A Legacy of Learning

It’s not surprising that Karin Kuhn, a first-year medical student at The George Washington University, decided to become a doctor. As a child, while her peers played with trucks and dolls, Kuhn used her scientist father’s microscope as a “toy.” She continued her pursuit of science during and after college, earning a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree and then working as a physical therapist and clinic manager.

Now, she is not just a medical student, but a distinguished one. On March 21, Kuhn was honored with the annual Marilyn J. Koering award for excellence in Microscopic Anatomy, a recognition bestowed upon the top medical student in the first-year Cell and Tissue Biology course.

Microanatomy provides the foundation for several other disciplines in medicine,” says Kuhn, who is currently deciding which subspecialty she would like to pursue upon graduation. “I enjoyed gaining a greater understanding of human physiology through microanatomy, and I look forward to applying this knowledge in the future. It is truly amazing to see the intricacies of the human body under the microscope!”

Kuhn’s enthusiasm and joy of learning exemplifies the award’s namesake, Marilyn J. Koering, who was a professor of Anatomy at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) from 1969 until 2003. Engaging, inspiring, and beloved, Koering was described by her students as a teacher who truly cared about them both personally and professionally, and who constantly worked to ensure that they would become excellent physicians. In 1996, Dr. Koering was awarded for her passion, dedication, and excellence with the GW Distinguished Teaching Award. “She just loved what she did,” said her sister, Susan Koering, who attended the award presentation. “She gave her whole life to her research and her teaching.”

In addition to being lauded for her academic endeavors, Koering was also admired for her strength of character. She fiercely battled malignant melanoma for 21 years, during which she composed essays, made TV appearances, and addressed cancer support groups. She would even use her own case history during lectures to her students, after which she would often receive standing ovations.

When another form of cancer took Koering’s life in 2008, her students and family wanted to establish an award to honor her memory. “It helps continue her presence and recognize what she had done at GW for 34 years,” explains her sister.

Linda Gallo, Ph.D., professor emeritus at SMHS, who chronicled Koering’s life and accomplishments at the award presentation, invited the students in attendance to remember Koering by following some of her favorite advice: “‘Be as informed as possible in all aspects of the disease you are treating and always remember there is a human with feelings inside that body,’” Gallo recited. “These are words I have often heard her say, and wise words they are.”

Koering’s legacy of learning also lives through in the aptly-trained physicians-to-be at GW. “My classmates are a group of incredibly talented and accomplished individuals, and it has been a privilege to call them my peers,” explains Kuhn. “So it was very meaningful to be selected from this group. I was very honored to receive this distinction.”

Kuhn was the second recipient of the Marilyn J. Koering award, which will be awarded each year in the Spring semester.

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