Spring/Summer 2018
Legacy of Success

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Endo and Longland holding photo

When Cathy Endo, M.D. '93 (right) graduated from UNR Med, daughter Nicole Longland, M.D. '18, made her first appearance on the UNR Med graduation stage at just six months old. Photo by Brin Reynolds.

Lofty ambitions result in family traditions, as UNR Med produces triple physician legacies in class of 2018

Story By Tessa Bowen

“We are proud of the many generations of alumni who make the UNR Med experience part of their family tradition. 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.” – University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine Dean, Thomas L. Schwenk, M.D.

When Cathy Endo, M.D. '93, Joe Johnson, M.D. '89 and Michael Stanko, M.D. '88 graduated from the School of Medicine, they hoped their ambitious goals would lead to fulfilling careers as physicians. But they could have never dreamed of the reverberating effect their callings would have on the next generation of Nevada physicians. During UNR Med's commencement Friday, May 18, Endo, Johnson and Stanko experienced full circle moments, as each of their children graduated with Doctor of Medicine degrees.

Sarah Stanko, M.D. '18 was born while her father, Dr. Michael Stanko, was in residency at the University of Arizona Tucson, where she'll also complete her residency.

For Nicole Longland, M.D. '18, this was actually her second time across the UNR Med graduation 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.

And the family tradition is already picking up momentum for a third generation of UNR Med doctors. Graduate Spencer Johnson, M.D. '18 is his father, Dr. Joe Johnson's second child, born during his father's first month of residency. This past April, 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.

Unrivaled history

As the legacy graduates crossed the Pioneer Center stage to receive their hoods, their parents' clear memories were no doubt mixed with a strong dose of pride. And each parent had the honor of ceremoniously placing the doctoral hood over their child's head.

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.

A longtime physician at the University's Student Health Center, Endo said, "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."

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.

"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," said Johnson, a family medicine doctor at Sierra Nevada Wellness Center. "I did part of that by going into family medicine, and I stayed in Sparks."

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," Stanko said. "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."

An ophthalmologist at Sierra Eye Associates in Reno and northern Nevada's only fellowship-trained glaucoma specialist, Stanko added, "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."

Going beyond tradition

While family traditions are strong, all three UNR Med legacy graduates also took into account fit, choice and location before selecting a medical school. They found UNR Med to be a place where less measurable factors, like the experiences available to medical students, were important keys to finding a place where they could thrive.

For 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 obvious influence on her career choice, Longland 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."

Spencer Johnson and his wife, Kristi, are both Nevada alumni who share a love for northern Nevada. Johnson was 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," Johnson said. "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."

Sarah Stanko loved growing up in Reno and envisions spending her entire life here. "My father attended UNR Med and felt that he received a top-notch 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."

Unlimited future

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 Stanko, who will pursue a pediatric residency. "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."

"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 at the Kaweah Delta Health Care District in Visalia, California. "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."

Spencer Johnson, who will complete his family medicine residency at UNR Med, said "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. 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."

His proud father added: "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."