One couple’s journey through OUM


In 2014, OUM News featured a story about Lisa Cornforth, now a third-year student, and her attendance at an American Medical Student Association (AMSA) conference. It was through AMSA that she learned about, applied for, and was eventually accepted into a study tour where US and Canadian pre-med, medical students, and recent grads visited clinics and hospitals in Seattle and Vancouver to compare their healthcare systems. The story also included the unique career path which brought Lisa to OUM. But one very important component in her journey was missing from that story – Don Cornforth, Lisa’s husband.

Student profiles have tended to leave out wives, husbands, partners, and significant others. However, many students share how important their support is during the medical school journey and some do so with tears of gratitude.

So what has worked for the Cornforths during the medical school journey?

Not forever

“Our main message to ourselves has been the concept of ‘delayed gratification,’” says Lisa. “It’s hard to make personal sacrifices, but we remind each other that these challenging circumstances are not forever. Many times, we have not spent holidays with our families, such as Thanksgiving, Easter, Mother’s, or Father’s Day.”

Lisa also credits the maturity of her fellow OUM classmates as a valuable support through the challenges.

“Adult, non-traditional students aren’t inclined to quit when things get tough. They are more experienced at handling not getting what they want. If someone is studying to gain credentials so they can take care of other people one day, then they are probably accustomed to a lifestyle of giving and serving. They aren’t likely to be obsessed with working on their dream house or having to own their dream car,” she says.

Being self-motivated to study hard is a common trait of those who choose a program like OUM’s. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t distractions.

“The temptations are always there. We have to continuously make ourselves study because there is always someone or something trying to pull us away,” says Lisa. “Don recognized that early on. Consequently, he chose to take on the errands, shopping, cooking, cleaning, and bill paying, and he gets me out of the house at least every other day to go for a walk, kayak, or bike ride. One semester we even took a boot camp exercise class together.”

Classmate similarities

Like most OUM students, Lisa Cornforth had always wanted to be a doctor. She took all the pre-med courses during her undergraduate years at the University of Oklahoma, along with education courses, which qualified her for a B.S. in Science Education so she could teach high school sciences as an alternate plan. She applied to US medical schools twice in a 25-year period, but wasn’t accepted. After the disappointing news, Lisa decided to do something to help people with their health.

“I already enjoyed being part of a group exercise class, so the instructor asked me to come on board to teach,” she said. For seven years, Lisa frequently traveled with fellow instructors to maintain their certifications, also learning how to motivate other women to achieve their health goals.

Lisa was recruited away from teaching by a major Oklahoma oil company where she worked as a chemist to analyze oil and gas well samples. She utilized lab experiments and worked with engineers to custom-design treatments that would improve well productivity.

“It was a bit like examining and assessing a patient, then advising on a treatment plan,” Lisa says. Sadly, after only three years, the laboratory unexpectedly closed due to a downturn in the oil industry.

One more chance

This disappointment provided yet another opportunity to revisit the healthcare dream. Raising her daughter as a single parent, Lisa started graduate school at the University of Oklahoma, also working every morning and evening for a family that needed a private home health aide. During her graduate studies, she worked at the University’s Environmental Health division, conducting air and water quality tests. Later she assisted at an Oklahoma Health Sciences Center lab to analyze protein sequences, run chromatography, and perform gel electrophoresis. These experiences helped her to recognize the implications of occupational exposure to toxins, and the applications of biochemistry.

“But I still continued to think about patient care, traveling on weekends to learn about traditional Chinese medicine healing modalities and eventually deciding to become a registered nurse. After my daughter graduated from high school, I was determined to complete the nursing degree. Interestingly, I was finishing my final semester when I happened to click on an OUM NP-to-MD ad. Don and I were living in a small town without access to a medical university, so I was pleased to find OUM’s non-traditional program. It seemed like the perfect path to a medical degree without relocation or being apart from my family,” says Lisa.

The financial commitment was a big decision. Student loans had gotten her through nursing school, but that was not an option this time.  Don came up with the idea to pay tuition from his 401K retirement savings.

“I know it is a good investment in our future together,” he says.

While Don is clearly Lisa’s most enthusiastic cheerleader, he’s also a pretty good study partner and knows how to keep her focused.

“When we ride in the car, he asks me to teach him something, to practice explaining things to one of my future patients,” Lisa says. As a former high school physics and chemistry teacher, she knows from experience that if you are able to teach the concept, you know it

During her first year of medical school, Lisa quickly got involved in efforts to establish an AMSA chapter at OUM. She and Don went to AMSA’s national convention in New Orleans, meeting up with other OUM students and staff.

“It was a great way to celebrate and inaugurate our new organization. I also made great friends as an AMSA officer for two years. It’s a bonus to this journey, meeting face-to-face with other students at new student orientations and graduation ceremonies. I highly recommend traveling with your family, if possible, to at least one graduation, because it is truly inspiring,” she adds

Sacrifice will be worth it

Another example of Don and Lisa’s sacrifice for the medical school journey was spending their 18th wedding anniversary apart. They did agree, however, to take an anniversary trip after Lisa’s USMLE Step 1 is behind her later this month.

Don couples all his valuable support with a sense of humor, saying he has multiple nicknames for her, all pertaining to medicine. He also offers this advice to other family members and support systems like himself:

“Remind them often why they are going through this training. I consider it a privilege to help others fulfill a calling in their life. My mother was the head nurse of our small-town hospital, and her devotion to her job was evident to our family. I know that it matters to the well-being of our community that there are people who will provide care for other people’s loved ones, sometimes saving them from the tragedy of death.”