Dr. Michael Wiedner: Vanatta, Hesser, Schmalstieg Excellence in Tutoring Award

Dr. Michael Weidner
Dr. Michael Weidner

By Debbie Bolles

A little after noon on a recent weekday, Dr. Michael Wiedner sat at a small windowside table in the Bryan Williams, M.D. Student Center poring over a PowerPoint presentation he’d prepared that condensed 14 hours of medical school class lectures into a three-hour tutoring session.

Although graduation was less than two months away and he still had studies of his own, Dr. Wiedner took time out to talk about his dual passions for teaching and medicine that earned him the Vanatta, Hesser, Schmalstieg Excellence in Tutoring Award.

“I like teaching, so as a student here, it afforded me opportunities to do that. It gives you the exposure of working with peers, which I like, and reinforces what you’ve already learned,” said Dr. Wiedner, who’s tutored two of his four years in medical school.

At 43, Dr. Wiedner is the oldest student in the UT Southwestern Medical School graduating class and arguably the most diversified in terms of career experience. He’s worked as an Army medic, seventh-grade science teacher, sheet metal shop worker, restaurant cook, bookstore manager, clinic medical assistant, and meditation instructor.

“I’ve had a rather circuitous route to get to medical school,” he said, describing the various jobs he’s held on the way to “figuring out what I wanted to do when I grew up.”

Though it took him awhile to get there, Dr. Wiedner’s dream job is now within reach – spending half his time in emergency medicine and the other half attending to patients exclusively in a hospital setting. After completing a dual residency in emergency medicine and internal medicine at Christiana Care Health System in Newark, Del., Dr. Wiedner hopes to move to an academic medical center.

Carol Wortham, Manager of Student Academic Assistance Services in the Office of Medical Education, said Dr. Wiedner’s dedication to helping others master the challenges of the medical school curriculum makes him deserving of the award, which honors a graduating senior who has made a significant commitment to tutoring fellow students. The award includes a certificate and $500.

“Michael distinguished himself as an outstanding peer tutor in the summer immediately following his first year of medical school and since then has devoted more hours to helping fellow students succeed academically than any other student in the graduating class. He has always approached his work with thoughtfulness and enthusiasm,” Ms. Wortham said.

Dr. Wiedner, who grew up in Houston, early on had his sights set on college and a potential medical career. He joined the Army at age 22 for GI Bill tuition assistance. After earning a biology degree at the University of Houston, he taught for the nonprofit Teach for America. Following that, he was accepted to UT Southwestern, his top choice for medical school.

In his spare time, Dr. Wiedner’s hobbies include reading, jogging, Zen Buddhist meditation, and in particular playing an African musical instrument called the kalimba.

“Definitely it’s been helpful in dealing with the stress of medical school,” Dr. Wiedner said. “Maybe it’s my calm in the storm.”