Michael Schroeder-Toya graduates from the University of Minnesota Medical School Duluth Campus after beginning her career as a lawyer

This June, University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth campus graduate Michael Schroeder-Toya will begin her residency in family medicine at the U of M Woodwinds Hospital. But as a child in her home state of New Mexico, she could never have imagined the journey life would take her on. 

Schroeder-Toya’s parents worked for the Indian Health Service (IHS), and the family moved around often. She first became familiar with the University of Minnesota (U of M) when they moved to Bemidji for three years. Although she eventually returned home to New Mexico and even spent time living in Belgium, Schroeder-Toya decided to return to the U of M for college. There, she considered pursuing medical school but ultimately chose a different path: law school.

“I wanted to become a physician while in college, but I didn’t finish my pre-med requirements,” she explains. “Putting my strengths elsewhere led me to law school on the East Coast.”

Schroeder-Toya practiced law in New Jersey for several years, serving as a Deputy Attorney General to civilly prosecute child abuse and neglect. In her role, she saw families experiencing significant health inequities and the stress it caused.

“Ultimately, this served as a major factor in my decision to pursue my initial dream of becoming a physician,” she explains, although she jokes that fate may have had something to do with it too. “I found a picture of the courthouse where I used to work with a street sign that read ‘Wrong Way’ in the foreground. I joke that I saw a sign that led me to medicine!”

As a lawyer, Schroeder-Toya witnessed health challenges faced by Native families and children that were familiar to her own Native extended family, and she felt confident that her calling was to be a primary care physician in a Native American community. Knowing the U of M Medical School, Duluth campus’ emphasis on American Indian health, it was a clear choice for her medical education.

“I knew Drs. Mary Owen and Robin Michaels would serve as strong resources to help ensure my success,” she says. “The small class size was also important to me because it fostered a collaborative and familiar environment.”

Schroeder-Toya began medical school in the fall of 2019, and once again, she could never have imagined what would come next.

“The most memorable moment at Duluth was transitioning from in-person to at-home at the start of COVID,” she says, recalling the last time everyone gathered in their main classroom wonder what would unfold, not knowing that it would be the last time they’d see each other in-person without personal protective equipment for nearly two years. “We found ways to remain connected. This event could have easily driven us apart, but as a class, it brought us closer with our enthusiasm and sharing resources with each other to make sure no one got left behind.”

Schroeder-Toya credits her many peers and mentors for helping her get through the pandemic to where she is today.

“I received a lot of support from my classmates, faculty and staff, especially my academic advisor, Dr. Emily Onello,” she says.

Reflecting on the journey that led her here, Schroeder-Toya is certain she’s found her most authentic path. Coming full circle from moving around with her parents as child, Schroeder-Toya has committed to working as a family physician for IHS after her residency, hoping to serve Native American communities in greater Minnesota or the Southwest. 

Although Schroeder-Toya remains open to whatever opportunities life brings her, there is one thing she hopes she’s left behind for good.

She laughs, “After earning a JD and an MD, school is finally out for me!”