UNR Med produces triple physician legacies in class of 2018

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UNR Med class of 2018 triple legacies.

The UNR Med Class of 2018 produced triple physician legacies. UNR Med's commencement on Friday, May 18 became a full circle moment for three UNR Med alums who all have children that graduated with their Doctor of Medicine degrees. From left to right are graduating medical student Nicole Longland and her mother, Cathy Endo, M.D. '93, graduating medical student Sarah Stanko and her father, Michael Stanko, M.D. '88, graduating medical student Spencer Johnson and his father, Joe Johnson, M.D., '89. UNR Med photo by Brin Reynolds.

Home means Nevada. And Nevada means family, tradition and pride. What began as ambitious medical education goals led to fulfilling careers for University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine alums Cathy Endo '93 M.D., Joe Johnson '89 M.D., and Michael Stanko '88 M.D. Ultimately, those lofty ambitions became family tradition.

For these three UNR Med alumni, family tradition has resulted in a collective 24 years of medical education and three new graduates. UNR Med's commencement on Friday, May 18 became a full circle moment for Endo, Johnson and Stanko, as each of their children graduated with Doctor of Medicine degrees.  

Class of 2018 graduates Spencer Johnson, Nicole Longland, and Sarah Stanko are all UNR Med legacy students. A "legacy" student is someone who is related to an alumnus of a school.  

For Nicole Longland, this was actually her second time across the UNR Med stage. She was six months old when her mother, Dr. Cathy Endo first carried her across the stage in 1993 during her own graduation from UNR Med. Cathy Endo is a longtime physician at the University's Student Health Center.

Sarah Stanko was born during her father, Dr. Michael Stanko's, residency at the University of Arizona Tucson, where she'll also be completing her residency program. Michael Stanko is currently an ophthalmologist and northern Nevada's only fellowship trained glaucoma specialist at Sierra Eye Associates in Reno.

And the family tradition is already picking up momentum for a third generation of UNR Med doctors. Graduate Spencer Johnson is his father, Dr. Joe Johnson's second child, born during his father's first month of residency. Last month, Spencer and his wife, Kristi Johnson '14 (English), welcomed their second child. "It would be great if 25 years from now, I was in the same spot my dad is, being able to hood a child receiving their M.D. from UNR Med," said Johnson. Joe Johnson is a family medicine doctor at Sierra Nevada Wellness Center in Sparks, and is affiliated with St. Mary's Regional Medical Center.  

Tradition: Internal compasses point to UNR Med

The competition to get into medical school is intense, and the choice in medical schools is vast. Rankings, research dollars, available faculty and class size are easy to measure and compare when choosing a medical school. But less measurable factors, like the experiences available to medical students, are important keys to drawing out students' unique capabilities, developing their internal compasses and providing a place where they can thrive. UNR Med is a school where students experience and tell compelling stories about the difference the school makes in their lives, in the community and in the profession.

While family traditions are strong, all six UNR Med alumni also took into account fit, choice and location.

Joe Johnson, a third generation Sparks native, knew he wanted to practice medicine in his home community, and a community-based medical school at home was the obvious choice.  

For second generation graduate Spencer Johnson, he and his wife, Kristi, are both Nevada alumni and share a love for northern Nevada. Spencer was also drawn to the school because of UNR Med's strong family medicine program, its reputation for training excellent family practitioners and its nationally recognized faculty.

"Growing up with a father who is a physician, I saw firsthand the good and bad of the career," said Johnson. "It is demanding, but the excellent rapport he has with, and care he gives to his patients always gave him satisfaction, knowing he had made a difference. He, along with the many patients who took me aside to tell me how much he has helped them, are the main reason I chose family medicine."

Michael Stanko grew up in White Pine County, Nevada. "I applied to two medical schools: the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine and the University of Utah. I was accepted at both. As a proud Nevadan, my obvious choice was UNR Med," he said.  

Second generation graduate Sarah Stanko loved growing up here and envisions spending her entire life in Reno. "My father attended UNR Med and felt that he received a topnotch medical education while creating life-long relationships with colleagues in the area. I knew that I could have the best of all worlds-a wonderful education for an affordable cost, the support of local family and friends, the opportunity to create close relationships with my colleagues and professors due to the small class size, all with the ability to live in Reno and enjoy my hometown during my time away from the classroom."  

Stanko spends summers working in her dad's ophthalmology office during her undergraduate years. She said it was there that she witnessed her dad's immense impact on society, helping hundreds of patients preserve and improve their vision through his knowledge and surgical skills. "Once I became seriously interested in the field, he told me he believed I would make an excellent physician, and he has encouraged and supported me ever since," she said.

And for Cathy Endo, it was the intimate, small but mighty medical school with an emphasis in primary care that attracted her to UNR Med after getting married, moving to Reno, and seeing her husband attend the University of Nevada, Reno.

For second generation graduate Nicole Longland, after growing up in Sparks as a Wolf Pack fan and swimming as an undergrad for the University, it was only natural for her to continue her education in Reno at UNR Med. In addition to her mom's influence on her career choice, Nicole said, "My Dad is a scientist and definitely influenced me to pursue a career in science. He has always supported my choice to pursue medicine."

Grueling training for a giving trade

Though UNR Med's legacy families are each celebrating a new physician, graduating with an M.D. is no easy feat. The process to becoming a physician is long and difficult. Even as UNR Med continues to educate more generations of medical students and produce more doctors to offset a physician shortage, the decision to become a doctor is not for everyone. It takes an extraordinary amount of hard work and a special kind of dedication. All of that carries over into practice. Each parent has plenty of advice at the ready, giving their children every reason to proceed with confidence as they become part of the rich legacy of achievement that has been defined by UNR Med alumni.

In Latin, doctor, originates from the word docere, meaning to teach. "I believe the underlying mission of a medical doctor in the today's society has not changed since the time of Socrates," said Michael Stanko. "Medicine continues to evolve through innovation and efficiency. Howeve,r in 25 years of practice, little has changed in how I approach each clinical workday."

According to Stanko, the role of a physician is to interact with a patient as a medical detective, to unravel signs and symptoms into a diagnosis, and then partner with the patient in the journey to wellness. His advice is "to communicate effectively with each patient before making clinical recommendations with the goal of optimizing their health-wellness potential."

"I think it is harder to practice as a solo primary care physician these days. Also, healthcare has become a political tug of war and it makes the future more difficult to predict, said Cathy Endo. "My advice is to treat each patient like a part of your family."

And Joe Johnson advised on the healthcare side that "it's important to be on the cutting edge of new innovations especially in the area of functional medicine." And on the business side he cautioned that "over the years the cost of running a practice has risen faster than the typical return, so if you want to remain in private practice you had better be good at business. In primary care, it often takes more than just a regular practice to stay afloat."

Home means Nevada

As for their future plans, each of UNR Med's 2018 legacy M.D. graduates plan to return to northern Nevada to practice medicine.

"I am a fourth-generation Nevadan, and I am surrounded by many family, extended family, and friends here," said Sarah Stanko. "The caliber of physicians in Reno is impressive. The medical community here functions as a close-knit network of colleagues and also offers a diverse array of specialists and services for patients. I would feel privileged to become a part of this medical community to serve the people of northern Nevada. In addition, the region is a great place to raise a family and enjoy life outside of medicine."

Nicole Longland said, "I have spent my entire life in Reno/Sparks and consider it home. I definitely plan on returning home to work and give back to our community."

"I love the northern Nevada area, and I love the family medicine faculty and residents who I have gotten to know these last four years," said Spencer Johnson. "My plan is to work alongside my father at his practice, and to continue to work with the family medicine program as a community faculty member, to help train the next generation of physicians and hopefully combat our physician shortage - one doctor at a time."

Unrivaled history

"One of the missions of UNR Med back in my day was to provide our state with enough primary care providers, especially in rural settings," recalled Joe Johnson. "I did part of that by going into family medicine, and I stayed in Sparks," he said. Johnson continued, "I feel it an honor to have Spencer follow in my footsteps and eventually take over my practice. I would not want to entrust my patients to just anyone."

Michael Stanko shared "my excellent education experience at UNR Med prepared me well for medical practice. With solid scores on part one and part two of my board exams, I knew my medical school resume was competitive at a national level. I was proud to be the first UNR Med graduate to match in ophthalmology."

Stanko also exclaimed "as Sarah's father, I am extremely proud of her decision to become a doctor. She has enjoyed a wonderful medical school experience at UNR Med and will graduate 30 years to the day from when I did with the class of 1988. We are both proud Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) members, and Sarah will complete her residency program at the University of Arizona, as I did in 1992. It should come as no surprise that Sarah plans to establish her medical practice in Reno."

Cathy Endo expressed that "UNR Med has been like a family to me. From medical school to residency, and now working at student health for over 20 years, it has supported me and given me a place to call home."

Unlimited future

Along with class of 2018 graduates Spencer Johnson, Nicole Longland, and Sarah Stanko, UNR Med graduated a total of 69 Doctors of Medicine during its hooding ceremony on Friday, May 18, adding more Nevada physicians to the workforce. Of those 69 new M.D.'s, approximately 34 percent are staying in Nevada for some part of their residency training. Data shows that when medical students stay local for residency training, they are likely to remain in the community to practice. With Nevada ranking 48th for available physicians, these graduates are helping to address that physician shortage statewide.

"UNR Med has really solidified my resolve to go into family medicine," said Johnson. "The faculty and residents in the family program are all upbeat and happy, and their patients love them. My main goals are to continue being the best husband and father I can be, and to keep learning every day to provide the best care possible to my patients."

Stanko expanded on the many ways the School of Medicine has enhanced her life and prepared her for the future. "UNR Med has provided me with a high-quality foundation of medical knowledge. The experience has pushed me outside of my comfort zone and stimulated personal reflection and growth. It has allowed me to form rich, lifelong bonds with my colleagues. The meaningful experiences with different patients have enhanced my understanding of the clinical and humanistic sides of medicine. Most importantly, the School of Medicine has provided me with a framework to become an effective and compassionate physician."

"Not only has UNR Med given me a great education, but it has also given me great friends and support," said Longland, who has matched into an emergency medicine residency.

"We are proud of the many generations of alumni who make the UNR Med experience part of their family tradition," said University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine Dean, Thomas L. Schwenk, M.D. "We value legacy students as their accomplishments and family traditions advance the mission of the University by not only keeping alumni involved, but also ensuring a new generation of active alumni."

A half century. A full future. 

For nearly half a century, the School of Medicine has prepared physicians, who are leading the way to better health for Nevada, the nation and the world. Supporting the next generation of physicians thrive in medicine is essential to ensuring that Nevada has the supply of physicians we need for the future.

Support from the community ensures UNR Med will continue to educate best-in-class medical professionals, bring global research to northern Nevada and provide top-quality patient care right here at home.

For information about giving opportunities, please contact Shari Netzel, director of development, at (775) 682-6077 or snetzel@unr.edu

Media Contacts

Julie Ardito, APR
Senior Director, Advancement and Engagement
Office: (775) 784-6006

Tessa Bowen, MPA
Communications Manager, Advancement and Engagement
Office: (775) 682-9254

The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, Nevada's first public medical school, is a community-based, research-intensive medical school with a statewide vision for a healthy Nevada. Established in 1969, UNR Med is improving the health and well-being of all Nevadans and their communities through excellence in student education, postgraduate training and clinical care, research with local, national and global impact and a culture of diversity and inclusion.