Spring 2015
Student Spotlight

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Holly Villamagna at the Clinical Simulation Center of Las Vegas

Guiding tomorrow's physicians

Fourth-year medical student Holly Villamagna at the Clinical Simulation Center of Las Vegas. Photo by Edgar Antonio Núñez.

Inspiring youth to consider medicine

Story by Anne Pershing

Holly Villamagna, Class of 2015, has gone out of her way to work with middle school students as a coach for Science Olympiads and in the Clinical Problem Solving For High School Students elective course.

She is just one example of University of Nevada School of Medicine students involved in the community, motivating younger students to pursue their dreams.

Villamagna, 26, who was born in Montreal, Canada, said her family lived all over the United States before settling in Las Vegas when she was 13.

“I graduated from Sierra Vista High School, then moved to Los Angeles to attend USC where I majored in print journalism. I always knew I wanted to attend medical school as well, but I was so passionate about reporting and writing that I decided to pursue both interests,” she said.

Even though she ultimately settled on a career in medicine, she believes her training in journalism helps her figure out how to interview and relate to patients from a variety of backgrounds as she sums up their stories in notes and feels her way through explaining diagnoses and treatments to them.

“For me, the most interesting question in medicine is how to convey our medical knowledge to our patients, young students and to the general public. Journalism has helped me with that,” she explained.

As a first-year medical student, Villamagna and her classmates volunteered for the Tar Wars program, where they taught fourth and fifth graders about the dangers of smoking.

“As a third-year medical student, I volunteered at Hyde Park Middle School, where a small group of students was preparing for the Science Olympiad, a national science competition. I tutored them in brain and skin anatomy and physiology, teaching them things that I did not even learn until college.”

Villamagna is currently enrolled the School of Medicine’s fourth-year elective course Clinical Program Solving for High School Health Professionals program, where she has the opportunity to work with magnet high school students who are interested in health care.

“We facilitate group case studies, helping students work through medical cases often based on patients we have seen,” she said.

Villamagna pursued outreach opportunities during medical school for several reasons.

“I never forget how much programs like these shaped my life. I became interested in medicine by doing group case studies just like the ones we do with high school students. I hope to do the same for someone else and maybe inspire students to consider medicine as a career.”

Villamagna loves the challenge of trying to translate medical topics into language that nine-, 11- or 15-year-olds can understand.

“By teaching students why smoking is dangerous or why wearing sunscreen is so important, I can help them develop habits that will lead to longer, healthier lives. Kids have so much energy and excitement to give, and to see medical topics inspiring some of that excitement is extremely gratifying.”

Although she has concentrated on medicine the last several years, journalism is still very much a passion.

“I work as an editor for the authors of First Aid for the USMLE, writing and editing their Step 1 question bank, and I am pursuing our school’s Scholarly Concentration in Narrative Medicine, which gives me an opportunity to write about my patients,” she said.

Villamagna plans to go into internal medicine and is considering sub-specializing in infectious diseases, but plans to balance medicine with her interest in medical writing while staying in Nevada for residency.