Inside the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine (UNR Med) state-of-the-art gross anatomy lab, first-year medical student's faces light up and marvel at the complexity of the human heart. For two class of 2019 graduates, their faces still light up when talking matters of the heart - and each other. Without skipping a beat, David and Karissa Wasiak have balanced marriage and medical school at UNR Med.
Medical school is no walk in the park. Yet a heart-warming medical student romance saw not only many a walk in the park, but a walk-turned-proposal at the lake, a walk down the aisle and ultimately, a walk across the commencement stage as Mr. and Mrs. became Dr. and Dr.
Meet Drs. Wasiak
Just as a supportive community has sustained the School of Medicine, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary, supportive spouses David and Karissa have influenced and sustained each other throughout three wedding anniversaries and four years of medical school - proving that the couple who studies together, excels together.
As many as 40% of physicians marry other doctors, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). But David and Karissa's story started long before medical school.
The early match
Both true Nevadans, born and raised in Las Vegas, David and Karissa lived only about 12 minutes from each other. They went to different schools until high school, when they both attended Advanced Technologies Academy, a magnet school.
"We met in high school, but it wasn't until our senior year when we ultimately started dating," said Karissa.
"A mutual friend gave us the nudge to finally talk to each other at a taco Tuesday, and we haven't looked back since," David added.
After making college decisions, the young couple also decided to work out a long-distance relationship. David attended the University of Arizona, graduating with a bachelor of sciences degree in biochemistry. Karissa attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) where she graduated with a bachelor of science in biology and a bachelor of arts degree in psychology.
A good day for a walk in the park - or at Lake Tahoe
Medical school brought the couple back together. Karissa chose UNR Med because she liked the small class sizes, the Student Outreach Clinics and the emphasis on primary care. UNR Med also offered a relatively close distance to family in southern Nevada. David chose UNR Med "because Karissa was there and because it is the school for producing Nevada physicians, which is my home and where I want to stay," he said.
Karissa started medical school a year before David. During September of her first year at UNR Med, David planned a surprise weekend trip to Lake Tahoe after Karissa's exams.
"He planned everything to a ‘T,' which I then managed to mess up, including remembering my camera, but forgetting to charge it," said Karissa. "We walked out to a secluded area of the lake and were enjoying hopping around on the rocks. If you know David, you know he does not like to keep a secret, so to my truly amazing surprise, he got onto his knee and popped the question. I was so happy, and also so nervous we would drop the ring in the lake! We took a picture together on some swings before my camera died, but I'll always remember the day in vivid detail, even without a lot of photos!"
The Wasiaks were married July 23, 2015 in Las Vegas. After a cruise to Catalina and Mexico, the couple wasted no time returning to Reno, where it was back to the books, labs and lecture halls for David's first year and Karissa's second year of medical school.
Shaping the practice of medicine while molding a medical marriage
Medical school can be an adventure of a lifetime. Students see each other at their best and at their worst. Experiencing it as a couple ultimately prepared the Wasiaks for their roles as doctors, when they'll regularly see the best and worst of humanity.
The same qualities that make good doctors make good partners. Together, David and Karissa learned how to tend to challenges with competence and confidence, but most of all with teamwork and compassion.
"Overall, having the support of the person you know the best was really helpful during the most stressful times in school, said Karissa.
Time management, they say, was their biggest challenge. In order to power through, the couple invested time in their relationship, just as they would studying for tests. They insisted on taking breaks to walk the dog, clean the house, cook meals and enjoy friends, family and hobbies.
"The free time we had together became that much better, especially when we had accomplishments to celebrate." The couple also enjoyed taking special time out for occasions like anniversaries, "although sometimes we had to fudge the date a bit," said David.
"We take turns planning our anniversary every other year, and usually try to include a new food or experience we've never had before, and something active like a hike with our dog, Kahlua. One of our favorites in Reno is Hunter Creek Trail," said Karissa.
"We were both so busy much of the time, it was pretty easy to be on the same page in terms of expectations, and we pushed each other to be our best selves because of that," said David. "With Karissa completing a master's in public health after her second year, we were off-track from each other until our clinical years. We never had to deal with being peers in the same class, which I think was ultimately a good thing. We sort of got a chance to live parallel experiences without butting into each other, so I think we both could grow as individuals that way, but could always fall back on each other at the same time."
Match Day magic
Dating among medical students is so common that the National Resident Matching Program created Couples in the Match in 1987. And if that is any indication, medical pairings are thriving: In 2018, it drew 1,165 couples, up from 738 a decade ago.
For serious couples, deciding about a couples match presents a complicated set of decisions and logistics. When entering the Match together, a couple creates a list with paired selections, and the Nobel Prize winning Match algorithm moves down that list until they both match.
"The best moment of medical school together was Match Day," said Karissa. "It was the culmination of months of effort with applications, interviews and trying to coordinate an end goal of matching to the same residency location."
Their determination and support, both of each other and to medical school, was evident on Match Day.
"Revealing that we got our mutual first choice and managed to make it work was a huge relief," said David. "We're so excited to have the opportunity to continue pursuing our goals together."
Dr. and Dr. Wasiak matched at the University of Arizona Tucson. Karissa is pursuing family medicine, while David is pursuing emergency medicine. Both are three year residencies with fellowship opportunities.
Home means Nevada
"Our family is in Las Vegas, so it's pretty likely we are going to head back that way after our training. We love the big city, the food, the outdoor activities in our backyard and of course being near both our families," said Karissa.
Drs. Wasiak's 2019 hooding ceremony marked the conclusion of UNR Med's yearlong, community-wide celebration of 50 years of excellence in medical education. Nevada's first public medical school has educated more than 3,500 students, residents and fellows since it was founded in 1969.