For Your Health
For Your Health

News from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences

Chance encounter

Drs. Michelle and Robert Bianco establish the Dr. Michelle K. Bianco Medical School Scholarship Endowment for UND medical students

“We met in the old medical school building,” wrote Dr. Michelle Bianco of that fateful moment in 1995 when she first bumped into her future husband — in the space that is today UND’s Columbia Hall. “I was lost and needed help with directions.”

And there was Robert Bianco. A graduate student in biochemistry at the time, like Michelle, the Bismarck native was in the former medical school building, Michelle said, and helped her find her way.

A friendship was forged that later led to dating and marrying.

From her home in Horace, N.D., the Class of 2001 grad of the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences M.D. program was keeping her written responses to my too-many questions both brief and direct.

Such concision was the necessary result of a year-old amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) diagnosis that has made answering any queries via phone or Zoom much more difficult.

“Email is best,” she wrote.

The Bianco Scholarship Endowment

Despite the difficult diagnosis, the levity with which Michelle approached sharing memories of her time at UND came through in her written responses. She is especially proud of the fact that the aforementioned chance meeting resulted not only in her eventual marriage to Robert, but, in time, the opportunity to help many future physicians cross the finish line.

In 2021, the couple established the Dr. Michelle K. Bianco Medical School Scholarship Endowment at the UND Alumni Association & Foundation in an effort to help UND medical students offset the rising cost of tuition.

“The scholarship will be awarded yearly to a student with financial need, a record of service, and good academic standing,” continued Michelle, noting that the service aspect of the gift gives preference to students with a military service background. “I was helped through high school and college by the generosity of donors through need- and academic-based scholarships. We both feel it’s important to give back in gratitude for what you have received.”

Choosing a path(ology)

Even though future scholarship recipients need not follow Michelle’s specific path in medicine, Michelle certainly wouldn’t mind.

“The genetic and molecular basis of disease has revolutionized how we diagnose and treat illnesses,” wrote the now pathologist. “In my field of hematopathology, the genetic and molecular findings were essential in the proper diagnosis of hematologic malignancies, such as leukemia and lymphoma. In addition, these findings often influenced treatment and prognosis, which was essential for the clinicians treating the patient.”

Such a path wasn’t a foregone conclusion though, admitted Michelle, adding that as a young student she imagined she would end up in pediatrics.

“I adore children. But after taking the pathology course, I was very drawn to pathology,” she said of her specialty choice, adding that internal medicine too caught her eye as a student. “I’m a visual learner, and many aspects of pathology appealed to me. I found that pathology, in addition to a fellowship in hematology, was the best of both worlds. It allowed me to use my visual skills while taking the clinical picture into account.”

So it is that after a wedding in 2000, and a 2001 graduation (Robert took his doctoral degree from UND in 2002), Michelle and Robert ended up in Iowa City as Michelle pursued a pathology residency and hematology fellowship at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, while Robert undertook a post-doctoral research position in the university’s Internal Medicine Department.

Coming home

The family returned to North Dakota in 2006, settling in the Fargo area, where Michelle practiced. They were drawn back to the Red River Valley not only because the region is home for both her and Robert, Michelle said, but because they felt a pull to serve the region that had given them so much.

“After living out-of-state, I had a strong desire to return home,” noted Michelle. “Serving the community and region where I grew up was important to me, and I was blessed to do so for over fifteen years.”

Of course, being closer to UND’s hockey program didn’t hurt.

“We were big hockey fans, enjoying games in the old and new arena,” Michelle added shortly after seeing UND defeat Holy Cross at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Oct. 2022. “The relationships we had with students, faculty, and clinical mentors made the whole learning experience memorable, with graduation day being the culmination of years of hard work.”

As with so many games the pair took in around the turn of the century, UND won that night.

Of course, hockey is not the family’s only sport of choice. Having started fencing at UND through the university’s fencing club, and competing regionally while the pair were in Iowa, Robert led the way in founding the Fargo-Moorhead Fencing Club earlier this century. This competitive club participates in the Minnesota high school league in Minneapolis.

“Robert coached both our daughters, Anna and Elise, who participate in the sport,” said Michelle, who has served as the club’s cheerleader, photographer, and lead fundraiser. “Anna has competed regionally and nationally.”

Such opportunities are among the many reasons, Michelle said, that there’s nowhere else she’d want to raise her children.

“Becoming a physician was one of the highlights of my life,” she reflected. “Completing my medical education at UND was a fabulous experience. We were in a medical school with faculty who were committed teachers and mentors. During my clinical years of training, our firsthand experience was much greater than many large medical schools. I was well prepared and competitive when it came to applying for residency programs. I feel thankful for my education at UND.”

To contribute to the Dr. Michelle K. Bianco Medical School Scholarship Endowment, contact Jeff Dodson at or visit the UND Alumni Association & Foundation online at

By Brian James Schill