Dr. LeeAnna Muzquiz’s childhood was a time of adventure and exploration. She was either roaming the woodland areas of Montana’s Flathead Reservation where she grew up or reading her way through the elementary school’s library. She dreamt of being a teacher or perhaps a rock star.
The sky was the limit, but being a doctor was beyond even imagination.
“As a kid, I had no real exposure or idea of what the path was towards becoming a doctor. So pursuing medicine wasn’t something I considered,” Muzquiz said. “However, what I did have over the years were many people encouraging me to think about it as a career option.”
In July 2018, Muzquiz assumed the role of Associate Dean for Admissions for UW School of Medicine (UWSOM) following the retirement of her friend and predecessor, Dr. Carol Teitz.
A 2000 graduate of UWSOM, Muzquiz’s personal experiences navigating the educational system bring unique perspectives to the admissions office.
“Dr. Muzquiz’s long history with UWSOM will be a significant benefit,” said Dr. Suzanne Allen, Vice Dean for Academic, Rural and Regional Affairs. “She understands the many benefits of the medical education provided by UWSOM, and those experiences will help her as she is working with potential future students.”
A family of helpers
Muzquiz’s own path was an organic evolution that often hinged on being “in the right place at the time.” In the classroom, she demonstrated an early talent for math and science. At home, she witnessed the value of compassion. Coming from a self-described “family of helpers,” she was raised to visit the sick, make meals for caretakers and always offer a helping hand.
Wanting to combine her passions of social and scientific service, she entered college as a premed student, but then drifted from the idea.
“The tipping point was my dad having a heart attack when I was a college freshman. He was 44 years old and ultimately died after a prolonged hospitalization,” Muzquiz said. “I realized he shouldn’t have died so young from a preventable disease. That became my motivation to get back on track to pursue medicine.”
As a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Muzquiz received an undergraduate Indian Health Services Scholarship. It allowed her to attend a career conference where she met students of fellow heritage wishing to pursue medicine. That led to a six-week program hosted by UWSOM offering mentors, resources and admissions guidance.
“It provided the knowledge I needed to help become a successful med-school applicant,” Muzquiz explained. “It was also profound because I found a sense of community with people of similar identities and experiences. Going into medicine was a big unknown for me. It’s important for students to have a sense of support and understanding as they navigate the process.”
She enrolled as a student in WWAMI – Montana and completed her residency with Seattle’s Indian Health Board Clinic. She returned to Montana and has since been based with the Polson Tribal Health Clinic.
“Coming from an underserved community herself, LeeAnna understands the importance of having someone care for you who understands your history and culture,” Allen said. “Her passion in this area drives her to continue to improve the admissions process at UWSOM.”
Muzquiz knowingly and laughingly admits that applying to medical school is a “beast of a process.” While it is rightfully extensive and thorough, she looks forward to continuing ongoing efforts to increase efficiency. She also aims to further ensure that matriculating classes reflect regional diversity.
“We want good people who become good students and ultimately good doctors – hopefully even great doctors,” Muzquiz said.
“We should always be improving techniques to screen applicants, but we also need to actively reach out to potential students. There is a lot of serendipity in my own story, and I’m thankful for everyone who helped me. However, how can we – as an institution – reach more students like me from underrepresented groups? I look forward to working on policies and strategies to accomplish that in holistic and fair ways.”
Weaving a tapestry
Muzquiz will continue to practice in Montana while traveling to Seattle and across the region as associate dean for admissions.
Students, professors, patients and the larger community – for Muzquiz, they are all threads that weave together the tapestry of a successful medical school education. A blanket hangs in her living room as a tangible reminder of that belief.
Students who complete UWSOM’s Indian Health Pathway program are honored with a blanket upon graduation and wrapped in it as symbol of protection on their coming journey. Muzquiz’s is turquoise and purple, a vibrant connection between those who came before and those yet to come.
She contemplates it as she oversees her first admission season, the weight of guiding and supporting the next generation.
“Being a doctor is a large responsibility, but it gives me tremendous hope to help others,” Muzquiz said. “I appreciate that UW took a chance on this little girl from the reservation who wanted to go to medical school. She wouldn’t have believed all this was possible. Then again, she didn’t know anything was impossible either!”