Neither a PhD in engineering nor years in academia could make her forget the medical school goal

Nancy Kimmel

In preparation for a student profile, Nancy Kimmel is introduced via two resumes. Two very different resumes. Nancy obviously has a nursing resume as she is an RN, MSN, and FNP, but she also has an engineering resume. Years before Nancy became a nurse and later a medical student, she completed masters-level study in Chemical Engineering, earned a PhD in Environmental Engineering from Kennedy Western University, and her CHMM credentials (which stands for Certified Hazardous Materials Manager).

And today, midway through medical school, she insists she was a “regular kid” growing up. Just one who happened to like math and science.

“I really didn’t think about what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Nancy says. “I just thought about playing. I spent a lot of time outside, often until the last minute, just before the streetlights came on,” she says.

Like many families near the state of Michigan’s Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Nancy’s was a Ford family – both her parents worked for Ford Motor Company, back when the automobile industry defined the area.

That Ford connection meant that when it was time to go to college, she essentially earned a free ride, but Nancy simply was not ready. “That broke my dad’s heart, but I just didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she says about her decision to delay college.

Nancy married young, at 20 years old, and her first job was as a nurse’s assistant.

“That was the first time that I realized how good it felt to help people,” she says. “And I wanted to know more. I eventually became a ward secretary which meant I learned how to read doctors’ handwriting, order labs, etc. I also had my first experience working with residents, some who couldn’t even spell Tylenol,” she chuckled.

It was around this time that Nancy began thinking she might want to become a doctor. Some day. She says she took the “long way around,” landing at OUM nearly 20 years later.

A unique prelude to medical school

During the next few years, upon earning her engineering degree and hazardous materials certification, Nancy worked for an engineering consulting firm conducting home health assessments in conjunction with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She researched and determined the origin of health hazards experienced by the employees of organizations under EPA investigation, identifying and remediating conditions ranging from oil spills and disease-borne pathogens to factory airflow emissions concerns and other safety protocol violations. But then, she needed to return to Michigan to care for her mother.

“I needed a job. I was no longer married. Had two young sons. My family knew someone at Lawrence Technological University near Detroit who said ‘Nancy, can you teach?’ I said ‘Yes, of course,’ so I found myself reviewing my past studies and eventually working nearly fulltime as an adjunct professor, teaching as many classes as I could pick up,” she says, teaching everything from Manufacturing Processes, Mechanics of Materials, and Engineering Cost Analysis, to developing courses in Hazardous Materials Management at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and for fun, judging a Women’s Robotic Competition.

Nancy came to really enjoy teaching. She felt she had found her niche. So, to further make ends meet, she also began teaching Physics and Math at Henry Ford Community College and eventually additional engineering courses at Oakland University, in Detroit’s northern suburbs.

“Engineering was really a man’s world. There were only two women on the faculty, and they had been at Oakland for 25 years. And there were no chances of tenure. So, I needed to decide what was next,” she says.

Even though it was sidelined for a number of years, Nancy had not forgotten her thoughts about becoming a doctor, so she began heading in the healthcare direction. Having earned two BS degrees before venturing into engineering, all that science gave her a head start towards her nursing degree. She continued to teach throughout nursing school, then spent several years working in psychiatric nursing, nursing education, and cardiac nursing before deciding to pursue her MSN/FNP. Nancy completed nurse practitioner training in 2016, passed her boards in 2017, and enrolled at OUM in 2018.

“I researched OUM extensively. I actually began looking at the University when I was doing my nurse practitioner training and continued to watch how it progressed,” she says.

Today, two years into her MD and studying for USMLE Step 1, Nancy says her medical studies have absolutely given her 100 percent more insight as a nurse practitioner.

“I can do so much more for my patients. I love that we take everything to the cellular level. It’s what I had always hoped to do,” she says.

After OUM, Nancy favors Emergency Medicine. “I like the fast pace, constant change. That you need to think on your feet and be quick, even under pressure,” she says.

Study hard

Her advice to prospective medical students is “Be prepared to study.

“You really have to put your nose to the grindstone. This is not easy and requires hard work. After some initial learning curve, you begin to see that this is manageable, if you are committed and passionate about becoming a doctor. You need to ‘keep your eye on the prize.’”

Nancy says she took the “long way around” to becoming a physician, winding her way through engineering, academics, and nursing. Yet, the top of her engineering resume shows you that she always had her eye on the prize. It says “Objective: To work towards making the earth a safer and healthier place to live.”

(June 2021)