From the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana to her newest role as associate dean of admissions for the UW School of Medicine, alumnus LeeAnna Muzquiz, M.D. ’00, UW clinical professor, clinical instructor in the Department of Family Medicine and a member of the School’s Alumni Leadership Council, has traveled a long way. We ask her a few questions about her work and her goals.
What excites you most about your new role?
When you practice for many years, you can feel overwhelmed by the day-to-day grind. But when I interview students, I feel reignited by their passion and excitement. I also have a soft spot in my heart for finding others like me, who may not have come from a medical background or had many opportunities, but who want to become a doctor to help their communities. I’m sure someone advocated for me. I keep that in mind every day when I’m reading applications or interviewing.
Talk to us about diversity and doctors.
I think it’s important to have a workforce that represents the population it cares for. And it’s a responsibility of a large institution such as ours to recruit and help our medical-school classes look more like our region and be more responsive to the needs of our communities.
How can we better recruit those who are underrepresented in medicine? And what does diversity mean in terms of representing people from the region? These are questions we’re trying to address. It’s something I want to have a thoughtful approach to. Dr. Teitz [past associate dean for admissions] already implemented a holistic approach to admissions that entails looking at applicants in the largest context possible. This system has flourished. So that’s part of the answer.
I like to think of admissions like an ecosystem. Ecosystems are interdependent, and they’re usually part of a cycle. How do we grow an entire healthcare workforce ecosystem so that it is sustainable? I think more attention needs to be paid in the pre-applicant stage — even as early as kindergarten. When elementary school kids see healthcare professionals who look like them, they see the field as a real career possibility. They can become doctors and return to their communities. That’s when the ecosystem thrives. That’s when it’s sustainable. So we encourage our alumni to become mentors, not just for medical students but for elementary school students, too.
What do you look for when you’re interviewing?
We’re looking for applicants who know what they’re getting themselves into and who can articulate that in a conversation because it is a huge commitment — emotionally, mentally, financially. We’re also looking for people who have a demonstrated commitment to service and are interested in serving our region, whether that’s by working in an underrepresented urban area or a rural area. And there are many more things for us to consider, such as whether they’ll contribute as a classmate and as a colleague.
Tell us about your WWAMI experience.
(Note to readers: WWAMI is the School’s collaborative, five-state medical education program.)
I had 19 other people in my Montana WWAMI class, and we were all able to tailor our education to meet our needs. That’s the beauty of the WWAMI experience — no two experiences are the same. Whether you want to serve in rural, urban, global or underrepresented communities, it’s all possible.
You returned to the Flathead Indian Reservation to practice — what has that been like?
I’ve gotten to be a part of people’s families as they’ve grown and changed. It’s been a privilege to be a part of that life cycle. It’s exactly what I wanted to do in medicine. I helped expand our tribal health clinic, entirely run and operated by our tribe, which didn’t exist when I was in medical school. It’s also a challenge in some ways because I’ve known these people for my entire life. Working in a small community, there is the difficulty of tribal and family politics. You’re always under the microscope, but the rewards of seeing families’ and the community’s health improve is worth it.
What would you say to youth who face educational hurdles?
Remember where you came from, because that’s how you got to where you are. It’s really important to ask what gave you resilience and grit. That’s the same grit that will get you through tough tests and help you deal with difficult people. For me, remembering that I had the support of my community and was doing this to serve them got me through a lot.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I failed an exam once, and it was a big one. Later, I found out that lots of people were asking for help. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. In fact, I think the most successful people know how to ask for the help they need.