Open Book . . . Karen Billmers, SOM ’12

March 09, 2011

Each Wednesday, the Daily Voice introduces you to a student or resident at UMass Medical School. We’ve asked our subjects to answer a few questions that might reveal a little of their personalities. If you know someone who you’d like to see profiled, let us know at


Karen Billmers, SOM’12, from Lexington, graduated from UMass Amherst in 2004. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Golden Key Honors Society and was the first elected Blackstone House chair. She is on the Student Body Committee and the LCME Accreditation Committee.  karen_billmers

Why did you choose medical school, and why UMass Medical School? 

I was always interested in biology, but it wasn't until I worked in the animal field and then in a neuroscience research lab that I realized I loved both medicine itself and working with people. I fell in love with UMass Medical School from the day I stepped onto the campus. The entire faculty and student body make up a supportive community. The environment is so nurturing, I can see nowhere else I want to be as I go through such a defining and challenging time in my life. 

Describe yourself in six words or fewer. 

Small in stature but huge personality. 

If you were stranded on a deserted island, name three things you would want. 

My twin sister and our violins. 

If you could have dinner with a famous person, living or dead, who would that be and why? 

Darwin. Survival of the fittest keeps us going! 

What person or experience made you decide to pursue a medical degree and why? 

I grew up having a chronic illness and spent most of my lifetime subconsciously taking notes on what makes a great provider and what makes a less desirable one. I knew I wanted to incorporate those revelations into my own style of practicing. 

What is the most interesting or challenging job (paid or unpaid) you’ve ever had, and why? What did it teach you about yourself? 

I was a monkey trainer/veterinary assistant for monkeys that were placed with quadriplegic patients. I worked specifically with monkeys that had medical needs. I came from a background in primate behavior and thought this would be my dream job. I truly loved the work, but I came to understand what parts I loved and that they were not things I could sustain long term. That was the first time I realized how much I loved learning about and treating diseases, and helping people. I also learned that sometimes things that seem too good to be true often aren't when you look at them objectively once the initial excitement wears off. 

What would your fellow students be surprised to learn about you? 

Before medical school, I was a competitive Scottish Highland dancer. 

If UMass Medical School had not been an option, what would you be doing right now? 

I would probably be enrolled in a PhD program, and unhappy about it. 

If you could change the world as a physician, what would you like to do? 

I would like to eradicate childhood obesity. 

Most surprising thing you’ve discovered about medical school? 

Even as third-year medical students, we genuinely do play a major role in the care of our patients. 

Most surprising thing you’ve discovered about Worcester? 

There are some fantastic restaurants!