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Monmouth prepared otolaryngologist for medical career

Barry McNamara
09/21/2018
MONMOUTH, Ill. – If Mitchell Heuermann had been asked as a Monmouth College freshman what he wanted to do after college, he would not have said “become an otolaryngologist.”

But that’s the track that the 2014 Monmouth alumnus is on after graduating earlier this year from the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield. The newly minted M.D. has started a five-year otolaryngology residency there.

“I discovered my field somewhat serendipitously,” said Heuermann. “Due to changes in our curriculum, rather than rotating through general surgery as my third-year surgery rotation, I rotated through otolaryngology instead. I really enjoyed my experience – I saw a wide variety of surgical procedures performed on a daily basis.”

Otolaryngology explained

Heuermann said his field is “a little unique among surgical specialties.”

“It has no medical counterpart,” he said. “While general surgery has internal medicine, neurosurgery has neurology and cardiac surgery has cardiology, otolaryngology manages the entire spectrum of diseases of the head and neck, both surgical and non-surgical. Given my love of music, the fact that ENT (ears, nose and throat) deals with so many of our body’s major senses was an attractive point, too.”

Critical thinking required

Heuermann said his Monmouth education prepared him well for the challenges he’s faced in medical school and in the early stages of his residency.

“Medicine requires a good deal of problem solving, sometimes in unconventional ways,” he said. “Many of my classes at Monmouth stressed critical thinking skills, and I believe this has helped me succeed in medical school and the beginnings of my residency.”

Heuermann especially recalls putting those thinking skills to work during the research opportunities he had at Monmouth.

“My research experiences were a great way for me to learn how to tolerate ambiguity and approach an unknown problem, determine what is already known about the problem, and use different resources to try and solve or troubleshoot when things go unexpectedly,” said Heuermann, who spent one of his Monmouth summers at Purdue University through a Research Experience for Undergraduates opportunity.

His Monmouth experience

Coming out of Peoria, Ill., Heuermann said Monmouth checked many of the boxes on his college-search list.

“I liked the fact that Monmouth was not a large campus,” he said. “Having everything within walking distance was a big advantage. Being a smaller college, I found the community to be very close-knit, and I was able to become good friends with a lot of different people.”

Heuermann met several of those people outside the classroom while enjoying a handful of the College’s opportunities in music. He was involved in several vocal ensembles.

“I took piano lessons all four years and was a part of the Chorale, Chamber Choir and Scotsmen,” said Heuermann, who sang in Carnegie Hall with the Chorale.

The summa cum laude graduate also completed a SOFIA project commemorating the bicentennial of the birth of composer Frédéric Chopin.

“Being involved in the music department was a nice break from all my science courses, and I met a lot of my friends there,” he said.

Heuermann said medical school was an option he always considered.

“My mother has been a nurse for more than 20 years, so that was definitely a positive influence on my interest in healthcare,” he said. “I had been interested in my science classes up until that point, and I really enjoyed learning about the human body during my science classes at Monmouth, as well. I had the opportunity to shadow and volunteer in a medical setting early on, so that helped solidify my decision to pursue medicine.”

Heuermann offered advice to Monmouth students who are interested in following his path.

“Monmouth will give you a great framework to prepare you for medical school, but it isn’t a substitute for the hard work and motivation you will have to put in yourself,” he said. “Stay involved and be a kind person. While grades and MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) scores are important, medical schools are becoming more interested in people with the ‘whole package.’”