One of this awardees of the 2016 Workhorse Scholarships traces his drive to his roots on a Minnesota farm, where his dad taught him about hard work and his mother inspired his interest in medicine.
Gunnar Nemitz, a graduate of Monticello High School originally hailing from Burnsville, said his family – parents Bruce and Lori, and sister Brielle – were his first support network that helped shape his perspective moving forward. He noted that his family, filled with medical practitioners, aided his eventual pursuit of medicine.
Gunnar joked that it took some shaping from early on.
“My elementary school years had me thinking I would either be a professional athlete or an ice cream man, so I clearly didn’t think about it too much,” he said. “Once I was in middle school, I loved science, so I knew I wanted to pursue that in a way that I could directly help people. High school directed me to the field of medicine and I continued to run with it.”
Like many high school graduates, he realized the necessity of finding his own financial freedom early and went to work for a construction company, where he worked as much as he could – sometimes up to 80 hours per week pinning barriers to construction sites.
“I never knew when I would work next so I was kind of always on call …I currently work 50 hours of construction and about 14 hours at the St. Anthony Walgreens in Minneapolis,” he added, saying that work ethic was something he learned from his father. “He worked his butt off and when he came home, he would work in the yard or around the house. I always admired the amount of hours he would work to grow our financial stability. Even in the weeks when I would work 80 hours, my dad would have at least 10 more hours than me.”
Gunnar noted that additionally, he looked up to the many health professionals in his family, and now had found a mentor in the manager of his pharmacy
“I had always wanted to be a health professional, and thought pharmacy school was my route for a while,” he said. “She helped me realize that medicine was my route, just based on conversation. My work in the pharmacy has been an incredible experience that gave me a lot of interaction with patients and education on medicine.”
He noted that her technical expertise combined with her high customer service and care toward patients was incredible and was helpful to see firsthand as he moved forward. He also drew inspiration from his aunt Diane, a physical therapist with her own clinic.
“The value that she has in her clinics and in society has grown because of her dedication to learning something she was interested in,” Gunnar said. “I really want to pursue something like that when I am a doctor.”
The give-back spirit and encouraging attitude made him a top choice to be a finalist, said Erickson Merkel Foundation Director Jared Klempel.
“With Gunnar, I think the board saw quite a lot of dedication and commitment to both work and school – in this case medicine,” Klempel said. “His application and work record really highlighted the characteristics of a workhorse to many of us.”
When not at work or studying, Gunnar has found time to help mentor freshmen at the University of Minnesota, and volunteering as a basketball coach. He noted that to continue his forward progress while dealing with a full schedule, he found motivation in his natural desire to improve, every day.
“My grades mean everything to me,” Gunnar said. “I want good grades more than I want to go out on Fridays, more than I want to watch Netflix, more than anything. I make sure I am always prepared to do my best on exams.”
He added that after receiving a lower grade than he would have liked during a microbiology class, he doubled-down on his studying. By the end of the semester he’d completed the work with an A average, “which was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever experienced.”
The motivation to succeed remains strong with Gunnar, who says he wakes up each day at 5 a.m. to reach his goals. And he continues to move forward to meet them. He will continue to pursue academics throughout medical school and then focus on a specialty, possibly pediatrics or cardiology.