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CMU med school’s investment in busy mom pays off big time

Kuechenmeister finds time to earn degree, make impact

Contact: ​Jeff Johnston

​Everyone was nice enough, but the doubt filling the room was unmistakable.

One screening team after another balked during Amy Kuechenmeister's seemingly fruitless search for a medical school.

She certainly had the credentials for a top-notch student: She earned a bachelor's degree in neuroscience at Central Michigan University and a master's degree as a physician assistant/child health associate from the University of Colorado-Denver.

But she also had three girls — all under the age of 10.

"Many programs looked at that as a negative," the Rochester Hills, Michigan, woman recalled just weeks before graduating as part of the CMU College of Medicine's inaugural class.

"They were like, 'Wow, that's a lot. Medical school's hard enough as it is, and we don't know if you can do it with three girls.'"

The answer turned out to be no farther than where her college career began, in Mount Pleasant.

Kuechenmeister was delighted when she and her husband, Kevin, learned a few years ago that her alma mater was creating its own medical school. She relished an opportunity to revisit a familiar community and happy memories of CMU academics and professors.

A bonus: CMU didn't blink at the idea of Kuechenmeister's family.

"CMU never once made me feel that way," she said of her CMU entrance interview. "They never had anything but support for me and confidence that I was the right fit for them, and they were the right fit for me.

"It just clicked."

Making the most of things

Kuechenmeister made the most of her opportunity.  She ranked in the top 10 percent of her class all four years in med school, formed a group that mentors girls and women interested in medicine, worked on clothing and food drives, and received honors from the university and her student colleagues.

Kuechenmeiser_gold_humanism.jpgThat's with the family and a part-time job.

"Amy's just really, really outstanding," said Charmica Abinojar, the College of Medicine's executive director of student affairs and a person who knows the soon-to-be grads as well as anyone. "She's one of our superstars."

Right away Kuechenmeister noticed a lot of area high school students on the brink of becoming first-generation college freshmen. She found they really didn't have mentors who could prepare them for the transition.

Especially girls interested in medicine. That prompted Kuechenmeister to create CMU's Women in Medicine student organization, a group also known by a two-syllable nickname: FEMMED.

She approached local high schools and linked students with CMU undergrads pursuing similar fields of interest. Kuechenmeister, in turn, connected the undergrads with physician assistant, physical therapist and medical doctor mentors at the university.

There were guest speakers, special projects, science nights and science camps. They all proved a hit at the high schools – and even the middle and elementary schools.

"And it's still going," Kuechenmeister said. "That's one of the things I'm happiest about, being able to leave something behind."

Warmth in more ways than one

Kuechenmeister also co-founded the College of Medicine's emergency medicine student interest group. Activities included suturing and EKG clinics. The group also donates gloves, socks and other clothing items to a care provider that distributes them to homeless people on Saginaw-area streets.

Gloves and socks fend off frostbite where it strikes first, the fingers and toes.

"Just a warm pair of socks can be lifesaving," she said.

It's all part of the college's mission to help the underserved. Kuechenmeister expects many opportunities to help the homeless at her emergency medicine residency at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing. The city has a diverse population, she said, including many homeless.

Her work has received well-deserved recognition. CMU's Office of Student Activities and Involvement has honored Kuechenmeister as Outstanding Student Leader and FEMMED as Outstanding New Student Organization.

And last year, Kuechenmeister's compassion earned her membership into the Gold Humanism Honor Society, a national organization.

Today, those "disheartening" interviews seem like a world away, and the girls are growing up. Autumn is 12, Kara is 10, and Skyler is 7.

"My family made me who I am."

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