Ava Stanczak was 9 years old when she decided she wanted to be a doctor, however, a lack of female role models made realizing that dream initially seem out of reach.

“Back in the ’50s, females were teachers, mommies, and nurses,” Dr. Stanczak says. “So, I ended up studying music at North Texas. I taught for a year, was going to starve, got married and had three kids. I didn’t go to medical school the traditional way.”

At almost 30-years-old, Dr. Stanczak was a single parent working full-time as a respiratory therapist while going to medical school at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. Today, Dr. Stanczak is certified in pediatrics by the American Osteopathic Board of Pediatrics and in urgent care by the American Board of Urgent Care Medicine. She has 35 years of experience teaching pediatric medicine to medical students and has worked in private practice as a pediatrician since 1986, focusing on traditionally underserved populations and specializing in caring for kids and adults with special needs.

In addition to seeing patients, Dr. Stanczak has also served as the department chair of pediatrics at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine and has been the chair of pediatric and adolescent medicine for the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners since 2014. Dr. Stanczak is a Costin Scholar from the Costin Institute for Osteopathic Educators and has been a professor at several medical schools across the country—most recently at the Lincoln Memorial University – DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine in Harrogate, Tennessee, where she was department chair of pediatrics and assistant dean.

Dr. Stanczak has made helping underserved communities a focal point in her career and hopes to instill that same empathy into the students with whom she works in her new role as the chair for primary care and professor of pediatrics at the proposed Kansas Health Science Center-Kansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (KHSC-KansasCOM).

“I have a special passion for children and people with special needs. It’s a real personal thing to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves. I’ve always done that—in my practice and in every day of my life—and I’d like to bring that here. Students need to be exposed to that kind of community service while in medical school,” Dr. Stanczak says.

Dr. Stanczak is also passionate about the importance of including early clinical experiences into a medical school curriculum, something she has experience with at other schools and plans on bringing with her to the proposed KHSC-KansasCOM.

“Students have told me over the years that they wished they could do something in the first two years to break up or enhance sitting in a classroom,” Dr. Stanczak says. “So, one of the things I put together in the past was a community-based clinical experience students could start in their first year.”

Dr. Stanczak believes early clinical experiences are a win-win situation with students getting real-world opportunities to expand their learning and the community gaining access to additional medical care.

“I think Wichita needs it,” she says. “It also helps other physicians in the community by getting them into our school, helping us teach our students.”

Along with helping design the curriculum for the proposed KHSC-KansasCOM, Dr. Stanczak is also involved in the accreditation process and recruiting additional faculty members.

When asked what excites her the most about the proposed KHSC-KansasCOM, Dr. Stanczak mentioned its nonprofit status, small class sizes, and vision of teaching osteopathic manual medicine principles first and integrating everything else into that – which was the same vision American founder of osteopathy, Andrew Taylor Still, had for the American School of Osteopathy in 1892.

In her personal life, Dr. Stanczak and her husband have seven children, two of which are adopted, and have been a foster parent to close to 100 others.

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