Remember when you were younger and people would ask what you wanted to be when you grew up? Most of us would answer with something like “I want to be a fireman” or “I want to be a ballerina,” but Mel Muller always knew she wanted to get into medicine and serve her country.
Looking for an untraditional route to medicine, Muller learned about a program called Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP), where individuals can pursue their medical careers through the military. Fortunately, the program was the golden opportunity Muller had been waiting for to pursue her interest in diving medicine while in the United States Navy. As an Undersea Medical Officer (UMO), Muller focused on primary care, diving medicine, and support of undersea medical research in the Navy.
“This was a great fit for me because I was able to work toward becoming a doctor, but also able to explore a niche in medicine that I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to,” Muller said. “An amazing aspect of my job as a UMO was being trained as a fully qualified Navy Diver.”
With her diving qualifications, Muller said this gave her the ability to take better care of her patients because of her first-hand experience. Even more so, Muller was able to dive alongside her colleagues and patients when the time allowed, something not very many doctors get the privilege to do. Medicine, however, wasn’t the only thing Muller pursued while in the Navy.
Since she was a young girl, being an athlete was a huge part of Muller’s identity. This became abundantly clear to Muller in high school as she did sports year-round, but she stated she wasn’t quite good enough to continue on a Division I college team. It seemed like her sporting career had come to an end, and Muller didn’t know what her future looked like without being part of a sports team, but her hiatus from sports didn't last long.
In her second semester at Northeastern University, Muller saw a sign-up sheet for the club triathlon team in the gym locker room and decided to give the sport a try. One practice later, Muller was hooked. Even late into her medical school studies, Muller remained active in triathlon training and competitions.
When Muller went on active duty, she discovered the U.S. Military Endurance Sports (USMES), which offers education and training in endurance sports to current, retired, and veteran members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Muller joined the triathlon team in 2017 and gave credit to USMES for helping keep her focused as an athlete despite her rigorous schedule at the hospital.
“USMES provides a stable community of support for athletes all over the world,” Muller said. “I have moved four times in the last five years and USMES has moved with me. I worked really hard to advance my performance as an athlete and in 2019, I made the USMES Elite Team. Since then, USMES has helped me develop as an athlete through Training Camps and providing a constant online community of experts and fellow athletes.”
Muller highlighted that when in the military, moving is very common and it’s sometimes difficult to stay grounded when meeting new people and changing communities is happening constantly. But despite being a healthcare worker during the Covid-19 Pandemic, USMES allowed Muller to continue to compete, and even completed the 70.3 Ironman World Championships while setting personal as well as course records, and credits all her success to the organization.
Now in her civilian life, Muller will continue on the Elite Team as an athlete in Veteran status while doing her Anesthesiology training at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
“I think my interest in athletics from a young age also sparked a natural curiosity for human physiology,” Muller said. “For me, medicine and athletics go hand in hand.”
Photo credits: courtesy of USMES - Bruce Buckley, Mel Muller