Rising Star Award recipient practices with a philosophy of “servant leadership”

The recipient of DMU’s inaugural Rising Star Award, Jennifer Kendall, D.O.’07, epitomizes the purpose of the award: to honor a graduate of the past 15 years who has made early and significant contributions to her profession, practice and community.

Jennifer Kendall, D.O.’07
Jennifer Kendall, D.O.’07

Photos of preschool-aged Jennifer Kendall, D.O.’07, include some taken of her playing with a toy doctor’s kit. “My mom always said, ‘You have a nice healing touch,’” she says. It wasn’t until years later, however, that she first learned about osteopathic medicine from an undergraduate friend, Jason Staszko, D.O.’04.

“In his first year at DMU, he contacted me and said, ‘Jenny, you have to apply to become a D.O.,’” she recalls. “He told me that osteopathic medicine is everything I hoped medicine would be and everything I always knew medicine should be. That really spoke to me.”

The osteopathic philosophy of holistic health care appealed to her, but she was initially hesitant about osteopathic manual medicine (OMM) because of a bad experience she’d had with a chiropractor. She soon realized it was a very different approach. Kendall was accepted in the College of Osteopathic Medicine’s OMM fellowship program, an additional year of medical school during which students provide supervised care for patients with musculoskeletal disorders, teach first- and second-year medical students in lectures and hands-on labs, and conduct OMM research.

“Osteopathic medicine is such a powerful tool for treating patients who have pain and making them feel so much better,” she says. Her mentors included Adrian Woolley, D.O.’95, and Jose Figueroa, D.O.’95, both assistant professors and physicians in DMU’s OMM Clinic. Also a physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) physician, Figueroa taught her about his specialty.

“I absolutely fell in love with it. I could treat patients of all ages, focus on their function and help them achieve their health goals,” she says.

Now a PM&R physician at the Spine and Rehabilitation Clinic of M Health Fairview, the largest medical provider in Minnesota, Kendall and her colleagues provide patients comprehensive care for spine pain, including OMM, PM&R, spinal injections and surgery. She also takes her love of osteopathic medicine beyond patient care. A member of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) Board when she was a PM&R resident at the University of Michigan, in July she was elected second vice president of the AOA. She currently is president-elect of the American Osteopathic College of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AOCPMR).

Kendall also recently concluded a two-year term as president of the Minnesota Osteopathic Medical Society, and she is the governor-appointed D.O. representative on the state’s Board of Medical Practice, the licensing board that oversees multiple health professions.

“I feel the need to give back when there is an opportunity to serve and lead,” she says. “With all the challenges we face in medicine and will continue to face, we need leaders who are willing to advocate for our patients, colleagues, students and residents. And I hope I can be that role model for other women physicians who are coming up behind me.”

She also “gives back” as a preceptor, including for DMU osteopathic medical students. “They are the next generation of physicians who are going to be taking care of myself and my family, so I want to make sure they have excellent training,” she says. “I love that students always make sure that I’m at the top of my game. They keep me reading the literature, making sure that I’m teaching them the absolutely most up-to-date information to care for patients.”

Working with DMU students is a way to give back to the University, too. “I’m so glad that I applied and was accepted to DMU,” she says. “I liked that the University fostered a culture of teamwork and collaboration. You always felt like you could ask other students for help, that it wasn’t a competition to see who would be the best, that we could all succeed together.”

Kendall prizes the friends she met at DMU, including husband Dan Thomas, D.O.’07, now an emergency medicine physician whom she calls “my best friend and the love of my life.” She is regularly in touch with a group of DMU classmates, women “who support each other through everything that we go through as moms and physicians,” she says. She often sees fellow alumni at professional events, including the national AOCPMR conference. One of her M Health Fairview colleagues is Jason Holgers, D.O.’06, also a former OMM fellow; they met on her first day of medical school.

“She is a phenomenal friend and colleague,” he says. “She’s very caring and compassionate with all of her patients and friends, and she has always been very focused on the advancement of osteopathic medicine and the advancement of women in osteopathic medicine.”

Kendall is adept at balancing that focus with life beyond medical practice. She and her husband have a 10-year-old daughter, Sophie. Kendall enjoys power lifting – “there are a lot of health benefits that come with that” – as well as Irish dancing. She was a big fan of the show “Riverdance” in high school, but she didn’t try the traditional dance form until she turned 39. She now performs with members of a local dance studio.

“I love the music and have made great friends, and it’s a great workout,” she says.

Kendall’s family, medical practice, leadership activities and eclectic interests are consistent with the holistic approach she found in osteopathic medicine.

“In physical medicine and rehabilitation, our focus is on work-life balance not only for our patients but also for ourselves,” she says. “That is something I’ve really tried to embody.”

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