November 16, 2020

Q&A with Ronald Koenig, M.D., Ph.D.: Finding your place in the medical field

An endocrinologist specializing in thyroid cancer and creator of the Hemoglobin A1c test for diabetes reflects on his career, offering advice for aspiring researchers

Ronald Koenig, M.D., Ph.D., with his grandson

Some people are born to be medical researchers – like Ronald Koenig, M.D., Ph.D., an endocrinologist specializing in thyroid cancer at the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center. According to him, the excitement of diving into the unknown and potentially “cracking the nut” on a big, biological mystery is one of the medical field’s greatest joys.

“To think about an unanswered medical question and then create a test to try and solve that, using my knowledge and experience, has been incredibly rewarding,” he says.

Now, as he transitions into retirement after his 40-year career, Koenig reflects on his proudest medical discoveries, advice for new medical students and the future of thyroid cancer care.

What has your career looked like at Michigan Medicine?

I moved to Michigan in 1988, splitting my professional time between medical research and being a physician. Being in a lab, but also being able to develop relationships with patients  has provided unique aspects of professional fulfillment that the other doesn’t for me. It gave me balance in my career that I’ve appreciated.

I’ve been drawn to the intellectual challenges of research since college. Often times, research can be frustrating, but the draw of solving a medical question yet to be solved is irresistible. The fact I can test a hypothesis because I find it interesting and important and take it wherever the data may lead… that intellectual freedom is wonderful. That’s how science progresses.

On the other hand, I don’t think I’d be happy without patient care which is why I’ll still do that part time at the Rogel Cancer Center. It’s rewarding work. I get to see patients longitudinally, over years and years, and develop personal relationships with them.