By Terri Finch Hamilton
Adapted from Centralight Fall 2020
Dr. Amy Kuechenmeister
Dr. Amy Kuechenmeister had already seen a lot of trauma in hospital emergency rooms. Then came COVID-19.
She hadn't even finished her three-year residency in the emergency department at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Michigan, and she was in the midst of the greatest health crisis of our time.
"It's weird, but you feel like you were picked, that you were supposed to be here at this certain time to fight this illness," Kuechenmeister said. "I just think about all the things that trained me to be prepared to handle this."
Kuechenmeister is used to drama — right from the beginning of her medical school journey, when she entered the Central Michigan University
College of Medicine's inaugural class in 2014.
“When people say you can’t do something, it’s based on what they think they could or couldn’t do. But they don’t know you.” — Dr. Amy Kuechenmeister
The night before her first big anatomy exam, she returned to her house to find the power was out. The electric company had turned it off because she owed $500. So she studied for her exam by flashlight.
From the very start, she longed to be a doctor who could treat patients who struggled, living with no insurance in places where there was little or no access to medical care.
Today, she's doing just that after some monumental struggles of her own.
When Kuechenmeister started applying to medical schools, she had three young daughters. Friends suggested she should keep quiet about having kids and needing to work as she attended school.
"But I didn't want to go to a place that didn't want me for who I am," she said.
When she secured an interview at CMU's College of Medicine, she asked the board if she could bring her daughters along.
"I told them, 'This isn't just my decision. I'm uprooting them. It affects them, too.'"
No problem, they said. They brought the girls doughnuts.
"The board was proud of the fact that I had a family," Kuechenmeister said. "Other schools told me, 'This will be impossible.'"
She doesn't believe in "never."
"When people say you can't do something, it's based on what they think they could or couldn't do," she said. "But they don't know you. They don't know what you can do. So, don't listen to them."
Her daughters were 4, 7 and 9 when she started medical school.
She and husband Kevin sold their Detroit-area home and moved to a smaller house in Mount Pleasant, where Autumn, Kara and Skyler had to share a bedroom.
Toiling through challenging classes, she worked every weekend and at night, often 100 hours a week.
Kevin, who managed the home front and bolstered her dream, lost his job that first year. Meanwhile, Kuechenmeister struggled with Crohn's disease.
Everything takes sacrifice, she said. "It was on me not to lose my drive and motivation. I never wanted to do anything more than this."
Before med school, she spent five years as an emergency room physician assistant at Beaumont Hospital in Troy.
She longed to provide free medical care to the uninsured, but as a PA, her hands were tied. CMU was a perfect fit.
"When I worked in Detroit, people would drive there from mid-Michigan and from up north because there aren't enough doctors where they live," she said.
Kuechenmeister loves CMU's mission to train doctors who want to work in Michigan's underserved areas.
She graduated in 2017 in the top 10% of her class, then started a three-year residency at Sparrow Hospital.
She finished in June, after a few harrowing months on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. After a much-needed break in July, she started her job practicing emergency medicine at MidMichigan Health in Mount Pleasant, Alma and Gratiot.
"I'm excited I'll finally be in a place to help patients on a level I've always wanted," Kuechenmeister said.