Time out with T.O. - A unique life's journey

By Tom O'Connor, UNMC Public Relations | July 23, 2019

Image with caption: Joel Michalski, MD, PhD

Joel Michalski, MD, PhD

You never know where life is going to take you.
Case in point - Joel Michalski came from a hard-working, blue-collar Omaha family. His dad was a steamfitter, his brother a machinist.
Joel had the same genes. He loved working with his hands, being outside. After graduating from Omaha Northwest High School in 2000, his game plan was to go to Southeast Community College in Milford, Neb., and become a tool and die technician. These are the guys you love to call your friends - they are handymen who can do just about everything.
Joel started working at KFC at age 16. He was a supervisor by 17 and a manager by 19. But, he knew it wasn’t his bag. His urge to be outside led him to be a commercial roofer one summer. It was a turning point in his career.
It was a hot, dirty job. He learned quickly that "tearing off a roof can be hard on the old body."
He decided to stay in Omaha and went to the University of Nebraska at Omaha for one year and then Metropolitan Community College for a couple years. From there, he went to Wayne State College in Wayne, Neb. He was the first member of his family to go to college.
In 2005, Joel graduated with a biology major. He landed a one-year, temporary research position in the lab of one of UNMC’s leading stem cell researchers, J. Graham Sharp, Ph.D., professor, genetics, cell biology and anatomy.
Joel loved the experience and decided to apply for medical school. Lo and behold, he got accepted. With his interest in research, one of his lab colleagues, Barbara O’Kane Murphy, Ph.D., suggested that Joel should apply to the M.D./Ph.D. program. He got in - no sweat -  earning his Ph.D. in 2011, his medical degree in 2013.
After a three-year residency in internal medicine and a three-year fellowship in hematology/oncology, Joel had spent a total of 13 years in training at UNMC.  
During this period, he met and married Sara May, M.D., who is now an allergist on the UNMC faculty. They have twin boys, Ethan and Henry, who are 3 ½. They’ll celebrate their ninth anniversary this month.
In August, Joel will begin the next chapter of his journey, as he has taken a position with Nebraska Cancer Specialists, a private practice oncology group in Omaha.
He thinks his unique background will serve him well.
"For once in my life, I decided to take the route of least resistance," he said. "I’ve picked up so much along the way. I should be able to establish a rapport with a lot of different patients. I can talk about welding, rebuilding an engine, cabinet making, you name it."
And, best of all, helping patients sure beats roofing. 


Fill out the following. We welcome respectful comments pertaining to the subject of the article. Comments are subject to approval by UNMC.

Name (Required)

Email (Required)

Thank you, your comment will appear below once it has been approved.

Graham Sharp
August 15, 2019 at 2:25 PM

Congratulations! Great journey so far. Look forward to many more successful future endeavors!

Kim Latacha
August 15, 2019 at 9:11 AM

Congratulations, Joel! It has been a joy to watch you on this journey and we wish much success in your future endeavors.

Nicole Hackendahl
August 15, 2019 at 8:49 AM

What an interesting and fun journey!! Thanks for sharing.