Once upon a time, not really that long ago, a city girl fell in love with public health at a university in Boston. In a twist of fate (it had to be, once you hear the whole story), the girl moved to Colorado, undergraduate degree in hand, to work in a lab on the acclaimed University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. A Bostonian at heart, the girl never intended to stay.
Meanwhile, a Colorado boy, from the small mountain town of Steamboat Springs, had ventured far for his undergraduate studies, all the way to Boulder. Although he would have rather been snowboarding, he excelled and set his sights on becoming a doctor, traveling all the way to Aurora to study emergency medicine on that same acclaimed campus.
Well, you probably know what happened next. Yep, girl falls in love – with Colorado and with boy. And the two graduate together from the best medical school in the land. It was a match meant to be (Seriously. Wait until you hear the whole tale).
And here it is, in their own words:
Meet new CU Anschutz School of Medicine graduates Cameron (Cam) Niswander, MD/MPH, and Molly Thayer, MD/MBA.
Falling in love: Colorado style.
First, a little more background on this perfect match, please.
Molly: We had mutual friends and were both in the Rural Track, but we did not begin dating until the beginning of our second year. We then took an extra year in school to pursue interests that would supplement our MD degrees and our future professional goals (MBA for me, MPH for Cam) and also to spend an extra year as a couple before entering the couples match together! I want to use my MBA for creating innovative primary care systems aimed at addressing healthcare inequities, and Cam is passionate about using the MPH to explore the intersection between climate change and human health.
Why did you choose CU Anschutz?
Molly: The CU Anschutz researchers were collaborators in the lab I was working in at Northeastern University. It was an easy connection to check the box of living outside of my comfort zone before returning to Boston for medical school. However, over the course of a year, I discovered a passion for the outdoors and became close with a couple of physician mentors on the CU Anschutz campus through my research. I grew to admire the work-life balance I saw out of my mentors—professionals taking care of patients while doing cutting-edge scientific research, yet still climbing mountains, skiing and living an incredible Colorado lifestyle.
"These experiences reminded us how important it is to stay grounded in the present and to remain present with those you love. It really is all about balance."
Cam: Almost the exact opposite of Molly! I knew this was where I wanted to be from the start. My family is here, this is my home state, and I’m especially passionate about the rural and recreational communities that support so much of what make Colorado a great place to live. The Rural Track at CU Anschutz was one of the driving factors that solidified my choice to come here and allowed me to spend part of my training in small towns like where I grew up.
What is your favorite memory here?
Molly: Probably during my surgery rotation. I was in the thoracic surgery clinic on my first day, and as I was leaving, my resident told me a heart was coming in that night for a transplant, and if I wanted to stay, I could scrub in. I went and took a three-hour nap and then scrubbed in around 9 p.m. It was just me, the fellow and the attending, and we finished just before 5 a.m. It was the first time I held a beating heart in a chest, and then immediately after got to look into a living’s person chest while there was no heart in it. It was all surreal.
Cam: Ohhh … not sure anyone can top that! BUT, during one of our procedure workshops, we procured a rack of lamb to practice chest tubes on. Those kinds of small group learning sessions were always so important, because you were able to learn valuable skills to be a physician and also laugh and bond with friends in a low-stress situation. It not only prepared me to successfully place my first “real-life” chest tube during my surgery rotation while standing in front of both the Interventional Radiology and Trauma Surgery teams, but it was possibly the best (least expensive, anyway) lamb BBQ we have ever had.
Colorful Colorado (and Cameron Niswander) lured Bostonian Molly Thayer here.
What is a favorite Colorado memory?
Both: There’s so many, it’s hard to pick. We’ve made a point to have a lot of fun here during school. The most recent that jumps to mind was skiing in Silverton on a blue-bird powder day on what became the last day that Colorado ski resorts were open for the season due to COVID-19. But it’s really hard to pick one in particular among the many hut trips, ski days, backpacking trips, and afternoon mountain biking sessions either alone or with our classmates.
What’s next, and how will your CU Anschutz experience help you move forward in your endeavors?
Both: Somehow, we were lucky enough to match at our No. 1 choice, and we’re heading to Seattle, Washington! (See? A perfect match.)
Molly: Swedish Family Medicine - First Hill residency for me. I think CU Anschutz taught us how to be good doctors and how to be real humans. It sounds silly, but that’s a necessary, and sometimes overlooked, combination. I also think the CU Anschutz Medical Campus was an incredible place to develop myself as a leader and become involved in so many areas of interest like medical education, healthcare systems and community-based medicine.
And it's a match!
Cam: I’m heading to University of Washington Emergency Medicine. I’ll spend most of my time at the county hospital, Harborview Medical Center, which is right across the street from Swedish - First Hill! I absolutely agree with Molly. One of the most unique things of this campus is having passionate experts across the whole medical field right next door. I’ve been lucky to explore different aspects within the Emergency Medicine community but also connect with different people in the environmental health, health policy, and public health spheres.
What is your advice to incoming medical students?
Molly: Don’t get caught up in comparing your study habits and progress to your classmates. Everyone has their own pace and their own style. It can get really demeaning really quickly, when it doesn’t need to be. Seek help when you need it but trust your own process.
Cam: Make the time for wellness. This sounds trivial – but I’m talking specifically about wellness during that “one” really busy week. I always hear people talking about putting off their workouts or spending time with friends until next week or after that next test. Be aggressive with how you pursue your wellness, particularly during the incredibly busy times, because you are important, and when it does slow down, it’s that much easier to make time for you.
Both: We both lost family members unexpectedly (Cam lost his father and amazed his professors with his strength and perseverance) and had family members get sick during medical school. Medical education can feel like a long game where you have to think years in advance, but these experiences reminded us how important it is to stay grounded in the present and to remain present with those you love. It really is all about balance.
Blair Ilsley contributed to this fairy tale.