Love in the Anatomy Lab: From Medical School Romance to Successful Life Partnerships

Friday, March 1, 2013

The UA College of Medicine – Tucson’s history is dotted with stories of couples whose relationships bloomed during long hours of training and study, and grew into lifetime partnerships.

Two couples, Scott and Katy Berger (formerly Katy Hicks) and Chris and Susan Burke (formerly Susan Kunesh), all from the Class of 1987, reconnected in October at the 2012 UA College of Medicine – Tucson Reunion. 

Their stories evolved differently, but both couples exemplify what it means to balance their dynamic professional lives as physicians with a commitment to marriage and children, and love that endures.

Scott and Katy Berger’s connection began in gross anatomy class, when Scott invited Katy to be part of his lab team. “We met over a cadaver,” Scott said. Somehow, it was there and then that their relationship began to bloom – gradually, as Scott recalled.

“ For the first year or so, we were just really good friends,” Scott said. “Katy and I and several of our mutual friends went out together a lot. Katy and I got to know each other slowly, since we didn’t have a lot of free time. But we’ve had 26 years, so far, so I guess it worked for us.”

Katy and Scott graduated from the UA in 1983. They entered medical school that fall, became engaged in July 1985 and married in March 1986.

Their engagement was prompted in part by the fact that they were facing their third year of medical school and needed to start making plans for their residencies.

“We decided we would apply as a couple,” Katy said. After graduating from the UA College of Medicine in June 1987, they headed off to the University of Texas at San Antonio – Katy in pediatrics, and Scott in anesthesiology.

Today they live in Louisville, Colo., outside of Boulder. Katy described her practice as a general pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente: “I appreciate the ability to focus on patient care rather than running a business. We are an integrated system, which allows us to be more efficient, have better communication with specialists and contain costs. We are the wave of the future!”

The Bergers’ son, Reid, 22, is studying business at the University of Northern Colorado. Their daughter, Alex, 21, is studying broadcast journalism at the University of Colorado. “Neither was interested in a medical career, and couldn’t be convinced to leave Colorado. We are lucky to live in such a beautiful area!”

As UA undergraduates, Katy became close friends with one of her Kappa Kappa Gamma sisters, Susan Kunesh, who met the love of her life at a UA College of Medicine gathering for first-year students.

But was it love at first sight? “Pretty much,” said Chris Burke. “We just hit it off right away. It certainly wasn’t an expectation. It just kind of happened.”

“We started dating, and then we got engaged a year later and we got married a year after that,” said Susan Burke.

Being in a relationship, then planning their lives together, created a distraction from the demands of medical school – but in a good way, Susan said.

“It created a good diversion,” she said.  “Obviously, we both had to study. But also it was nice to have something else going on in our lives at the same time. It was a nice balance for us. A lot of our time together was spent studying. All our classes were together the first couple of years, so we would study and then make dinner together. And we both were going through the same thing, so we understood that we couldn’t go out and play all the time.”

The couple married in May 1985, between their second and third years of medical school. After graduating in 1987, they did their residencies in Phoenix: Susan in pediatrics at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and Chris in internal medicine at what is now Banner Good Samaritan Hospital and the Phoenix Veterans Administration Health Care System.

Chris is chief of primary care at the Veterans’ hospital in Phoenix; Susan is in private practice with five other pediatricians in Scottsdale.

She especially enjoys the continuity that comes with following her patients over several years. “I have many patients that I have seen from birth to college,” she said. “Getting to know them and helping them through good times and bad is very rewarding. I hope that I have been able to be a positive influence in their lives. I am also extremely fortunate to have a wonderful group of partners to work with who are true friends.”

Both of the Burkes children are planning careers in medicine. Sean, 21, is a senior at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. Megan is 18 and a freshman at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles.