Chances are, if you meet Megan (Kaszuba) Everson at her work, you are having the worst day of your life. Not because of Megan — she’s a wonderful person — but because of where she works: the Neurosurgery Department at Mayo Clinic.
Yes, that Mayo Clinic.
Megan has been a neurosurgery resident at the world-renowned hospital for the last 5 years. But before residency, before medical school at Rush University, before attending St. Olaf College, Megan was a student at Timothy Christian.
She started going to Timothy in kindergarten and demonstrated incredible potential from a young age. Megan remembers her second grade teacher, Mrs. Dec, especially nurtured that potential. Mrs. Dec would go the extra mile for Megan, often teaching outside the academic curriculum to keep her engaged. In high school, she was most inspired by Mr. Zylstra, who taught a number of her Honors and AP classes. “He was just a man of such great character,” she recalls.
When Megan graduated from Timothy Christian High School in 2008, she left an exceptional academic record behind her; she was valedictorian of both her middle school and high school class. At that point in her life, though, she had no intention of going into medicine. She entered St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota as a political science major, hoping to go to law school and then work for the government.
Going into medicine was the result of “a total accident,” she says. In order to finish a political science paper on time and avoid the wrath of a particularly grumpy professor, Megan ended up missing a recruiting session for the CIA. “I was super bummed,” Megan recalls, “like, devastated.” In fact, she was so irritated by this missed opportunity that she began to look into different career paths. Even though she hadn’t taken any science courses in college yet, she began to look into government pharmacy jobs. “From there,” she says, “it spiraled into, well, let's do some volunteering in the emergency department.” One thing led to another, and Megan went off to Rush University for medical school.
Even upon entering her first year of medical school, Megan said she still “had zero intentions of doing neurosurgery.” It only came across her path in a first-year lunch lecture that she only attended because there was going to be free food. “When you're in med school, you are poor and hungry,” she laughs, “And if someone offers you a sandwich at a lunch lecture, you will go.” At the end of the lecture, though, the head of the Neurosurgery Department offered to let students shadow a surgery and Megan thought, “that would be cool to tell my kids that I saw a brain surgery.” She shadowed the surgeon and enjoyed it so much that she ended up going back again and again, until eventually, she was doing research with the department faculty.
That same thought of “that would be cool to tell my kids.” was what led Megan to residency at Mayo Clinic, as well. In ultra-competitive specialties like neurosurgery, fourth year medical students participate in what are called “away rotations,” which are essentially month long job auditions. Megan was understandably attracted to a world-class institution like Mayo, and decided to do one of her rotations there. Suffice to say, the audition went well.
Neurosurgery is one of the most demanding medical specialities out there, requiring the longest residency of any discipline. Megan works about eighty hours a week, every week. On a typical day at Mayo, she rounds on patients around 5:30 in the morning, goes to an educational conference at seven, and then for the rest of the day she’s operating on patients —often late into the afternoon and evening.
As formidable as that schedule sounds, Megan’s residency entails even more work than your “average” neurosurgeon. She’s training to become a specialist in a discipline called “peripheral nerve,” which basically means she’ll be repairing nerves in hands, legs, arms, and feet along with brains and spines. For most trainees, focusing on such a highly-specialized topic would require extra years of schooling, but Megan is doing her peripheral nerve fellowship enfolded into her residency.
What all of this means is that Megan has been doing a superhuman amount of work for years— and she still has a few more years to go. She stays sane through gardening and spending time with her husband, Josh, who does the lion’s share of the work around the house. “But,” she says, “there are definitely days where you think, ‘This is not worth it anymore.’”
What keeps her going, though, is the sheer impact she can have on peoples’ lives. Working in neurosurgery, Megan meets with people when they are going through the most difficult days of their lifetime, and she is so often the person who turns it all around. She lights up talking about it, “You can literally save people’s lives,” she explains. “When you win big like that, it makes it all worth it.”
Megan does all this work because she knows her work can change peoples’ lives, and she says that motivation is grounded in her faith, “It [faith] informs everything you do and how you do it. And you'll find that people do things for a variety of motivations,” she says. “Sometimes it's money, sometimes it’s power...but if you have a higher reason for doing things, I think it changes how you do things.” And while Megan finds her own strength in her faith, so do many of her patients allowing her to connect and empathize with them in a way many of her colleagues can’t.
It should also be mentioned that 85% of Megan’s colleagues are men— the field of neurosurgery is only about 15% female. But that never gave Megan any pause on her way to the top. She never had a female mentor before residency, but she says that because of how much value her work had to her, she never let that glass ceiling get in her way. Her advice to other women who want to do the same is: “Even if it's something that's not comfortable and is not a previously blazed trail, somebody has to go first. So might as well be you.”
That theme of stopping at no obstacle, of overcoming every barrier with sheer resiliency and focus has been present throughout Megan’s life. It’s the reason she’s one of the best at one of the hardest jobs in the world.
If you ever meet Megan at Mayo, it’s likely you’re having the worst day of your life— but it’s even more likely you’ll walk out the door having your life changed for the better.