Born and raised in Lubbock, Ryan Balko wasn’t quite sure where his professional path would lead him. He completed a semester at Oral Roberts College in Tulsa with thoughts of becoming a youth minister or teacher. He also attended South Plains College in Levelland. He later took some time off from higher education to figure out what he wanted to do. Balko began to work as a pharmacy technician.
During that time, he had countless conversations with a friend who was a physician and had the opportunity to shadow other physicians that developed an interest in the field of medicine. He went on to complete his degree at Texas Tech University.
“I think everything I have been interested is encompassed in medicine,” Balko said. “Compassion, empathy and an understanding of where people are coming from are critical in medicine. A teacher has to be able to explain things to a diverse group of patients. A practicing physician is responsible for teaching other students. And as a pharmacy tech, I interacted with patients. Shadowing I saw physicians were working with patients and caring for people beyond treating the disease. All of that was exciting to me, and I shifted gears and decided medicine was a nice blend.”
Balko chose Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine because of the environment and program.
“Everyone I met works to make sure the people around them are successful here,” Balko said. “I knew here I would have the support of other students, faculty and administration.”
The former soft-spoken and shy kid from a family of three sisters broke out of his shell and medical school pulled him out of his comfort zone. Balko would thrive in medical school. He was inducted into the AOA, Gold Humanism Society, serve as a Dean’s Ambassador and take part in numerous organizations such as the Internal Medicine Club and Emergency Medicine Club, volunteer for The Free Clinic and was also a part of the School of Medicine’s Admission’s Office Selections Committee.
Balko will be the first doctor in family. He and his wife Haley are the parents of a 9 month-old son Samuel. He said his family support system were the backbone of his success.
“I have been so lucky to have them close and supportive for me to be successful in medical school. As hard as medical school is, it’s been harder on my wife because she picked up the slack with all the responsibilities at home and with our son. I could not have done it without such a strong support system.”
Balko’s focus is stronger than ever and will specialize in internal medicine. He matched to Mayo Clinic School of Graduate Medical Education in Rochester, MN.
“Internal medicine is where I will be the happiest,” Balko said. “I know I will find my niche in residency. Keeping an open mind and hard work led me to internal medicine which I liked because it is such a nice blend of everything.”
Persistence and Hard Work Leads Her Back Home
Born and raised on the East Coast, Nicole Alavi Dunn always knew she would go back to get her medical degree. It was all in the timing. She and her husband Terry, who worked for NASA, lived in Houston raising their three children Austin, Bridget and Gretchen.
Alavi Dunn previously had earned a premed biomedical sciences degree when she realized her junior year she didn’t enjoy the major but it was too late to change her degree. But because of her degree, she had the opportunity to work in a research lab and found she liked the work. After their move to Houston, she earned her teaching certification and ended up teaching high school science.
“At that point, it was a matter of when do I go back to school,” Alavi Dunn said. “This time I wanted to make sure this was the degree I wanted before I had any doubts. I spoke to engineers, health care professionals and looked at what a medical degree offered. After that, I knew I would be able to do something with that degree.”
Alavi Dunn had never traveled to Lubbock before medical school, but on her first visit realized Lubbock the TTUHSC School of Medicine were her best fit.
“Everyone is so friendly,” Alavi Dunn said. “When you come here, you are made to feel they want you here and know everyone will invest in me. That, the individual experiences and overwhelming sense of community sealed the decision for us.”
After moving her family to Lubbock, Alavi Dunn had concerns hoping she would like medical school and that it all would be a good fit for her and her family.
“When I went in, I thought, please let me get through medical school and survive,” Alavi Dunn said. “In the end, there are no guarantees that you get a job. You just work your butt off. I get to the end, and I actually not only survived, but made induction into these programs and got a competitive residency.”
Her hard work made her thrive in her academics with involvement in the Barber Shop Project, president of Women’s Medical Association, community representative for educational policy for her class, serving on committees with LCME, Call Room Workforce, student panels to name a few.
Alavi Dunn decided on urology, which she calls the happy specialty because aside from bladder cancer, most things in urology are treatable and have good outcomes.
“Problems you are solving are more basic and frequent problems sometimes embarrassing, and patients come in sharing something personal,” Alavi Dunn said. “When they find solutions to those problems, it is life altering for them and incredibly change their lives. The physicians at the Department of Urology here were so welcoming and love to teach.”
Alavi Dunn will be returning back closer home to family with her residency match to the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in New York.
“I could not have done this without the support of my husband and family,” Alavi Dunn said. “This has been a good experience, and I just keep feeling really lucky. I think back and I wonder what they saw in me. Did they know or take a chance? They were right because it was such a great fit.”
Match Day is a nerve-racking event that has played out on medical school campuses across the country since 1952. TTUHSC School of Medicine students participated in Match Day and learned where they will be for the next three to seven years for their residencies. Twenty-two of the 136 students matched at TTUHSC with another 47 percent staying in Texas. TTUHSC students matched in 25 specialties.
“All of our students who matched received an excellent education, and worked hard,” said Steven L. Berk, M.D., TTUHSC executive vice president, provost and School of Medicine dean. “Their commitment to become exceptional physicians has led them to match well, and we are excited to see the wonderful things they will do in the medical profession, both here and across the country.”
This year TTUHSC School of Medicine students matched to institutions including Duke University Medical Center, Mayo Clinic School of Graduate Medical Education, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brown University, University of California-Los Angeles, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, University of Virginia, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center.