To a young teen worried about his mother’s health, nurses became his translators.
Physicians didn't always explain medical issues in layman's terms while Mason Montano's mother dealt with a rare autoimmune disease. She was frequently in and out of the hospital and going through years of chemotherapy that left her immunocompromised.
It was nurses who were able to communicate difficult medical concepts to the Green Valley High School honors student — now a fourth-year student at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV — and put him at ease. He came away from the experience with a desire to serve in that same capacity as he worked his way through college.
“I wanted to be that middle line person to kind of explain the situation to patients and loved ones," Montano said.
He enrolled in the UNLV School of Nursing, graduating in 2012. For the next six years, he worked as an intensive care unit nurse at St. Rose Dominican Siena Campus and the Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center. It was only after he started working as a nurse that Montano thought about becoming a doctor.
“I had zero intentions of going into medicine, becoming a physician,” he said. “But in the ICU I saw you could actually practice medicine, the science side of things, and have patient interactions that actually were meaningful. To actually have that kind of therapeutic conversation with people, helping them understand what the concern is — it made me bridge more into medicine.”
Today, Montano is the first student to graduate from the UNLV School of Nursing and work as a nurse before becoming a student at the School of Medicine.
Part of the desire to become a doctor in his own right came from an episode that highlighted the difference that team leaders could have in a medical setting. One of his patients' health suddenly cratered; how the physician in charge handled the crisis was eye-opening.
The patient, who had been on the mend, started severely bleeding from a tracheostomy site. The ICU doctor came in with a cool head and stemmed the bleeding long enough to allow her to perform a procedure to stop it entirely.
"Just watching her manage this acutely ill patient with a calm head and just seeing all of the accumulation of all her medical training and communication skills happening in front of me was amazing," Montano said. "I was like, 'Wow, I can appreciate this from a nursing perspective, but I want to be at the point of managing a whole team.'"
Montano hopes his background of working in clinical practice in the hospital, coupled with his interaction with patients, will give him a running start in working with medical teams as a physician.
“I think you can learn something from anybody, whether it be nurses, respiratory therapists, physical and occupational therapists, pharmacists, whoever is on your team. I would actually appreciate having a conversation with nurses. I know I appreciated that when doctors would talk to me when I was practicing as a nurse. I saw how important a team is when I worked at Desert Springs after the Oct. 1 shooting on the Strip.”
After his anticipated graduation in 2022, Montano plans on doing his residency in internal medicine and later doing a fellowship either in cardiology or in pulmonary critical care.
He plans to be as attentive in his medical practice as the nurses who helped his mother were when he was a teenager.
“If you go through the day just kind of getting through the day, would you feel comfortable with what you did today?” he asked. “Would you take care of your mom that way?”