Alumna’s journey leads her to medical school

Emily Willmann ’15 named Student Doctor of the Year at Des Moines U.


Emily-Willmann-largeEmily Willmann’s journey toward becoming a physician has been a series of discoveries – each one building to the next. Now the 2015 Manchester graduate is preparing for a career in osteopathic medicine at Des Moines University, where she is 2019-20 Student Doctor of the Year.

Emily was 18 and working as a lifeguard at a local swimming pool when she and her colleagues saw a fire at the assisted living facility next door. The first person to see it, she ran there and started to help pull residents to safety before the fire department arrived.

 “For some reason, I belong here,” she remembers thinking, “in a crazy situation trying to help people.”

The Montpelier, Ind., native decided to attend Manchester and never looked back. “I remember visiting Manchester and thinking that it felt right,” says Emily, who had visited four other colleges first.  “Manchester felt like I was coming home even though I’d never been there.”

As an MU student, she made every minute count. She majored in biology-chemistry and minored in psychology, and played soccer and softball all four years. She also went to Nicaragua on the Medical Practicum, an experience she describes as “incredible.”

She didn’t know what a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) was until athletic training Professor Jeff Beer told her. She learned that a D.O. is a fully licensed medical doctor also trained to manipulate and adjust the muscular-skeletal system. That appealed to Emily, a student-athlete. “I really enjoyed things I saw in athletic training and a lot of the techniques they were able to use,” she says. “I like the idea of being able to give someone pain relief.”

Not sure she was ready for medical school, Emily first earned her master’s degree in biomedical sciences at Des Moines. “I love research,” she says. “The program was a great transition for me to know what medical school would be like.”

Now in her third year, Emily didn’t know she would experience a pandemic during medical school. It has been more isolating than it would under normal circumstances, she says, but also a valuable learning experience.

At Des Moines, she has served as president of the Student American Academy of Osteopathy, vice president of the Student Osteopathic Surgical Association, volunteer coordinator for the Emergency Medicine Club and vice president of Pride Alliance, which serves as an avenue for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight students to celebrate and learn about their diversity in health care.

Despite her hectic schedule, Emily stays connected to Manchester and the close friends she made at MU, especially her teammates. “It’s hard to put athletics into words, just because it always sounds so cheesy,” she says. “But it’s a second family. It is a bonding experience that never goes away.”

Emily always returns for the alumni soccer game and remains grateful to the “pretty amazing” Manchester faculty who prepared her well for post-Manchester success.

Barb Boose, public relations and editorial director at Des Moines University, contributed to this story.