Becoming Doctors, Forming Families

Alumni share their experience as couples in the School of Medicine
(Left to right) Jay Jackson, Mary Jackson, Kathleen Shaffer, Stan Shaffer stand outside the Jacksons' home

The bonds built within the UMKC School of Medicine community are strong and long-lasting. Friendships are forged, but often families, too, take shape. Spanning 40-plus years, these alumni couples are a testament to that connection. Some are just beginning their lives together, and some have celebrated several milestone anniversaries.

Teammates and soulmates

Blake and Katy (Nichols) Montgomery’s relationship, and their medical careers, have taken them all over the country. But first, it was basketball that brought the 2015 and 2016 M.D. graduates together. They met their first year of medical school while playing on a three-on-three team, and they stayed teammates throughout their time at UMKC.
(Left to right) Katy and Blake Montgomery“The best part of finding your spouse in med school is you have a nonstop cheerleader,” Katy said. “You’re rooting for each other every step of the way, and it’s a shared gratification when the other succeeds.”

Although they started at UMKC at the same time, Blake was accepted to the Medical Research Scholars program at the National Institutes of Health in 2013. That meant Katy would end up graduating a year ahead of him.

In 2015, the same year the couple tied the knot, Katy matched in pediatrics at Children’s Mercy. Soon after, Blake matched at Stanford University in orthopedic surgery and moved to Palo Alto, California, while Katy stayed in Kansas City.

“Both of us being in medicine, I feel like we have a complete understanding of the other person’s life,” Blake said, “and that’s made our relationship that much stronger.”

Katy was able to transfer her pediatric residency to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to finish up her final two years. Although the couple was still separated by a six-hour drive, they took advantage of their more frequent reunions.

“Having limited time together made us cherish every moment,” Katy said.

The couple is now together in Boston, where Blake began his first pediatric orthopedic fellowship and where their family grew to three. They welcomed a baby girl in January 2022.

“You’re rooting for each other every step of the way, and it’s a shared gratification when the other succeeds.” —Katy Montgomery

The couple’s next adventure will take them to Auckland, New Zealand, where Blake will start a fellowship specializing in pediatric orthopedic spine surgery. Katy plans to pursue an international certification in lactation.

The time they have spent apart has made the couple grateful for the everyday things many take for granted.

“It sounds cheesy, but once we finally moved in together, all the little things seemed so much better,” Katy said. “Like, wow, we get to go to the grocery store … together.”

“When we were apart it felt like something was always missing, like half your heart is across the country,” Blake said. “Now that we’re back together, you just feel complete.”

From high school to med school

Chizitam and Ginika Ibezim’s connection started even before they were medical students. The 2020 and 2021 M.D. graduates met in 2013 in the UMKC Summer Scholars Program (now the STAHR program) for high schoolers exploring medical careers. Chizitam was a senior from Austin, Texas, and Ginika a junior from Chicago.
(Left to right) Chizitam Ibezim holding his infant daughter with his wife, Ginika Ibezim

The two were in an anatomy class together when Ginika tried to strike up a conversation with Chizitam. But he was all business.

“I had tunnel vision, thinking, ‘If I can do well in Summer Scholars, I can get in the program,’” Chizitam said.

It would take two years for Ginika and Chizitam to cross paths again. And Chizitam wasn’t going to miss out this time. He was helping at a student organization event when he recognized Ginika in the crowd.

“I remember coming up with a bunch of excuses for us to meet up,” said Chizitam. “I was selling my first-year text books and I offered to just give them to her.”

The two exchanged text messages nonstop that summer and soon were a power couple, frequently commandeering a table at Starbucks, studying for several hours of the day.

“We were learning the same things and going through the same experiences,” said Chizitam. “It made that aspect of med school kind of fun.”

The couple got engaged in the Summer of 2019 and tied the knot in April 2020 with a small ceremony in Chizitam’s hometown of Austin. But Ginika still had another year of medical school before the couple could finalize their future together.

“We couldn’t do the couple’s match because we weren’t in the same class,” Ginika said. “We just had to hope and pray that we matched together.”

Ginika’s residency search took her nearly everywhere in Texas: 26 interviews in total. She narrowed her list to three family medicine residencies, and ended up matching in Austin at the same hospital as Chizitam.

“I was selling my first-year text books and I offered to just give them to her.” —Chizitam Ibezim

The couple’s conversations used to focus on work, especially since they were in the same hospital and program, but that’s changed with the addition of their now 4-month-old daughter.

“We’ve transitioned to talking about our aspirations outside of medicine, and that’s been really refreshing,” said Chizitam. “We’re talking about where we want to travel and things we want to see.”

‘Really good waltz partners’

School of Medicine founder E. Grey Dimond, M.D., left quite an impression on Stan and Kathleen Shaffer, 1979 M.D. graduates, when he spoke to their medical school class in the summer of 1973.

“He gave us a stern talk where he told us we wouldn’t have time for dating,” Stan said. “Unless we look around the room and find someone as serious as us about being a physician.”

Stan and Kathleen knew each other in passing, until their second year in the program, when they were in a social dance class together. Although they rotated dance partners, Stan and Kathleen figured out early on where they clicked.

“It turned out we were really good waltz partners,” Stan said. “And we have said: It’s really wonderful to marry your waltz partner.”

Any medical student knows the residency match is a huge step in becoming a doctor. But it was even bigger for the Shaffers. On top of navigating the next stage of their careers, they were also considering the next stage of their relationship: marriage. To match as a pair, they had to be married. Dating or engaged wouldn’t cut it. So, in February 1979, the Shaffers wed, and a few months later they matched together at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.

(Left to right) Kathleen and Stan Shaffer
“Going into medical school, I didn’t have dreams of weddings or anything,” Kathleen said. “At that time, women in medicine weren’t thought to have time to get married. So, I thought becoming a doctor and getting married was a double win for me.”

Kathleen has stayed in pediatric medicine for 36 years in Kansas City. Stan moved into neonatal medicine, where he established the intensive care nursery at Saint Luke’s Hospital. In 2014, he transitioned his focus to global health.

His interest in global health and Kathleen’s expertise in pediatrics have taken center stage in their work providing health care in Haiti for more than 35 years. Their two children even joined them on mission trips, a tradition that has continued into their adulthood.

"It’s really wonderful to marry your waltz partner.” —Stan Shaffer

According to Stan, the trips to Haiti also consumed a great deal of their discussions. Those talks – as well as the trips themselves – instilled in their children the incredible scope of what health care can provide to those in need.

“We weren’t talking about insurance plans or paperwork,” said Kathleen. “It was about larger medical issues and the philosophy of medicine.”

The groundwork they laid helped inspire both children to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Their daughter, Brynn, graduated from the University of Kansas School of Medicine in 2010, and their son, Christopher, graduated from the UMKC School of Medicine in 2006.

The family the Shaffers built together may certainly last a lifetime, but the friendships they’ve built have lasted almost as long. A couple they became close friends with at UMKC — current School of Medicine Dean Mary Anne Jackson (M.D. ’78) and her husband, Jay Jackson (M.D. ’78) – were the Shaffers’ neighbors for more than three decades.

Working and learning together

According to Jay, he and Mary Anne had finally given up on their house hunt when the Shaffers told them the house next door in their Kansas City suburb was going on the market.

“They found our house for us,” said Jay. “We’ve been there probably 34 years, so we’re obviously thrilled to have been their neighbors.”

Just as the Shaffers received relationship advice from Dimond that first summer, Jay said he and Mary Anne heard the same message. In 1978, during their fifth year of medical school, the Jacksons got married so they could also match together.

(Left to right) Mary Anne and Jay Jackson
The Jacksons coupled up early on in their time at UMKC. Jay recalled many days and nights studying together. He was the expert on humanities, and Mary Anne, ever the educator, helped him with some of his sciences.

“I struggled with chemistry in particular,” said Jay, “but she made it light up for me.”

All those study sessions paid off. Mary Anne has a successful career in infectious diseases and medical education and Jay is a recently-retired cardiologist.

The hours Mary Anne and Jay put into their careers have been long, but the choice to become doctors was an easy decision for both of them.

“Medicine is what we were called to do,” Jay said.

With the 50th anniversary celebrations continuing, many alumni are reminiscing about their time at UMKC and all it has given them, including the Jacksons.

“I look back on our time at UMKC, and as hard as we worked, they were really fun times,” Jay said. “Mary Anne asked me what my best memory was from that time. I told her, ‘Well that’s easy. The best thing that happened to me in med school was meeting you.’”

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Published: Sep 8, 2022

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