, is that we get to see people get better. We get to see them make lifestyle changes, medications make them better, and so when they come back, we get to see that we hit a home run and they're better."

Much like Marie, Thiele was also a non-traditional medical student having entered medical school after a career in nursing.

"I left a thriving 20-year nursing career to pursue this dream at a time in life when most of my peers are paying off mortgages and thinking of retirement," she said.

"I had a persistent dream to become a doctor which just would not go away no matter what I tried."

Thiele had spent years working as a flight nurse on a helicopter and was certain emergency medicine would be her specialty. Then, as a second-year medical student, she spent 10 afternoons with a family medicine physician in Reno.

"To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed every encounter - babies through geriatrics, reproduction through menopause, adolescents and behavior problems, and everything in between. I just never knew what was on the other side of that door, and I loved it," said Thiele.

It was during her third-year clerkships that her fate was cemented to a passion for family medicine.

"I completed a mini-elective of a week of night shift in the emergency department. I had a good time, but I disliked that I never knew what happened to my patients," she said. "That lack of continuity left me feeling flat."

Thiele notes that she feels compelled to be present throughout the life-cycle to support patients, through the management of chronic conditions and diagnosis, and to always reassure, respect, educate and comfort them.

"That is meaningful and important work to me."

The Norma McCormack Family Medicine Award was especially helpful to Thiele, as often times financial aid and scholarship resources can be limited for post-baccalaureate or non-traditional medical students.

"The establishment of this award in Norma's memory is appreciated so very much by me and my family," said Thiele. "Medicine is a calling I could not ignore, and family medicine was the perfect fit for me. I could not be more proud to become a family doctor.
"I look forward to completing my residency and beginning my practice here in Reno."