At the Corner of Medicine and Community: Dr. Reka Danko

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Reka Danko, M.D.

Local Medicine

Reka Danko, M.D.'08, shown with current medical students, was recently named a Twenty Under 40 honoree by the Reno Gazette-Journal for her commitment to medicine and her community. Photo by Theresa Danna-Douglas.

Story by James Rutter

Spend less than five minutes with Reka Danko, M.D.'08, chief medical officer at Northern Nevada HOPES, and one quickly discovers a physician who truly lives at the intersection where medicine and community meet.

Growing up, she enjoyed living in northern Nevada and decided to stay for college. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Nevada, Reno before continuing on to the School of Medicine, where she graduated in 2008, followed by a Reno residency in internal medicine.

After completing her residency, Danko started volunteering part-time at Northern Nevada HOPES, a non-profit community health center for the medically underserved. At the time, the center was just beginning to expand its primary care services.

"HOPES didn't have a primary care doctor to help with those services, so I came on very part-time to help develop them," Danko said.

In a short amount of time, Danko's role with the center expanded. Today, as its chief medical officer, in addition to seeing patients, she spearheads program development, looking at what is needed and trying to bring those services to her community.

"We started to learn that addiction is now a national epidemic, and these patients need increased support, whether that's a rehab facility or an outpatient setting," Danko said.

"We realized that there was a very low number of these programs here, and that addiction overall is very under-recognized and undertreated in many areas in our community."

To address this need, Danko and Northern Nevada HOPES started by partnering with Judge Lidia Stiglich's youth court, to provide addiction medical services to youth offenders. They later expanded the program to all community members.

"The collaborative effort that we get to do, to help patients in need, is something that not only makes me excited to work there, but it puts a spring in my step in the morning," Danko said.

In addition to her role at the center, she also gives back to her community by fostering the next generation of physicians, serving as a community faculty member at UNR Med and by serving on the Alumni Association board. She hopes that in doing so, she may connect the future of medicine with her mission.

"HOPES has the opportunity to help patients and members of our community. Teaching is a part of that," Danko said. "Bringing together people who are committed to that same mission, to bring awareness to community health, to the underserved, is one and the same mission. It's helping people, and it's educating those who are interested in learning about it."

This enthusiasm for people is what sets Danko apart from other medical professionals. It is something that has driven her from the start of her medical career, when she began her undergraduate studies at the University in 1999.

She majored in speech pathology and audiology, so that she could spend her undergrad years on the UNR Med campus with a heavy, pre-med focus. In those formative years, patient interaction ultimately convinced her that a career in medicine would be most rewarding.

"In the speech pathology department, pretty early on, you're making contact with patients," Danko said.

"Immediately I realized that it was working with people which drew me in further and further. As I went on, I started doing a ton of community volunteering and asking every physician and mentor that I could get ahold of, if I could spend more time in their clinics."

In addition to her enthusiasm for helping others, Danko also has a genuine love for the northern Nevada community. Her family moved to Reno so that her father could take a job with the University at the Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering. He remains a professor there today.

Looking back, she revels in her commitment to living in, being educated in and serving in northern Nevada.

"I only applied to one medical school because I was really committed to staying here locally," Danko said. "I have been here my whole life, and enjoyed every minute of it!"