“I remember doing the first aid unit in seventh-grade health class and absolutely loving the material,” says Minnetonka High School graduate Natalie Van Ochten. “Since then, I always said I wanted a career in medicine.” But, she adds, she didn’t know exactly what shape it would take. “I shadowed dentists, nurses, clinical lab scientists, physical therapists and many kinds of physicians. I found the most impactful experiences to be with doctors, and knew this is what I wanted to do in the future.” Van Ochten, who graduated from MHS in 2014, is currently attending the University of Minnesota Medical School, after completing her undergraduate work in biology and biochemistry at Butler University at Indianapolis. She says she’s excited to be back in Minnesota. It “was the place where I fell in love with medicine.”
In a serendipitous twist, Van Ochten finds herself back in Minnesota with her older sister Hannah, who graduated from MHS in 2012 and is working on her PharmD degree from the University of Minnesota Pharmacy School. The sisters, who say they didn’t have many interests in common growing up, are now pursuing parallel—if different—paths to careers in the healthcare field, inspired by their love for science and their desire to help others. “Growing up, we were pretty much polar opposites,” says Natalie. “We did different activities, had different interests, and did not see each other much except for family dinners.” Neither of their parents has a healthcare-related job, so the young women arrived there totally independently. “Once Hannah started college and majored in biochemistry, we started growing closer,” says Natalie. “Now I have the ability to cheer her on from down the hall…We both love teaching and mentoring, care about science and scientific advancement, and want to devote our lives to serving others through medicine.”
“I found my love of science initially in general chemistry [at MHS] with Mr. Fenner,” says Hannah. “I realized I liked biology, chemistry and application.” Hannah studied biochemistry in her undergrad work at the University of Iowa, and found herself drawn to pharmacy’s focus on patient-centered care. And being back in Minnesota was the icing on the cake. “I love the city of Minneapolis, and I was very happy to have the opportunity to come home and be around family,” she says.
Natalie adds, “I get to see my sister on campus often, which is great.” It’s clear the Van Ochtens have a lot of admiration for each other, and both are involved in student organizations around healthcare. Hannah helped found the Public Health Student Advocacy Alliance and was able to co-write a bill regarding medications that’s currently being read in the state legislature. “It’s been really inspiring to see her develop as a professional,” Natalie says.
When they have the time, both sisters like to stay active and explore the outdoors—they ski together with their family, Natalie plays soccer and coaches with Tonka United, and Hannah likes to bike and hike. When you talk with them, though, it’s pretty clear that their ultimate passions are for their studies and their plans for improving healthcare, each in her own way. So what’s next? Hannah is looking forward to her pharmacy residency program, and then working in a clinic, hopefully in family medicine. “I’m also working towards my Masters of Public Health,” she says, “and I’m focusing my electives on policy. I hope my future career [relates] to organizational or state policy work.”
Natalie is exploring medical interests including sports medicine, cardiology, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and family medicine. “One of [my goals] is to find the field of medicine I connect with the most,” she says, and "to get involved in medical education in some way …Mentorship played an important role in my journey to where I am today. I plan to pay this forward.”