February 11, 2020

Guest Column | Lizz & Robbie Nicholas

Elizabeth (Hoffman) Nicholas, a Eureka, South Dakota native, and Robert Nicholas, a Huron, South Dakota native, met at the University of South Dakota when they were both in the Alumni Student Scholars Program, each with the dream of becoming a doctor.

They both attended USD from 2008-2012 -- Lizz was a swimmer for the USD Swimming & Diving team and Robbie was a third-generation USD student. Their love for USD, the practice of medicine and each other is palpable. 

Here Lizz and Robbie talk about why they decided to move back home to South Dakota after completing residencies in New Mexico, their time at USD where they both received their bachelor and medical degrees and how they balance their busy careers with family.

USD: Why did you both choose to attend USD? 

Lizz: I have to give all the credit to Jason Mahowald, head coach of USD Swimming & Diving, for that one! I knew I wanted to stay in state. I fell in love with the swim program after Jason invited me for an official visit, and I was grateful to have received a a scholarship to swim. I was also pre-accepted to medical school through the Alumni Student Scholars Program.

Robbie: Coming from a family of USD graduates, USD was always number one in my mind. After receiving a combination of the Mickelson Scholarship and the Alumni Student Scholars Scholarship, which provided conditional acceptance to medical school, it was an easy decision to become a third-generation student at USD. 

USD: How did the two of you meet?

Robbie: We originally met as members of the Alumni Student Scholars program at USD and started dating during our senior year of undergrad. 

Lizz: Saying yes to a date with Robbie was, hands down, the best decision of my life.

USD: Let’s talk medical school. What years were you in med school, and what did you two choose to specialize in and why?

Lizz: We attended medical school at USD together from 2012 to 2016.

I chose Family Medicine because I love the idea of being “everyone’s doctor.” I also love making sure my patients are up to date with their immunizations and health care screenings. It’s so important!

Robbie: I chose to specialize in Ear, Nose and Throat, also known as Otolaryngology. I always planned on surgery and found that I loved head and neck anatomy during medical school. I really enjoy the variety and challenge of being a head and neck surgeon. It is a career that allows for me to care for all ages

USD: When it came time to get matched with a hospital for your residency, you two, being such stand-out students, got your top pick. Can you tell me where your residency was?

Robbie: We ended up matching at our first choice, which was the University of New Mexico for Otolaryngology for Robbie and Family Medicine for Lizz. 

Nicholas 1920x10803

USD: During your residency, you two accomplished a lot outside of school. Traveling? Marriage? A baby? Was it all bliss or was it a balancing act? Give us the real scoop on how you two are both so super-human.

Lizz: Whew. Definitely not super-human… but it has been a whirlwind. We graduated medical school, got married, moved halfway across the country and started residency all in a month’s time in 2016. We enjoyed each other and traveled frequently the first few years before being blessed with the most wonderful little miracle, Jane Margret, in March 2019. She is truly the most amazing little thing. She brings us so much joy and a much deeper purpose in life than we ever imagined was possible! Juggling everything has been HARD. But it’s worth it. Our secret? A joint Google calendar. It’s basically the key to every marriage. And if it’s not on the calendar, it’s not going to happen!

USD: Your residency was outside of the state. Did you at any point consider staying there after you completed, or have you always wanted to return to South Dakota?

The plan from the beginning has been to return to South Dakota. With a combination of most of our family still living there and a chance to provide care to the people we know best, it has always been an easy decision.

USD: So now what? What is next for both of your careers?

Robbie: Both of us are planning to join the Yankton Medical Clinic where I will practice general otolaryngology, and Lizz will practice family practice.

USD: What is it about this state and community that has you wanting to build your life here?

Lizz: That’s easy. It’s home. It always has been; it always will be. We have LOVED our time in New Mexico. We have built a life together here that we love. But it’s not home. South Dakota is full of amazing people who are so kind and always willing to help each other out. It feels like one big community, and we cannot wait to move back.

USD: What are the biggest challenges in each of your particular fields?

Lizz: It’s really hard to feel like I have to know everything. I take care of all ages and see people for basically everything. I am constantly reading and researching to make sure I’m up to date with the new guidelines and providing the most up-to-date care for my patients. 

Robbie:

The complexity of head and neck anatomy provides a very humbling teacher every day.

USD: What is the most rewarding part of each?

Lizz: I form really close and meaningful relationships with my patients. That’s the absolute best part. 

Robbie: It is extremely rewarding to be able to help patients with problems that significantly affect their day-to-day life including hearing, breathing and sleeping. The variety of the field forces me to always be on my toes and on top of my game.