March 2016: Svjetlana Dolovcak

Any good teacher will tell you that “the calling” of the profession is a real thing. To do the job well takes a dedication that goes beyond the satisfaction that comes from minor, daily successes. What’s necessary to sustain a teacher through bad times is a deep commitment and a willingness to continue giving all of oneself. Dr. Svjetlana Dolovcak, third-year fellow in the Division of Immunology, has found her calling.

“I have been interested in science and teaching since elementary school,” Dr. Dolovcak says. After finishing her medical degree at the University of Zagreb in Croatia’s capital, she accepted a post-doctoral position at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. But the decision “was not an easy one,” she says. “I did not know anyone on this side of the world. It was my first time even on an airplane.”

Dr. Dolovcak worked hard to adapt to the new language and culture. “Everything in Texas is big. . . . I was lucky to find people with ‘big hearts’ too.” A supportive community—which included the man who would become her husband—and a shared passion for the work helped. She says she “learned so much so quickly.” Her research and a number of well-placed publications focused mainly on liver physiology and pathology.

After her post-doc it was time to adapt to a whole new city. She fell in love with Chicago right away: “It was much more European than Dallas and I felt at home.” But her residency’s demands at University of Illinois at Chicago’s Weiss Memorial Hospital made exploring the city difficult. The long hours, long winters, and long distance from her husband all presented Dr. Dolovcak with significant challenges. She persevered and in the process got greater clarity about her specialty. “I am not sure when it happened . . . but I simply knew that I wanted to be an immunologist.”

Because Dr. Dolovcak wanted to study “the whole spectrum of immunology,” the dual-track fellowship at Iowa was a natural fit for her. She is the first fellow in this new and rigorous program. It allows her to achieve certification in both the Allergy/Immunology and Rheumatology pathways more quickly than doing each individually. She says that she has loved living “in this green and friendly place” and working with faculty she admires.

Those colleagues feel similarly about her. Dr. Scott Vogelgesang, Director of the Division of Immunology says, “Lana has a rare combination of intelligence and humility. . . . She is tireless in tracking down details in her medical care.” Dr. Mary Beth Fasano, Program Director of the Allergy/Immunology fellowship, says, “She is admired and respected by her peers . . . A wonderful physician to have as a member of our team.” Dr. Rebecca Tuetken praises her choice to enter the dual-track fellowship, which gives her “a unique perspective in evaluating patients with rheumatologic disease manifestations . . . but also show signs of immunodeficiency.” Another fellow on the dual-certification track, Dr. Bharat Kumar, calls her “a pioneer” and says, “She works exceptionally hard and yet always has a smile on her face. She is exactly what the University needs.”

Dr. Dolovcak has been happy here at Iowa, where “the pieces are finally coming together.” It is where she “regained (her) passion for medicine.” Her husband has since joined her in Iowa City and the two of them “enjoy traveling, dancing, and cooking.” She’s also finally confirmed that she wants to “help medical students and residents to learn and find their own way in their journeys.” After hearing about Dr. Dolovcak’s own journey and the lessons she’s worked so hard to learn, it’s clear that any student would benefit greatly from her guidance.

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