Siblings Kristen Russell ‘13 and Mike Russell ‘12 took an uncommon path to becoming surgeons by first studying engineering at Kettering University.
They credit the unusual academic route to matching into residencies at top five programs in their respective specialities, which are highly competitive.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, the siblings were interested in science, engineering and medicine. Mike, a Chemical Engineering major, learned about Kettering through a brochure and was interested in studying Chemical Engineering at the University. Like many students, the co-op was a major selling point.
“It was a chance to get two, four or six years ahead of my peers by working,” he said.
On-the-job experience helped him realize he wanted to go to medical school and pursue a surgical-based career. Although he enjoyed the alternative energy work at General Motors, he realized his greater passion was medicine.
Kristen hadn’t intended to follow her brother to Kettering, but she heard great things from him, and she also loved the idea of working while she went through college. Although she had been interested in attending medical school, she didn’t want a major that would confine her to medicine. She chose to major in Mechanical Engineering and join the Pre-Med Club.
“Engineering was great background for medical school because it set me apart and gave me a different line of thinking from most students,” she said.
During her co-op at Zimmer Biomet in Indiana, she assisted with cadaver studies and helped put hip implants in cadavers. That gave her a taste of what a career in medicine would be like. Combined with what she learned in her bioengineering courses with Mechanical Engineering faculty member Patrick Atkinson at Kettering, she brought an engineering “fix it” mentality to her medical studies.
The Pre-med Club at Kettering also differed from pre-med programs at other universities, which can be cut-throat.
“I never felt that at Kettering,” Kristen said. “The club was centered on collaboration and mutual success. Now five years later, it is awesome to see that most of us not only went to medical school, we also were blessed with the residency positions we had hoped for.”
Both Mike and Kristen are strong believers in taking a non-traditional path to medical school. “Coming at medicine from an engineering background is a huge asset,” Mike said.
The co-op teaches students how to work professionally, function within an industry and handle challenges, they said. Most medical students know little about how the business world runs and the practical aspects of managing projects and creating cost sustainable solutions.
Mike said the rigorous coursework at Kettering prepared him for medical school. His classes at Kettering were more difficult than medical school, he said, but the length and pressure at medical school were more intense than his undergraduate studies.
After graduating from Kettering, Mike took a one-year deferral to teach English in Palestine before going to Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine. He took a gap year after two years of medical school to earn his MBA in Hospital Operations Management and a Master’s in Public Health and did public health research in several countries, including Vietnam and Kenya. Through those experiences, he determined he wanted to work in academic medicine, specifically on pediatric deformities. He recently moved to Iowa City for an orthopedic surgery residency at the University of Iowa.
Kristen took a gap year to teach fifth grade in Bethlehem, Israel. She also attended Texas Tech and earned her medical degree and a Master’s in Public Health in four years. She’s going into a residency in ophthalmology in Oklahoma City.
As an ophthalmologist, she’ll be able to develop long-term relationships with patients and work in the operating room. Her career will build off what she learned about engineering prosthetic devices at Zimmer, which applies to cataract surgery.
“Kettering is not only good option for getting into medical school, it’s a great option,” Mike said. “If I did my undergraduate career over again, I would take same path. Kettering offers opportunities no other academic institution offers.”