February 14, 2022

Couples Who Met at Lerner College of Medicine Build Lives, Careers Together

Dr. Lauren Banaszak and Dr. Taylor Aiken, Class of 2017, “fell in love” with Lerner College on interview day, and with each other while dating in the spring of 2013. Their favorite dates were eating at restaurants and studying at a coffee shop. Dr. Banaszak, originally of Arlington Heights, Illinois, says Lerner College was her first choice because of its focus on research and a small class size, and Dr. Aiken, from Springfield, Missouri, was impressed by graduates’ residencies at prestigious institutions. Being a couple affected their own residency plans. “We picked big cities so if we didn’t match programs, at least we would be in the same city,” Dr. Aiken says. Now, they are at the University of Wisconsin, she in internal medicine and he in general surgery. While at Lerner College, they most enjoyed a research year together at the National Institutes of Health and bonding with fellow students. “We didn’t just find each other in medical school,” Dr. Banaszak says. “We made lifelong friends.” Some of those friends plan to attend the couple’s June 2020 wedding in Madison, Wisconsin.

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Dr. George Cater and Dr. Laura Navarro grew up far apart – he in Brecksville, Ohio, and she in Colombia, South America. The Lerner College Class of 2013 orientation brought them together, although they didn’t formally date until their last year of school. Dr. Cater’s engineering background drew him to Lerner’s problem-based learning curriculum, and she liked medical

research and the small class size. On graduating, they had residencies in Pittsburgh, where they continue to live with their 2 1/2-year-old son, George Jr. Hers was in pediatrics and his in internal medicine. Dr. Cater’s favorite memory of Lerner College was when classmates came for dinner at his parents’ home. “Laura was the one who would hang around the longest,” he says. Dr. Navarro remembers an event to which Dr. Cater brought his mother. “I met his mom three days after I met him!” They married in May 2016, in her hometown of Barranquilla. Some of their friends flew out for the wedding, and others attended a June reception. “As a class, we were very close,” Dr. Cater says.

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Dr. Alida Gertz and Dr. Mark Tenforde, Class of 2010, met on their second visit to CCLCM and began dating after Dr. Tenforde rented a room in Dr. Gertz’s three-bedroom condo. The daughter of a military nurse and a research scientist, Dr. Gertz was drawn to the school’s problem-based learning curriculum and research focus. She’s now a family medicine physician researcher in Atlanta, where Dr. Tenforde specializes in infectious disease at the CDC. He also worked in Geneva with the Gavi vaccine alliance, had a CDC fellowship in Southeast Asia, and earned a PhD in epidemiology in Botswana. The couple married in Alaska in 2011, “to the great disappointment of my Puerto Rican family,” Dr. Gertz says. Their daughter, Coraline, was born in February 2016. “Having a kid changes your life quite a lot!” Dr. Tenforde notes. Some of their favorite Cleveland memories include sharing vegetarian dishes at Tommy’s in Coventry and running along Shaker Boulevard. “We also got close to a lot of people and had a really good time,” Dr. Tenforde says.

Dr. Priya Malik, Class of 2011, and Dr. Jason Robertson, Class of 2009, met in a romantic way – while conducting mouse research. “He helped me get used to working with mice,” she says. Dr. Malik came to the U.S. from India at age 17 to attend a liberal arts college in Iowa. After graduating, she, like Dr. Robertson, was drawn to Lerner College because of its mix of medicine and research, small class size and closeness with instructors. After residencies at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, the couple has returned to Cleveland and lives in Highland Heights. As a hospitalist, Dr. Malik works with institutions including Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Robertson is a pediatric surgeon and researcher at Cleveland Clinic. In 2011, they had weddings in both India and Baltimore, to accommodate their families. They had children during their residencies, daughter, Maya, 6, and, son, Shawn, 4. “As medical students in Cleveland, we knew where the best happy hours were,” Dr. Malik says. But much has changed. “Now, we have children in suburbia!”

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Dr. Katie Stackhouse and Dr. Tony Rizzo, both Class of 2015, met before school even started, at a get-together with classmates. “We lived a block away from each other in Cleveland Heights,” she says. Dr. Stackhouse, originally from Maryland, chose Lerner College for “the unique curriculum structure and research time,” and Dr. Rizzo, of Delaware, was drawn to its immersive experience. “I really valued the clinical training there,” he says. Their favorite dates were at night spots on the west side and shows at Playhouse Square. On graduating, they landed residencies in Boston. In June 2019, they returned to Cleveland, where Dr. Stackhouse is a general surgery resident at Cleveland Clinic, and Dr. Rizzo is a fellow in gynecologic oncology at University Hospitals. Although busy, they prioritize their relationship, he says. “We learned early on to make time for the people who are important in our lives.” In the summer of 2019, the couple were married in Dr.Stackhouse’s home town of Thurmont, Maryland, with some of their Lerner College friends in attendance.

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