Now in her second year at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, Caroline Mueller, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of medical anatomy based on the Dublin campus. We sat down with her to learn more about her role at the college, research and what brought her here.
Q: Can you tell us about your background? Where are you originally from? Did you always want to enter the medical field?
A: I am originally from Cincinnati, Ohio (Who Dey!). I went to undergrad at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky. I then continued to migrate further south for my doctorate education in clinical anatomy in Jackson, Mississippi.
No, I didn’t really want to join the medical field. Since I was a little girl, I have always wanted to be an educator. I used to bribe my brother to “play school” with me, in which I would create lesson plans in the summer. What brought me to medicine, or medical education rather, was my brother. He survived multiple medical issues, and to this day, it is still a miracle he is alive! He was born with bilateral clubfeet; then in eighth grade, had a ruptured appendix; and then in high school he had a ruptured arachnoid cyst, resulting in five brain surgeries. After all of that, he is alive and well because of medicine. Because of this, I always wanted to learn more about the body and medicine. There is so much more to learn and discover, even with the case of my brother.
Q: What are your thoughts about the Heritage College’s body donor program?
A: Honestly, HCOM has an amazing manager of the body donor program, Lynn Waugh. She does everything with such intention and detail—she really works for the donor to ensure utmost respect. In the classroom, the students learn about the donor and treat them as their first teacher, teaching them medicine beyond what can be read in a textbook. We provide students with the donor’s actual first name, so that we can promote full respect of the donor—to say that this person had a life and we will honor them in a personal, kind way. Overall, I think HCOM does a great job.
Q: What would you say your duties and responsibilities entail as an assistant professor?
A: Asking the hard questions! One thing that is cool about being an anatomist is that every day is different. One day, I am sitting in meetings planning integrative lab (iLab) sessions; other days, I am working in the lab dissecting or prepping the lab; other days, creating content for iLab or gross anatomy labs. So, every day looks different! But, the best parts are the days with the students—when we are in the lab working on finding structures or pathology—and when the learning actually happens.
Q: Have there been any students thus far who have left a lasting impression on you?
A: Yes, many students, even though it is my second year teaching outside of doctoral school. One student specifically had a hard time opening up and was hard on themselves about succeeding. They were not sure if they were worthy to continue in their education. I had an honest, open conversation with them—telling them my struggles when I was in doctoral school. Sometimes you just need to be there as a support. Now, that individual has succeeded, graduated, and has been the president of multiple clubs—such a big, positive change! I love seeing that. The lesson I learned from this is to be open to students and let them know that you are a support for them.
Q: Are you working on any research projects?
A: Yes! I am currently working on a variety of projects ranging from medical education research, cadaveric research, etc. HCOM provides an awesome experience for any type of research, so you can be as creative as you want, within limits. Right now, I am working on examining the current climate for early career medical educators and their professional development needs; anatomy educators’ views on whole-body donation; educator milestones in medical education; vertebral artery variants; potential osteopathic manipulation effects on vertebral artery variants; and effects of different pedagogical techniques in the anatomy laboratory.
Q: How did you get into research related to body donation and medical education?
A: Specifically about whole body donation, I have the utmost respect for our whole body donors, and I wanted to understand the donors more, understand more about their lives, why they donate, and how we can fully honor our donors. They gave their bodies for us to learn and advance medicine; it is the least I can do to continue to honor their legacy.
Concerning medical education, I love being a teacher and educating, so it just makes sense that it falls in line with researching education and what methodologies are best for the learning environment. Teachers are forever learners; and the only way to provide students with the best experiences is to research and examine new ways to do things.
Q: What have you discovered in past research?
A: Specifically, through my work with whole-body donors, I have discovered how altruistic and caring individuals who donate their bodies are. They truly want to donate their bodies for a larger, greater purpose, which I am truly thankful for. Concerning medical education, I have discovered there are so many different methods to teaching, and they are ever evolving; but the more you research, the more you implement what the literature says, we can continue to provide our students with the best education. It is a never ending process, but that’s the fun in it – always learning!
Q: What would you say you’ve learned from your time at the Heritage College?
A: Patience. Learn from your mistakes and successes. Keep an open mind. Keep the students in mind. These are the things that came to mind right away. This is my second year of teaching and I have a lot to learn, so self-reflection has been very important to me. I want to provide my students with my best efforts in teaching—I want them to fully grasp the information, rather than memorize. Also, if I don’t know something, I will let them know and we will figure it out together. My ultimate goal is to be the best support for them in medical school, since as we know, it’s not a walk in the park, so that one day they can be the best support for their patients.