A learning journey
Dr. Michael Mullane and his wife, Heidi, lived in some interesting places while he completed his medical training. The couple enjoyed the amenities of larger cities filled with restaurants, theatre, and vibrant nightlife. However, once they had children, they decided they wanted their two daughters to be able to spend more time with their grandparents. So the Kenosha natives returned to southeastern Wisconsin. That decision has given the region the services of a physician who was educated and trained at two of the top medical schools in the country: Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and Washington University in St. Louis.
Thank goodness for grandparents.
As an oncologist, Mullane ('81 biological sciences) understands the complexities and human intricacies of cancer and how it affects individuals and their families. When his brother was diagnosed with leukemia, Mullane himself became a bone marrow donor. That experience allowed him to better appreciate the disease from the patient's perspective. After six years on an investigational drug his brother is in remission and doing well. "It's important to be empathetic," Mullane said. "No patient is identical and each person comes in with a different story, a set of life experiences, goals, and values."
Mullane has always loved to learn. He was a good student at Bradford High School, and by his senior year he knew he was interested in medicine. Mullane was accepted at Notre Dame, Marquette, UW-Madison, and UW-Parkside. He chose to stay closer to home to be near his family and to save money for medical school.
Being the good student, Mullane also recognized the opportunity to have greater access to his professors.
"When I visited Notre Dame or Marquette and met the chair of the department, I knew I probably wouldn't see that person again until I graduated," he said. "At Parkside, the chair of the department (Dr. Eugene Goodman) taught the class and knew me well. I also had a close relationship with Dr. Anna Maria Williams."
As it turned out, Parkside gave Mullane more than just an education. He met Heidi on the third floor of the library in 1979.
When it came time to apply to medical school, Mullane shot straight for the top. His medical college admission test (MCAT) scores and grades were good enough that he knew he would be accepted at schools closer to home. But Mullane wanted a unique experience, the type of experience he believed only Johns Hopkins could provide.
"When I got to Johns Hopkins, I realized I was as well prepared as those who had attended Yale or Princeton or Harvard," he said. "If I had gone to Harvard I might have had a class in molecular biology of the tapeworm - at Parkside I had molecular biology, we had a more basic palette to choose from."
Mullane became interested in hematology/oncology - the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of cancers and blood diseases - and was inspired by the research being done in these areas. "I was attracted to both the molecular biology side of oncology and the human side," he said. "There are very few disciplines in medicine where you get to know the patients as people in this way."
After Johns Hopkins, Mullane did an internship and residency at the University of Minnesota, which at the time offered the second largest bone marrow transplant program in the country.
Ever the student, Mullane continued to study, research, and teach. He moved on to a fellowship in hematology and medical oncology at Washington University. During his six years in St. Louis, he combined scientific research funded by the National Institute of Health with teaching and patient care, winning the Statton Jaffee Award.
Even today, after practicing medicine for more than 20 years, Mullane has a strong desire to learn. "Parkside taught me how to be a lifelong student," he said, "and to think beyond the test."
In addition to his top-notch training, Mullane brings a compassionate approach to his patient relationships. He sees himself as an adviser, friend, and confidant as he helps patients through a period of crisis. "You quickly develop a close relationship because of the intensity of the experience," he said.
He finds his career very rewarding, especially with the advances in the science of oncology. "People are living much longer and living well," he said. "In many cases we've been able to turn cancer from a life-ending (disease) to a chronic disease."
However, not all of the battles are won. Mullane knows the importance of teaching other oncology residents that it's not about wins and losses. "You can't take credit for the successes or take the blame for poor outcomes," he said. "Some physicians protect themselves by being overly professional - I approach each patient as an individual, and try to feel the same joy and sadness as my patients feel. I try to provide the best care, regardless of whether it will provide a cure, prolong their life, improve the quality of their life, or help them to die peacefully and with dignity.
"It's rewarding to know that no matter what the outcome, you've made the journey better."