A sit-down with MUSC College of Nursing's own Martina Mueller

Martina Mueller poses outside.
Credit: Zheng Chia

by Celia Spell

Martina Mueller grew up in the Rhine Valley in Germany, which is an area about an hour south of Heidelberg known for its vineyards, castles and unique geography. Mueller was working there as a nurse when she decided to move to the United States on a Fulbright Scholarship at 34 to pursue a second master's degree but this time in biostatistics at MUSC. What was supposed to be a nine-month stay abroad turned into 28 years as she fell in love with the warm temperatures and the coast. Following her master's, she pursued her Ph.D. in biostatistics and bioinformatics and started her life in South Carolina more officially.

Now, Mueller works in the College of Nursing at MUSC and loves the variety of research she has a hand in. Progressnotes recently sat down with her to discuss her role at MUSC and her life in the U.S.

So, what first brought you here to the United States from Germany?

My first foray into the professional world was actually in a degree in nursing. In Germany, it was considered a vocational degree, which requires a lot of hands-on learning. It was the 90s, so computers were just coming up, and people kept telling us what computers couldn't do. I wanted to learn if it was the computers that couldn't do something or if people didn't know how to make the computer do it.

Medical informatics was very new at the time, and I found a program at MUSC that matched my interests. I decided to broaden my horizons and expand my knowledge. That was my first exposure to statistics in depth, and a mentor at the time pushed me to get a Ph.D. in the subject. I started as an assistant professor in the College of Nursing with my background and worked my way up. I like working here in this environment.

What kind of research projects do you work on at MUSC?

I really enjoy working with the people here and the work I'm doing. I'm fortunate enough to do research with anyone at the college who wants to do research and, with that, get involved in all sorts of areas. I've worked with Teresa Kelechi on her wound care work for preventing leg ulcers. I've worked with Sarah Miller on her work surrounding chronic respiratory diseases like asthma, and Shannon Phillips' work with patients with sickle cell disease, and I've even been to India for work related to palliative care in patients with late-stage cancer. I am also involved in a study on electroconvulsive therapy to lessen aggression and agitation in dementia patients and two studies around trauma sequelae.

It's so varied that I never have a boring minute. I really enjoy all of that.

I see your helmet and bike clothes on the hanger over there. What are some things you do outside of work?

Oh yes, I ride my bike to and from work. Before I built that into my routine, I found I came home from work tired and unmotivated. My husband is retired but works part-time as a bike technician, and he had me thinking I could bike my commute instead. I started by biking to the bus, but that grew into biking the full 10 miles to work downtown and again back home to North Charleston each day.

Another thing I like to do is sing. I sing in the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Chorus, and I'm currently also their treasurer. I enjoy singing with them very much. We have regular concerts with the CSO at the Gaillard throughout the season. We've also been involved in the Spoleto Festival in the past, and last year, we sang in the library as part of Piccolo Spoleto.

How long have you and your husband been married?

We've been married for about 11 years. We met in 2005 and spent our weekends sailing the Charleston Harbor. In 2010, he decided to start building a steel sailboat in his free time – his dreamboat. He completed the hull in 2013, and we invited people to visit for the launch of the boat. We made a big deal of the christening so that our friends and family would come to Charleston for it, and then, instead of merely a boat launch, we threw a surprise wedding on the boat and surprised everyone by getting married. It was a fun event.