Shaunicy Sturm, a member of the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV Class of 2026, is the kind of individual who goes on Instagram to share a quotation she came across: “We are all going to die, the difference is the intensity with which we choose to live.”
“The quote [largely attributed to the late Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida] doesn’t have a substantially deeper meaning, only that I was inspired by it,” Sturm says. “I think given the career I’ve chosen, I am more aware of death and how easily it can come, so I keep this statement as a reminder of pursuing my best life every day.”
At first blush, Sturm seems decidedly uncommon, wonderfully distinctive, much like her first name. And that assessment of the 5-foot-tall, 24-year-old who’s been nationally ranked in past years by the U.S. Equestrian Federation only becomes more solidified the more you learn about her.
- She’s raised thousands of dollars in charitable donations for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, largely as a result of her excellence in equestrian events.
- As an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer In Service To America) fluent in Spanish, Sturm worked as a medical assistant at a rural Utah clinic performing administrative tasks and clinical duties, including patient intake, vital sign monitoring, interpreting for Hispanic patients, COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, drawing lab analysis samples, and creating diabetic education plans. Prior to medical school, she trained as an advanced emergency medical technician.
- As a board member of the Sturm Family Foundation since she was 17, she’s helped direct assistance to institutions that include the Ruvo Center, Opportunity Village, Three Square Food Bank, and International Medical Corps.
- She trains regularly to ensure she can control a 1,000-pound horse, building up her endurance by running miles and by lifting hundreds of pounds of weights through squats, deadlifts, and bench presses.
- At her alma mater, the University of Southern California, Sturm, a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor, built custom exercise programming for the recreational sports program that resulted in 90% repeat business from clients. She also designed classes to match skills and abilities of participants resulting in a 200% enrollment increase.
One of Roland and Terri Sturm’s three children, Sturm grew up on a ranch in far northwest Las Vegas, near Gilcrease Orchards. Her parents, now retired, were both in real estate. Her father, “Rollie,” long known as one of Southern Nevada’s largest real estate developers, co-founded the Developers of Nevada and started Southwest Homes. Her mother founded and served as CEO of Territory Inc., a Las Vegas-based development company and a market leader among retail developers. Along with her husband, she established the Terri and Roland V. Sturm Family Foundation that contributes to Nevada, national and international charities, including International Medical Corps., which, while having a mission similar to Doctors Without Borders, also works to establish lasting medical infrastructures in needy countries.
“As a child, my life revolved around the ranch, taking care of our horses and helping to maintain the ranch, while playing with my sisters and our only neighbors,” says Sturm. “As an infant, my mother would hold me as she rode horseback. I practically learned to ride a horse as soon as I could walk.”
She is part of a family that runs the business Stolen Aces Farm, which breeds Morgan horses, one of the earliest horse breeds developed in the U.S.. She finds riding horses a joy, a way of relaxing after taxing medical studies.
“You have to have a very strong partnership with a horse to really enjoy it,” says Sturm. “It’s then very freeing. You feel the wind in your face. It’s exhilarating. Such incredible trust is involved. At any moment a horse could just stop and you’d go flying. It’s the two of you in this together, a true partnership."
That partnership has been evident in Sturm’s rise to national prominence in the Classic Pleasure Division of equestrian events, where a horse is judged on their manners and obedience, projecting an impression of being a pleasure to ride.
“It’s an event that shows how well a horse responds to you,” says Sturm, whose medical studies have temporarily sidelined her involvement in national equestrian events. “It’s a partnership I truly enjoy. I can’t imagine a life without horses.”
A Life in Medicine
There was no specific experience early in life, Sturm says, that served as a direct catalyst for her choosing medicine as a career. “What I have is a life full of moments that inspired me to the calling.”
At four years old, in what she calls a “silly childhood dispute,” Sturm got her finger slammed into a drawer that resulted in a laceration down to the bone. “It resulted in multiple stitches and a four-week cast. I clearly recall staring wide-eyed at the doctor who had a needle in my skin, filled with admiration rather than fear. My newfound fascination with medicine was undeniable.”
Five years later, when Sturm says her horse was “precariously pregnant with twins,” she was tasked by veterinarians and her parents to decide which embryo would be allowed to grow. “It was then that I realized that doctors have a certain power over life and death.”
The follicle Sturm chose would end up as a filly that, unfortunately, would later be euthanized due to a dangerous spinal malformation. “I’ll never know if the other embryo had a better outlook, but I made the best choice I could with the information I had at the time. Isn’t that what medicine is?”
Sturm says witnessing a heart procedure at Keck Hospital of USC that saw a medical team “physically fix a broken heart” went a long way toward convincing her that surgery would be her specialty should she attend medical school after her undergraduate work at USC.
“Being a surgeon, to me, means being able to make a difference for your patient right away. It means being able to change a patient’s life so that they wake up to a better future … I look forward to being a doctor and all of the moments I can give to others.”