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A Moment of Doubt: The Health Professionals

Our Alumni of the Year tell us what the learned when they dealt with deadly viruses, used a crate for a desk, and faced a life-altering medical crisis.

People  |  Nov 4, 2015  |  By Brian Sodoma, Cate Weeks
four portraits

Every year, the UNLV Alumni Association honors Rebels who stand out because of their impressive accomplishments — and this year’s crop certainly doesn’t disappoint. They’ve climbed to the top of corporate ladders. Tackled problems in their communities. And garnered international awards. But sometimes, just as with all of us, their biggest life lessons have come from times they felt a little clueless.

For this series, we've asked our outstanding alumni in the health professions tell us about A Moment of Doubt …

Dr. Matthew W. Schwartz… and dealing with deadly viruses

As a college student in the very early days of the Internet, my eyes were opened to how pairing advanced technology with the healing parts of medicine could increase the chance to save lives. I participated in undergraduate research with (former biology professor) Marcella McClure, and a team of graduate students. We collated and published DNA and RNA sequences of retro viruses, such as HIV, to find commonalities between them, and we worked with computer scientists, utilizing sophisticated models and software to crunch the data. I supposed it is less about being “clueless” per se … but it is likely what led me to my career. Now, daily, I use sophisticated tools and regularly research new and advanced technologies to help attack and cure cancer.

College of Sciences honoree Dr. Matthew W. Schwartz, ’96 BS Biology, is a radiation oncologist at Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada and serves as a member of the Radiation Executive  Committee of the U.S. Oncology Network. He participates in clinical research and has authored and co-authored several papers on cancer research.

Dr. Robert B. Hale... on how to handle my own health crisis

I experienced a debilitating stroke at 31 years of age. During the first few weeks of therapy, I focused mainly on relearning basic life skills. After a few months though, I started regaining significant strength, coordination, and dexterity on the side of my body that was affected by the stroke. For the first time I had the thought, “I think I am going to be able to practice again!” Several months of therapy and healing followed that thought, but eventually it came to fruition. 

The major lesson I’ve learned is the power that our thoughts have over our lives. Mahatma Gandhi’s teaching comes to mind. We may not have power or control over all of life’s circumstances, but we do have control over our thoughts; and our thoughts determine our destiny.

School of Dental Medicine honoree Dr. Robert B. Hale, ’09 DMD Dentistry, is a Salt Lake City-based endodontist who has published research on the healing rates of endodontic techniques in the International Journal of Dentistry. He received the Student Achievement Award in Endodontics from the American Association of Endodontists and was able to begin practicing in his field even after suffering a debilitating stroke only six weeks prior to completing his residency.

Margaret E. Covelli… as a new manager with no training

When I first became manager 20 years ago, (my director) basically told me there was no time for orientation and she would give me a “resource book” to help. As a novice, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I stumbled at times when I had to handle employee issues or deal with difficult colleagues. I barely knew how to use the computer

It took me a while to figure it all out, and I think I would have been better off had someone mentored me or given guidance on how best to educate myself on the demands of the role. Perhaps then I wouldn’t have sat in in my office so much trying to figure out what to do next!

School of Nursing honoree Margaret E. Covelli, ’12 PhD Nursing, was a member of the school’s inaugural doctor of nursing practice cohort and today is the chief nursing officer at Spring Valley Hospital. She was appointed to the Nevada State Board of Nursing’s Education Advisory Committee and is a past winner of the Distinguished Nurse of the Year honor from the Southern Nevada March of Dimes.

Scott Hillegass... and in charge at 23

I was recruited by a large health organization to build a long-term care unit. I was pretty much fresh out of college but had gained some experience running a facility like this with another company. On my first day, someone handed me a crate (apparently to hold my belongings) and told me to find workspace “somewhere.” For the next six months, I was desk-less and wandered from department to department sometimes with that silly crate as my chair. This was my research for building my own unit. 

To the managers, I was like a flu season with no end, an annoying kid with too many annoying questions. I was kicked out of the dietetics department for not having a hairnet. The nurses told me there was nothing to learn since I wasn’t a nurse; and I interviewed the maintenance guy on the roof while he fixed the AC system.  

After half a year, I finally learned enough to develop and run my own site. I still work for the company today and my new recruits are never handed a crate.

School of Community Health Sciences honoree Scott Hillegass, ’95 BS Health Care Administration, is president and CEO of Fundamental Clinical and Operational Services, a health care facility operator. He has more than 20 years of health care industry experience, including serving as vice president of Nevada Healthcare Administration, where he helped with the state’s conversion of its Medicare reimbursement system.