Finding the ‘Why?’ behind the work

UWEC student describes her journey towards pursuing a degree in the medical field

Lea Kopke

More stories from Lea Kopke


In the summer of 2018 Megan Schleusner participated in a medical internship at Hue Medical College in Hue, Vietnam where she shadowed various health care professionals.

Megan Schleusner, a third-year biology student with a pre-professional health minor, said she has always known she wanted to go into healthcare. Growing up, one of Schleusner’s favorite ways to play pretend was to treat her younger sister as her patient.

“My dad had a car gurney for fixing cars and stuff,” Schleusner said. “That would be my stretcher. I would bandage my sister up. I tried to intubate her one time. I put a straw in her mouth and taped it and then would try to push fluids through it and stuff.”

While her mother worked at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Schleusner’s interest in the medical field was unexpected to her parents, she said, as both her parents graduated from UW-Eau Claire with business degrees.

“Mayo is really where everything started for me,” Schleusner said. “I was born there and it’s such a center of attention in the medical world. That’s something I strive for, one of my goals—coming back there to work one day.”

Her interest in the medical field stems not from the potential money healthcare professionals can make, she said, but rather the ways she’ll be able to directly help patients. One of the defining experiences she had in determining the “why” behind her want to go into the medical field occurred when she was abroad for an internship in Vietnam.

She was shadowing a surgeon one day during a procedure where he was removing a malignant thyroid from a patient—an operation she said took over three hours and was considered a life-changing procedure.

“He asked me how much I think he makes for this one thyroid surgery,” Schleusner said. “And he was going to save this patient’s life, and he’s like ‘I make two American dollars,’ and it really just hit me. These physicians aren’t choosing this career for the quality of life they may live, but for the quality of life they’re going to provide for their patients. And that’s truly why I want to do it.”

As a student at UW-Eau Claire, Schleusner has already gotten the chance to work in the medical field through a position as a Clinical Care Technician at Marshfield Clinic, the medical internship at Hue Medical College in Vietnam and, most recently, an internship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester working in one of the research labs.

Schleusner received her internship at the Mayo Clinic through the Mayo Clinic Undergraduate Research Employment Program. Through it,

Schleusner was able to work in a lab conducting research regarding the study of age and disease-related osteoporosis, specifically in cancer survivors who’ve received radiation therapy and postmenopausal women.

“I was assigned four individual projects and I worked on little parts of each of those projects throughout my time,” Schleusner said. “During that time, I collected sufficient data to author on a paper with my PI (principal investigator).”

While Schleusner was only working in the lab for two and a half months, a time period she said is quite short to fit in research, she was a special asset to the team as she was kept blind to certain aspects of the data, such as what specific drugs and which animal species were being treated.

“It was really helpful to them because I was able to analyze without any biases,” Schleusner said. “So all the data was really raw and really good.”

While no final decision has been made, Schleusner said she was invited back to the Mayo Clinic to continue the research during winterim and summer of 2020. If she chooses not to revisit that internship, she said she has connections to potentially work in research labs with Harvard or NYU.

Schleusner has also conducted research at UW-Eau Claire, both with Kris Knutson — an associate professor of communication conducting communication research — and Jamie Lyman Gingerich, an associate professor of biology — conducting genetics research.

Her work with Knutson especially, Schleusner said, has been particularly interesting to her. The research focuses on work-life balance, specifically for women with professional degrees, such as doctorates, and their families. This topic is important to her due to the relevance it has in her own personal life, she said.

“Family is super important to me and many of the female providers I see have either waited to get married or don’t have kids, and that’s not necessarily what I see for myself,” Schleusner said.

Schleusner said she regards Knutson as a mentor, especially as she has known her since early on in her UW-Eau Claire career. Schleusner was a student in one of Knutson’s honors seminars in spring of 2018, and then in one of her honors public speaking classes the following year. Now, Schleusner is a teaching assistant in one of Knutson’s honors classes on work-life balance.

“Dr. Kris Knutson has seen me at some of my worst times,” Schleusner said. “She was one of the first people I opened up to, and I was asking, ‘Am I good enough for med school?’ And she’s like, ‘Megan, I have a Ph.D. And guess what? I got a C.’ It’s great to have a female mentor who has gone through, and is able to tell me that it’s going to be okay.”

In her time knowing Schleusner, Knutson said she has seen her grow in numerous ways, especially regarding confidence in the work that she’s doing.

“I think that for me, Megan’s grown a lot in her ability to advocate for herself,” Knutson said, “That’s one of the most exciting changes that I’ve seen — she’s highly confident and capable. I’ve really enjoyed seeing her develop that voice and realize that she can — and needs — to advocate for the things she feels are special.”

Because the research Schleusner is conducting with Knutson isn’t related to the medical field, Knutson said the work she puts in is telling of her character and desire to learn and help others.

“She’s wonderful to interact with — highly intelligible, capable, and a wonderful learner,” Knutson said. “This is communication research and she’s pre-med. The research she’s doing isn’t medical. She’s reaching out because she realizes this other content area is so important. The drive to learn and drive to always gain new knowledge is going to make her such a good physician.”

With her schedule kept busy between her classes, research, work at Marshfield clinic and job as a resident assistant in Chancellors Hall, Schleusner said her family and home community help her to stay motivated.

“It’s super important to give credit to those who have helped me,” Schleusner said. “The big thing has just been my local community coming from a small town of Colfax. Like, I came to Eau Claire pretty much all on scholarships and a lot of those were from local businesses. knowing you have that support, it kind of keeps you going and keeps you motivated.”

Besides her local community, Schleusner said another huge support in her life has been her family.

“You have to have a strong support system and that’s where my family comes in,” Schleusner said. “I have two younger sisters and they’re like, my driving force and my passion. They’re really the reason I want to succeed.”

Kopke can be reached at [email protected].