Commencement 2024: Meet Allison Hagenow

Date: Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Hometown: Walford, Iowa 

Undergrad: Chemical engineering, University of Iowa 

Matched: Anesthesia, University of Iowa

Portrait of Allison Hagenow

What drew you to a career in medicine?

I’ve been interested in medicine for as long as I can remember. My mom worked as an X-ray technician, and I loved it when I would get to visit her at work. I was intrigued by the “big doughnut machine,” and I imagined that it magically made sick people feel better. Being so young, I had little idea of the dedication required to become a physician, but the hospital felt like my home away from home.  

As I entered college, I had a passion for math, science, and technology. I decided to pursue a degree in chemical engineering, but the idea of practicing medicine persisted. I like problem-solving, and there are many parallels between engineering and medicine. With anesthesia, there are a lot of circuits and feedback loops within the gas delivery systems, and things like that are similar to chemical engineering.  

It’s my long-term goal to combine my interests and do something in innovation and research, like product development, and I think that my engineering background will be helpful.

Tell me about your research in medical school.

I did a research project in the neonatal intensive care unit [NICU]. A new protocol for screening creatinine in the NICU was implemented, and we investigated if that was successful in detecting acute kidney injury and changing management, whether that be getting nephrology involved or differences in follow-up. We found a significant increase in acute kidney injury diagnosis and nephrology consultation.That paper was published recently, so that was super exciting. 

More recently, I have been involved in an anesthesia project with Dr. Ituk [Unyime Ituk, MBBS] looking at postdural puncture headaches after epidural placements for labor. Right now, we’re in the recruitment phase, so I spend a lot of time talking to patients and getting their histories. The preliminary results have been interesting, and I am excited to see what the research shows.

Outside of coursework, what was important to you in your time here?


Allison Hagenow holding her infant son, who was born while she was in medical school.I am passionate about promoting wellness and mental health. In my time in medical school, I served on a couple of the wellness committees. On the wellness committee for the McCowen learning community, we planned events like going on hikes, dodgeball, trivia nights, and other fun activities. I served as clinical wellness chair for Wellness on the Wards, and one thing we worked on was reinstalling flex days. The idea is that students can more easily take time off, either for mental health wellness or to schedule appointments, with no questions asked. We also tried to stress to students that if they're having a mental health crisis, that is a sick day, and they can take that and get the help they need. Wellness is important to me and something I want to promote all the way through training. 

I also became a mom during medical school! I had my son at the beginning of fourth year, this past July. I was worried at the beginning—there are certainly still people in the world of medicine who don’t really love the idea of people having kids during medical school or residency, but the college of medicine and anesthesia department here at Iowa were so supportive. Having kids in medical school is challenging, but it’s doable, and I think people should be encouraged and supported if they want to.


Why did you choose anesthesia as a specialty?

One of my primary motivations for pursuing a career in medicine is the ability to make a positive difference in people’s lives. Medical experiences are generally negative for patients; the hospital is not somewhere people generally want to be. What I really like about anesthesia is that it's actively trying to make that experience better and providing comfort in any way that we can. Anesthesia is a unique specialty in that you often don’t meet patients until minutes before a major medical procedure, and then they're going to trust you with their life. It's a privilege to be able to help them and to be their advocate during surgery. 

I enjoy that anesthesiologists see all types of patients and pathologies. I like that it's procedural. There's a lot of engineering thinking in anesthesia and a lot of critical care medicine, which is fun. I read once that in anesthesia, you must have the brain of an internist, the heart of a psychiatrist, and the hands of a surgeon.

What’s your fondest memory of medical school?

I have a hard time picking one moment as I look back and remember all the time spent in that first year in the classroom, when it was COVID. We had a few people that would come in every day and sit in a classroom together to watch all the lectures. It was so fun to learn together and struggle together. Starting medical school in 2020, I think I learned the importance of reaching out to people. I really had to put in effort to make relationships, and I am so thankful for the friendships I built through medical school. As I enter residency, I want to continue to put that effort into reaching out and getting people involved. It is so important to build a strong community.

What are you most excited for in residency?

As a medical student, you spend a lot of time bouncing around from team to team. It makes it difficult to be able to see the care plan followed through from start to finish. I’m really excited to come up with a plan, implement it, talk with the patient, and start having a more direct impact on care.

What advice would you give to a first-year medical student?

As a big Disney fan, I would offer some words from Cinderella: “Have courage and be kind.” Medical school is challenging, and there can be times where you face self-doubt. Have courage to show up every day, share your ideas, push yourself, and learn from your mistakes. If your actions are rooted in kindness and compassion, you will always be doing the right thing. I have reminded myself of these words during stressful moments of my training, and it has helped keep me grounded in what is important.  

When times get tough, be sure to take care of yourself. Do things that fill your bucket and be with the people that you love. Medical training is a lifelong journey. Continue to find joy in the everyday tasks and always remember what brought you to health care in the first place. You’ve got this!