Women Leaders: Dr. Moellmer

Interview with Rebecca Moellmer, DPM.
By Samta Batra, Western University College of Podiatric Medicine, Class of 2021
“Dr. Rebecca Moellmer: A Teacher For the Books”

Dr.Rebecca Moellmer is currently an Assistant Professor at Western University of Health Sciences (WUCPM). She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Zoology from the University of Washington, and went on to become a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine from the New York College of Podiatric Medicine. She completed her residency at the Rancho Specialty Hospital, and a Podiatric Sports Medicine Fellowship afterwards. Along with teaching biomechanics, Dr.Moellmer is currently the faculty advisor for the American Association of Women Podiatrists chapter on campus.

Q1: Why podiatry?
A: “I consider myself lucky. My sister is a DDS and 13 years older so I saw her enjoying her job and helping people. I thought I would also enjoy being a DDS. I wanted to be an oral surgeon or orthodontist because I enjoyed physics. I took the DAT, was going on interviews, but then I got a letter from NYCPM who had apparently bought the DAT scores and asked if I had considered podiatric medicine. My sister and I started investigating podiatric medicine. I was more interested in what we do on a day-to-day basis, and she was more focused on if her little sister would be able to pay back her student loans. I found out podiatric medicine focuses on biomechanics, which was exactly what I was looking for. She found out what DPM’s earn and that we can pay back our loans. I had never heard about podiatric medicine ever before the NYCPM letter. That’s why I say I got lucky.”

Q2: Was there an additional degree you had to obtain before teaching?
A: “I had undergraduate students regularly shadowing me in private practice, and I would teach them during their visit. I then briefly taught small groups at WUCPM for fun. Once employed full time by WUCPM, trial and error is how I got better.”

Q3: What other responsibilities do you have along with teaching at your institution?
A: “I partner with another faculty member to run a busy podiatric medicine service at the county hospital [which includes a focus on] surgeries, inpatient consults, [and] clinic. We teach Loma Linda residents and WUCPM clinical students in that department. I [also] run WUCPM’s community outreach, when not stalled because of COVID. I am [currently] faculty liaison to 3 of 6 student clubs. I am a faculty liaison to approximately 20 students. I also serve on an American Board of Podiatric Medicine (ABPM) and an American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) committee, and I represent WUCPM nationally. I am the course coordinator for Principles of Podiatric Medicine (PMP) II, and I am the liaison to several shared courses. Honestly, I wear so many hats that I am confident I am missing another 10 things.”

As mentioned above, Dr.Moellmer regularly interacts with WUCPM podiatry students during their third year clinical rotations. Instead of asking students to strictly regurgitate every patient’s history, Dr.Moellmer emphasizes the importance of understanding the “why” behind the clinical diagnosis. As a student who had the opportunity to work with her, I remember how she would ask me to recount my thought process as I presented each case. I have always been blown away by her passion for engaging with each student in a motivational manner.

Q4: What has been your favorite subject/topic to teach?
A: “Biomechanics. But not because it is easy. It is a challenge. However, once something clicks, it is so rewarding, and more complex information can be added on top of that.”

During our PMP II classes, Dr.Moellmer would take the time to explain the concepts behind certain topics by using a variety of teaching methods. Whether it involved using a 3-D model of the ankle joint axis or finding a step-by-step video explaining a surgery, Dr.Moellmer would create a strong foundation for the principles, and then continued to add layers of complexity while moving forward. She would add a level of creativity to her lectures, and would make sure her students understood the basic concepts before looking at the clinical significance.

Q5: What inspired you to get into the field of teaching?
A: “I was teaching for free in private practice and volunteering all the time at races (LA Marathon). I also volunteered to teach PA’s, PT’s, DO’s and MD’s. When the job was offered, I figured it was not that much of a stretch from what I was already doing. However, the lectures were a stretch, and it took me a while to find my groove.”

Q6: What has been a memorable moment for you as a faculty member?
A: “I once asked a clinical student to interpret an X-ray. She was pretty quiet, and she was quite hesitant as she answered. However, she was correct, and I told her so. I told her she needs to present herself with more confidence because she was right. That changed her personality from that point on. She and I are still texting, and she is in private practice now.”

Dr.Moellmer has left a positive impression on many of her previous students because she will work with them to be confident in their diagnosis. By creating a motivating environment, she is a teacher who helps students understand how to best improve their clinical skills, presentations, and techniques. In essence, she has accomplished what many teachers hope to be: a reliable mentor who provides pragmatic feedback, but also motivates her students to strive for the best.

Q7: How do you think podiatry curriculums will change in the future?
A: I think there will be less surgical concepts and more time for “shared curriculum”, but biomechanics will continue to be taught. Anticipating where motion will present helps you surgically as well as non-surgically. Biomechanical principles are integral to podiatric medicine.

Q8: How has it been balancing your family life with your work life?
A: “Mostly great. Some days are awful. Being on call is really hard with a young family. You need to have a good spouse or sometimes things fall through the cracks.”

Q9: What advice would you give young female physicians in podiatry school or still starting their careers?
A: “Find your tribe. I have another girlfriend [who is a] DPM, and if she’s late picking up her son, I pick him up. If my husband is not working at home one day, another girlfriend who works at home can look out for our son. Some days you’ll need help, and some days you’ll give help. Find your people.”

As Dr.Moellmer has demonstrated time and time again, it is incredibly important to surround yourself with trustworthy individuals, who are willing to lend a hand. Each step of this journey will have moments of fulfillment scattered amongst times of unpredictability. However, by having a dependable team by your side, every challenge in this journey becomes an opportunity to grow instead.

Q9: What has been your favorite moment as an AAWP Clinical Student Advisor?
A: “I really liked [when we had] a panel with female residents, private practice DPM’s, physicians with and without kids, and those who were board certified. All of us [were] from all aspects of the specialty. [We] answered questions, hopefully inspired you, and made you realize you can do it all…just not all at the same time 🙂”

Q10: If a female student wanted to be a leader in the field, what would your advice to her be?
A: “Do it. Get involved. It’s not hard.”

Interview with Rebecca Moellmer, DPM.
By Samta Batra, Western University College of Podiatric Medicine, Class of 2021
“Dr. Rebecca Moellmer: A Teacher For the Books”