Dr. Michael Muench Receives Chairman’s Award at Family Medicine Residency Graduation Ceremony

When Michael Muench, M.D., attended the June 25 graduation ceremony marking the completion of his three-year family medicine residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital, he had two additional reasons to be proud of his accomplishment.

First, his father, Karl H. Muench, M.D., a member of the Miller School of Medicine faculty since 1965, was there to congratulate him. Second, E. Robert Schwartz, M.D., professor and Chair of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, announced that Michael was the recipient of the Chairman’s Award, which is given to one graduate each year who has demonstrated outstanding performance and exemplifies the traits of an excellent family physician.

For Michael, at 38, graduation day had come a bit later than it does for most residents.

“My father was always a role model for me, but I first took a long detour through the humanities,” said Michael. “I went to India to work with survivors of the 1984 Bhopal disaster. The gas leak from the Union Carbide fertilizer plant there is considered the worst industrial accident in history, and a great many of the local residents were still dealing with the terrible impacts on their health from toxic fumes and contaminated water. When I returned, however, I realized that the best way for me to help people who need help most was as a doctor.”

Michael turned 30 while he was back in school at Portland State University in Oregon, enrolled in a special post-baccalaureate program that allowed him to take the necessary science courses that he had not taken in college. He then received his M.D. degree from the Miller School, graduating in May of 2013. Matched at Jackson, he began his residency that summer.

“Michael was an excellent UM student, and we worked hard at recruiting him to family medicine,” said Schwartz. “We thought he had the right stuff.

“Family medicine training is actually very difficult; you are constantly rotating on different services, you are exposed to all types of medical problems, you have to be able to process lots of information and often deal with very complicated patients. You have to think holistically and be a compassionate person because many of the patient stories that we hear are very sad and emotionally complex. You have to be patient and accept that you cannot cure everyone, but you can be there for your patients and be supportive. By building a trusting relationship with patients you can have an impact on their lives and families.

“Michael is all of these things, and although it was difficult to choose only one resident to receive the award, Michael has demonstrated all of the qualities of a truly outstanding family physician. He has demonstrated excellent clinical knowledge, he is compassionate with his patients and is comfortable with the broad scope of family medicine. He will be a great teacher to his patients and students who have the good fortune to rotate with him in his practice. He will serve his chosen community well, and he will be a great representative of our medical school and our residency training program.”

Karl Muench, professor of medicine, chose the other end of the medical care spectrum, specializing in human genetics and regularly seeing patients who are extremely difficult cases.

“Genetics is so fascinating,” he says. “Even though I’m 82, it’s too exciting to quit.” Like his son, he wants to help people; he just approaches the challenge from a different perspective.

“He often deals with people who have been bounced around in the system and have become lost,” says Michael, who is headed to San Francisco to become a family doctor on the staff of Kaiser Permanente. “I take a lot of pleasure in keeping patients from getting lost in the first place.”

And as the son of a highly respected physician, he regularly is reminded of how deep that respect goes.

“In both medical school and in the Jackson system, I ended up meeting and working with many attending physicians who had my dad as a teacher when they were in medical school,” says Michael. “It’s kind of a fun thing. He has a lot of fans in the community.”

But Karl claims that the balance has begun to shift.

“Medicine is the greatest profession in the world, and nothing could give me greater pleasure than to see my son not just become a doctor, but also to become the fine doctor that he is,” he says. “I have the great joy now, almost on a daily basis, of having people I don’t know at the hospital see my badge and ask, ‘Are you Michael Muench’s father?’ When I say that I am, what they say is, ‘He really cares about his patients.’”

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