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Promoting a Patient-Centered Approach to Medicine

Muluka Omar

Muluka Omar

When Muluka Omar was a senior in high school she landed a prime technology internship with Xcel Energy through the Genesys Works Program. The experience helped her discover her hidden talents and interests, like problem solving, working through complex issues, and collaboration.

“This was an eye-opening realization for me as someone who had no idea of where my abilities could best be put to use,” says the Inter-College Program (ICP) graduate.

And while she didn’t ultimately decide to go into technology, the internship cemented her dream to study medicine, where she could care for others while tackling tough challenges head-on.

“Medicine is all about being flexible.”

Muluka Omar

One such challenge Muluka couldn’t have predicted she would be in the middle of is the COVID-19 pandemic. As a student she worked as a psychiatric associate in a hospital emergency room.

“(It) provided me with firsthand experience of the rewards and challenges of being a provider, especially during a public health crisis,” Muluka says. “As COVID-19 worsened and quickly became uncontrollable, I witnessed providers and hospital administrators scramble to address the major challenges... such as infection control, resource allocation, and how to keep patients and staff safe.

"With constant changes to the policies and procedures, I understood that medicine is all about being flexible and being able to adapt to any circumstance.”

“I saw myself in these patients.”

This was also Muluka’s first opportunity to work directly with patients, particularly those experiencing a mental health crisis or dealing with chemical dependency. It forced her to step out of her comfort zone, but the interactions helped her “gain a better understanding of various mental health disorders and their appropriate treatment plans.”

Apple and stethoscope on top of a stack of books

She also served a diverse population of all ages, with different upbringings, values, and beliefs. Having grown up in a community that rarely talks about addiction or mental health issues, she was empathetic to the shame she saw in some of her patients.

Many of them who came in for treatment did not know who they could turn to for help. “I learned how to build their trust and provide them with a safe, nonjudgmental space to share their fears and concerns, because I saw myself in these patients—their cultural, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds were not all that different from mine.”

Next Stop: Medical School

Muluka was initially drawn to psychology as a major after transferring to the University of Minnesota, but later realized that she wanted “a more tailored and individualized major.”

“I was interested in ICP because I would have an opportunity to take courses from various colleges, allowing me to have a more diverse and well-rounded education.”

"I understood that medicine is all about being flexible and being able to adapt to any circumstance.”

ICP students can select a two, three, or thematic area degree option. The path Muluka took is known today as the Bachelor of Science in Health and Wellbeing Sciences. Beyond the study of health and well-being, this path also allowed Muluka to choose a pre-med focus area. She focused on osteopathic medicine because its principles closely aligned with her personal views of what medicine should be.

As a physician, she wants “to empower people to take charge of their health and (create) personalized treatment plans to fit each patient.”

Medicine, she continues, should not focus solely on the treatment of a disease but should be patient-centered and proactive. “I also want to take social and environmental factors into consideration,” she says. “I want to emphasize preventative care such as proper diet, exercise, and encourage patients to be active participants in their health.”

Muluka was recently accepted into a four-year graduate program at Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Memorable ICP Moment

“One of the most memorable moments I had in the program was writing out my ICP proposal. In one section of the proposal, I had to explain why I chose to take specific courses and how those courses would fit into my future goals... This experience forced me to not only think more critically about my undergraduate courses but also drove me to be more intentional and mindful in the activities I took part in. This shift helped me build more meaningful experiences that helped me grow in my personal and professional life.”

Pro Tips for Students

  • Put yourself out there and don't be afraid to participate in activities that are outside your comfort zone.
  • Never hesitate to ask for help and build meaningful relationships with your classmates, advisors, and professors. 

Muluka is a recipient of the Karin Larson Scholarship.