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Get to Know the Doctors: An Interview with Dr. Menke

It’s time to get to know the doctors that make up the incredible team at ilumin! This month, we sat down for a one-on-one interview with Dr. Brandon Menke.

Dr. Menke discusses his life as a devoted family man, balancing time as both an ophthalmologist and Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy Reserve, and his staunch belief in pancakes as a dinner food.

When and why did you decide you wanted to become an Ophthalmologist? What drew you to it?

I initially became intrigued with Ophthalmology when I was in high school. My senior year of high school I was enrolled in a class that allowed me the opportunity to spend half of the day shadowing different medical specialties; Orthopaedics, Otolaryngology, Ophthalmology, etc. I enjoyed the patient care aspect of the specialty and also the impact and outcomes of the surgeries.

From there, I got involved with research while in undergrad and medical school at the University of Iowa. At first it was with diabetic research and molecular signaling, then in medical school I completed a year long research fellowship focusing on stem cells and retinal regeneration.

After that, I knew Ophthalmology was for me and I dove into the many different surgeries, procedures and treatments that the specialty offers. I did then, as I do now, thoroughly enjoy the detailed and delicate manner in which ophthalmologic surgeries are performed and the precision they require.

How did you find yourself studying retinal regeneration?

During medical school, I applied and was accepted into the Doris Duke Clinical Reseach Fellowship. Fortunately for me, Dr Budd Tucker was also a new faculty member at the University of Iowa and was laying the foundation for what today is a world leading research lab.

However, my introduction to stem cells goes back to high school, where I one day spent an entire day at a seminar on modern stem cell research and their therapeutic potential. After that day, I was hooked.

So, between my luck of Dr Tucker starting at the same time as my fellowship and my interest in stem cells, retinal regeneration research was fortuitous as it was serendipitous.

Of the awards and accolades you’ve received in your career, what are you the most proud of?

While not necessarily an award, being accepted into and completing my research fellowship is definitely something I am proud of. I believe that while small, my contribution to stem cell research has hopefully advanced the field and may soon help guide therapeutic treatments.

The advancement of modern medicine is only pursued by those that are willing to take risks, and dive into a world of unknown. While the vast majority of my time is now devoted to clinical work and surgery, I am proud to have contributed a small glimpse into the understanding of and what is possible with stem cells.

You’re a big family man. What kinds of things do you and your family enjoy doing together?

My wife and I would certainly qualify as parents that are obsessed with their kids. In fact, for better or worse, we’ve yet to be apart from them from for more than 2 days.

Between the pandemic, their young age, and having all of our family nearby, we haven’t had a lot of reason to leave. This forced us to get creative in spending time with our girls and we have found many things to enjoy in Omaha. The many parks, Children’s museums, and the zoo keep us pretty busy.

Besides that, my oldest daughter, Sloane, is 3.5 years old and is obsessed with ice skating and watching hockey. She probably watched more of the Stanley Cup playoffs this year than I did. So, we go ice skating frequently. Meanwhile, Blaire, our youngest, is obsessed with animals so watching them on TV is a big hit.

Outside of the activities with our girls, my wife and I make time to go to Au Courant, our favorite restaurant, as often as we can.

You’re also Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy Reserve. Can you talk about that balance, and what draws you to the services?

Both of my grandfathers were in the military, one in the Army and the other in the Navy. My extended family is also in the Air Force, so military service is rampant in my family.

The balance is certainly difficult, as Reservists end up working several weeks straight with drill weekends, hospital call, and regular work weeks seemingly running together. However, I owe my ability to serve my country and our patients to my wife. Her willingness and sacrifice while I’m away provides the strong foundation that is needed to make my service possible.

As far as my interest in the military, my reasoning is fairly simple, and that is that it is the right thing to do. The servicemen and women in our country‘s history have provided so much, including things that I find sacred. The least I can do is provide my services to those that similarly believe that the ideals that this country was founded upon, are worth defending.

What’s your favorite thing about being part of the ilumin team?

When I first started here in 2018, I initially had no intention of moving to Omaha, Nebraska. My intention had always been to return to my hometown of Des Moines, Iowa. However, when I met my current partners, there was a warmth about them and welcoming nature that put me at ease and made work seem more like a hobby, rather than an obligation.

When I met the staff, they all were very happy and proud of the service that they provided, and some staff had been here for more than 30 years. The longevity and collaboration of all staff and physicians is what initially piqued my interest.

From there, the comprehensive nature of the practice, the diverse mix of patients, and the affordability and livability of the Omaha area is what sealed the deal.

Now being a partner, I am very proud to have an office that has exceptional staff, from the front office, to the tech staff, to the accounting department. I believe that we provide excellent care and compassion for our patients, and also maintain a family atmosphere for our staff. I can honestly say that I come to the office excited and happy to see patients every single day.

What’s an interesting fact about you that you think your colleagues or patients would be surprised by?

I don’t know if there is much that my colleagues or staff don’t already know about me. But, my patients may be interested to know that I love Iowa wrestling and Colorado Avalanche hockey, that I’m obsessed with my wife and kids, and also that I love fast cars and motorcycles. In fact, I have an autographed photo of Dan Gable winning Olympic gold as well as a signed Peter Forsberg jersey in my office.

However, something that might surprise some people is to learn that I actually was close to completely changing my specialty after medical school. To this day, I am still interested in pediatric cardiothoracic surgery and the anomalies that can occur. My intrigue comes from the ch
allenging surgical nature of those medical problems, as well as the profound impact that can be had on a patient and their family. I also wanted to use my then newly acquired knowledge of stem cells to create patient specific, transplantable tissues.

Besides my previously changing medical interest, I also enjoy reading classical poetry, reading philosophy, and boating. Lastly, I love winter, enjoy the sound of driving on a gravel road in my truck, and think that pancakes are an acceptable dinner meal.