Throughout her studies at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, fourth-year medical student Natalie Kukulka has tried to step beyond the book and devote herself to the care of others. Her devotion to academic excellence, exemplary leadership and community engagement recently earned her a $10,000 scholarship from Tylenol. Kukulka is one of only 10 health profession students in the country — including undergraduate and graduate health education, medical school, public health, nursing and pharmacy degree applicants — to receive the award.
Kukulka has structured her educational experiences toward plans to become a pediatric neurologist and continue working in the community, conducting research and exploring global studies.
“I have always been fascinated by the human brain,” Kukulka said. “I want to merge my intellectual curiosity, research involvement, passion for neurology and love for pediatric patients into one career in pediatric neurology. For a relatively young medical specialty, I anticipate many challenges ahead, but I also look forward to taking part in groundbreaking research that has yet to come.”
As a medical student, Kukulka demonstrated a commitment to patient care as an advocate, researcher and leader in clinical and community settings. In collaboration with the Department of Neurology, she helped address the lack of neurological care in an underserved community by creating free neurology clinic nights at the MedZou Community Health Clinic while also serving as the director of patient advocacy and referrals. She also organized the first Autism Awareness Walk in Columbia in collaboration with the Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Autism Speaks, as well as various panels, workshops and outreach events intended to educate and inform medical students and the community. In her spare time, she serves as the copy editor for the American Journal of Hospital Medicine.
Her interests in neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and myasthenia gravis have earned her several awards, including the School of Medicine Dean’s Award for Outstanding Research and recognition from the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) and the American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine (AANEM). Under her co-leadership, the Student Interest Group in Neurology (SIGN) was also awarded the Chancellor’s Excellence Award for the Most Outstanding Small Organization on Campus and the Most Improved Student Organization by the School of Medicine.
“I am delighted that Ms. Kukulka has received this national recognition,” said Jerry Parker, PhD, associate dean for research at the MU School of Medicine. “I have enjoyed observing her many accomplishments as a medical student. She is very deserving of this highly competitive distinction.”