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Scholarship Winner | Anya Gybina

Anya Gybina, Ph.D., here with her son, Alex Gybin-Leege, left a career in biochemistry to pursue medicine. (Photo: Jeff Frey)

Following a nontraditional path

When second-year University of Minnesota, Duluth medical student Anya Gybina, Ph.D., joined the Dr. Nancy English Memorial 5K Walk/Run on July 31, she was running in the footsteps of someone a lot like her.

Gybina is the first medical student to receive the Nancy I. English, M.D., Scholarship, which was designated for a woman medical student on the Duluth campus by English’s daughters, Hilary and Emily Crook; husband, Thomas Crook; and father, Blake English. Nancy English, a member of the Medical School Class of 1992, died suddenly in August 2008.

English’s family asked the school to select a scholarship recipient like Nancy—a woman who chose medicine as a second career, who is dedicated to community service, and who is eager to make a difference in her patients’ lives.

Gybina, a 30-year-old mother who left an academic career in biochemistry for medicine, perfectly matched the description.

Balancing work and life

Gybina did not know Nancy English personally, but she says she was captivated by a description of English she read in the scholarship announcement.

English was a nontraditional student who began medical school at age 37. She had a master’s degree in social work and had a career in that field until she decided to enter medical school on the Duluth campus in 1988. After earning her M.D., English completed the Duluth Family Medicine Residency Program and later practiced at P.S. Rudie, an independent clinic now affiliated with St. Luke’s Hospital. She served as chief of staff elect at St. Luke’s from 2006 to 2007 and as chief of staff there beginning in January 2008.

Despite the challenges of her new career, even when medical school required her to move to the Twin Cities area, English’s family says she always made time to attend school functions, recitals, and sporting events with her children and husband.

Gybina was impressed that English had the courage to follow her heart and take a chance on changing careers—particularly as a mother. After earning her Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Minnesota, Gybina made a similar choice, leaving a new postdoctoral fellowship to start medical school.

“Being a mother, too, and having taken a similar chance by leaving a nascent career in academic research to pursue medical school, I felt very drawn to Dr. English’s story and life,” Gybina says. “Not knowing exactly what awaited me in school and how I would measure up in my journey through medicine and motherhood, I wanted to know more about this inspiring woman who had done it so admirably.”

In talking with friends in Duluth, Gybina quickly found some of the many people whose lives English had touched. She learned how well regarded English was in the community as a doctor, citizen, and mother.

“I found a terrific role model … and felt more confident to make that same journey,” says Gybina, who plans to practice rural family medicine. “It gives me the freedom to live in a smaller community and be really connected with that community,” she says of rural medicine, noting that ties to the community and to the land also remind her of her native Russia, where her family lived before moving to Duluth when she was 10.

“It helps to have a vision,” Gybina says, “and Nancy’s life helped me with that vision.”

The family of Nancy English, M.D., established a scholarship for nontraditional women students in her memory. (Photo: Courtesy of Hilary Crook)

In their mother’s memory

Outside of work, Nancy English sewed, sang in two choirs, and played the piano, flute, and guitar. Cooking and running were also her passions.

After English died suddenly of cardiac arrest in August 2008 at age 57, Hilary and Emily, then 28 and 24, sought ways to memorialize their mom. In November 2008, they hosted the first annual walk/run in her memory.

They also established the Nancy I. English Foundation to help other nontraditional women students continue their education, and they endowed the Medical School scholarship that Gybina received.

So when Gybina took part in the Dr. Nancy English Memorial 5K Walk/Run last summer with her husband, Ryan Leege, and young son, Alex Gybin-Leege, she felt a special gratitude to English.

“Receiving this scholarship was not only an honor, it gave me faith that I could do this successfully,” Gybina says. “I feel a lot more connected to this person who was like me. My biggest wish is that I had known Nancy English and talked to her face-to-face.”

By Michelle Juntunen

To make a gift to the Nancy I. English Scholarship, visit www.mmf.umn.edu/giveto/english. To learn more about establishing another scholarship for medical students, contact Teri McIntyre at the Minnesota Medical Foundation, 612-625-5976, 800-922-1663, or t.mcintyre@mmf.umn.edu.

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