A water flea is best known for its role in the aquatic ecosystem for eating algae and cleaning ponds and lakes. But for Michelle Grafelman, a fourth-year medical student, this one-eyed species is affectionately remembered for infecting her with the “research bug” that solidified her decision to pursue medicine.

“During development, it starts with two not-fully formed eyes, which grow together,” Grafelman said. “During my undergraduate research, we were looking at the genetics of how that eye development happens because there’s a disease in humans that can cause defects in the midline of the body and, in very extreme cases, can cause a baby to have just one eye. That’s when I noticed I was most interested in the projects that had some sort of application to human health.”

The University of Minnesota Medical School, home to academic medicine, soon became Grafelman’s top pick—a school she knew would feed her desire to study human science.

“Health and medicine are really valued in the Twin Cities,” she said. “I have enjoyed learning medicine in a place where health is actually being talked about and people are supportive of healthcare and medicine. I knew at this Medical School that I would get to see a bunch of different clinical settings but also have a more longitudinal experience with patients. Those were big drivers for me.”

Like any medical student, Grafelman kept an open mind during her four years, opening herself to all medical specialities from surgery to obstetrics and gynecology. She completed a nine-month clerkship with Smiley’s Family Medicine and M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center. She knew she found her calling, though, when she started missing her patients at the M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.

“When I left the pediatrics rotation, I missed it and I wanted to go back,” she said. “The fact that I was still thinking about being with kids and being in a children’s hospital made me realize that’s where I need to be.”

And, it’s where she will stay. Today, Grafelman matched with the University of Washington in pediatrics. On her journey to become a pediatrician, she looks forward to embracing a new city, new colleagues and new responsibilities.

“It’s a different feeling. You take ownership of your patients as a medical student, but there’s always someone else who is making the final decision,” she said. “As a resident, you get to make the decisions, and that’s a whole new level of responsibility that I think will be very rewarding.”

After her residency, Grafelman plans to keep her “research bug” alive by earning a fellowship, and one day, hopes to work at an institution—even the Medical School—where people value academic medicine.

“I want to somehow do all of those things—research, education and patient care. That’s where I want to be,” she said. “I like being a part of medical student and resident teams, and I think someday, it would be fun to lead and be a part of teaching the next generation.”

Michelle Grafelman is the daughter of Lyle and Connie Grafelman and has an older sister, Lauren.

To find out where all Medical School students matched, visit the 2020 Match Day page.