On a day in the DMU life of Michelle Brenner, D.O.’19, you might have found her presiding over a meeting of the Pediatrics Club, of which she was a first-year liaison. She could have been volunteering at St. Baldrick’s Day, the annual campus event where students and employees trim their locks or lose them altogether to raise money for pediatric cancer research.
During DMU’s annual Senior Health Fair, she helped with healthy cooking demonstrations in the wellness center kitchen; on some Fridays, she was belting out tunes with kids at Gigi’s Playhouse, which provides therapeutic and educational programs to individuals with Down syndrome and their families. Or she may have been performing on her viola with the Des Moines Community Orchestra or the DMU Chamber Ensemble, which performs at the University’s annual body donor memorial and gives monthly concerts at Wesley Acres, the retirement community next door to campus.
And, of course, all that was happening when Brenner wasn’t studying, serving as a teaching assistant in osteopathic manual medicine, doing research with biochemistry/nutrition Assistant Professor Elitsa Ananieva, Ph.D., or hanging out with friends.
For her many accomplishments and activities, Brenner was nominated by her classmates and selected by the Student Government Association members as DMU’s 2017-2018 D.O. Student of the Year.
Brenner’s path to medical school wasn’t always clear. “I always loved science and the ways things work. I wanted to become an astronaut, but I have terrible vision,” she says. “I really like the idea of being able to help people.”
Brenner didn’t land a medical school interview after she graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “I like to tell people I took a five-year gap year, which I did,” she says. She became a research technologist at the Wisconsin Blood Center, a research organization, and then earned a master’s degree in clinical and translational science at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “I thought I could become a clinical research coordinator,” she says.
While working as a research technologist, Brenner also learned from a family friend about health service opportunities in Guatemala. Fluent in Spanish, she participated in three one-week trips through Woodlands Church in Stevens Point, WI. That’s how she met Dan Kraeger, D.O.’87, a sports medicine physician in Stevens Point who helped her understand osteopathic medicine and told her about DMU. She checked out the University, got an interview and enrolled.
“What drew me here was that it felt like a family among the students and faculty, who have an open-door policy,” she says. “Medical school was going to be rough enough; you might as well enjoy it as best you can.”
Now on rotations with an eye to a career in pediatrics, Brenner was surprised and humbled by being named Student D.O. of the Year. “I have a lot of really talented classmates,” she says.