When Britt Hanson came to DMU for her interview day, she connected with a former elf who would become her academic adviser.
Tom Mueller, Ph.D., associate dean for admissions and student affairs for the College of Osteopathic Medicine (COM), shared that he had once been an elf at Santa’s Village in the Chicago area, where he and Hanson hail from. “I found it so hilarious,” she says. “He wasn’t afraid to make fun of himself or laugh at himself. I was so happy when I found out he was my adviser.”
Hanson, D.O.’05, learned what that meant after doing poorly on her first exam. “Dr. Mueller said he hoped I’d do better on the next test,” she recalls. Now board-certified in hematology, internal medicine and medical oncology, Hanson practices with North Shore University Health Systems and North Shore Medical Group in the Chicago area. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God, Dr. Mueller is watching over me!’
“He was my dad away from home,” she adds. “He came to my wedding in Chicago. He’s caring and compassionate.”
That’s a common description for the guy with the big smile, the claustrophobically cluttered office and the natty neckwear, including the iconic smiley-faced tie he wears three times during each COM class’s tenure: orientation, the Rite of Passage and Commencement. Mueller and that tie will make their last official appearance at graduation on May 23, as he’ll conclude his 23-year tenure at the University this summer.
“There are several great educators at DMU; however, Dr. Mueller is one of a kind,” says Amanda Eilers, D.O.’11, a cardiothoracic surgery resident at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. She received a note from Mueller after her interview day that referenced some of her hobbies and career interest. “That served as a true testament that Dr. Mueller sincerely cared and made our interaction personal. Compared to other medical schools I interviewed at, DMU had a different atmosphere, personal and family-like. Dr. Mueller was a significant component.”
After working as a research scientist at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, and teaching at the University of Tennessee and Indiana University, Mueller joined the DMU faculty in 1992 as associate professor in the microbiology department. He served as department chair from 1995 to 2003 and remains a professor, but for the past 15 years one of his chief roles, as COM’s associate dean for admissions and student affairs, has been giving prospective students their first impression of DMU on their interview days. Self-described as people-oriented but not naturally comfortable talking in front of a group, Mueller decided that instead of lecturing to the group for an hour, he would invite the candidates to share something about themselves.
“That’s been a great ice-breaker that lets students relax a bit and begin getting to know each other as a group,” he says, noting that over the years several students later became roommates as a result.
Mueller bookends students’ COM experiences by producing, as they prepare to apply for residencies, a “performance evaluation” for each one. Like the notes he’s sent to Eilers and other students post-interview day, he strives to make this summary of each student’s academic, extracurricular and service record, both at DMU and before they enrolled, as comprehensive and personalized as possible.
“It’s important to show we know our students,” he says. “I like DMU’s small school environment and the opportunity to help others learn and fulfill their dreams. The best parts of my DMU experience have been the great faculty and students. I hope I’ve helped them be happy they came here, have a good experience and reach their goals as a result.”