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Tuning it Out

Success comes at every step to alumna with hearing loss on path to become a doctor

Bonnie McKee Crume poses on a Boston street

(Photos by Caitlan Cunninghan Photography)

From The Ichabod - Fall 2018

She was two years into medical school. He just graduated from Washburn University. She wanted her former advisor and biology professor, John Mullican, to officiate their upcoming wedding, and she had the perfect plan to ask him.

“I walk into the graduation party and both families are there,” Mullican said. “Basically, it was like a setup. She asked me what I’m doing over New Year’s. She said, ‘We’re getting married and would like you to officiate the wedding.’”

He couldn’t say no. The future bride – today Dr. Bonnie McKee Crume, bs ’14 - was one of his most decorated students before she went to the University of Kansas School of Medicine where she was – once again – one of the most decorated students.

She was a Sibberson Award recipient, Washburn’s highest academic honor. She was Homecoming queen. She was a member of Zeta Tau Alpha and numerous academic societies. She volunteered often, presented research at conferences and received numerous scholarships.

“Washburn was more than academic training,” McKee Crume said. “I learned about myself and gained a family.”

Tackling Obstacles

What often goes unnoticed and unmentioned about McKee Crume is that she was born with bilateral severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss. She communicates through her speech and by reading lips. With an assistive device, she can make out some sound.

“It’s not something she says up front to people,” said her husband, Alex Crume, b ed ’16. “She doesn’t want to use it as an excuse or even draw attention to it.”

She’s faced obstacles at every step since growing up in Abilene, Kansas. Coming to Washburn, it was leaving her family and learning in a new environment. KU presented challenges communicating in operating rooms when masks covered everyone’s lips. For residency, she was ready for something easier, and she considered passing up the top-rated children’s hospital.

Finding her Passion

Early interactions gave McKee Crume confidence to get involved when she first arrived at Washburn.

“I didn’t lift a finger on Move-In Day,” she said. “I went to sign in, and a few minutes later, my stuff was in my room. You’re surrounded by very positive, uplifting people, and it wasn’t an intimidating environment. I was very grateful for that transition.”

A simple conversation with her professors made communicating in class easy.

“I would write on the board and then turn around and talk so she could see me,” Mullican said. “She would, ‘ahem,’ clear her throat and get my attention if I was talking to the board.”

McKee Crume always loved biology and chemistry and knew she wanted to work in those fields.

“When I met Dr. Mullican, he led me to a pre-med pathway,” she said. “Looking at the classes you would take, I was excited about it. It jump-started my passion. My passion grows each day. Everything I love about science can come to life in medicine.

“Dr. Mullican was more than my professor. He was my mentor and I looked up to him and considered him my father away from home.”

Leaving her Comfort Zone

After graduating from KU this spring with a 4.0 grade-point average, residency was next. A KU advisor insisted she apply at Boston Children’s Hospital, the top-rated children’s hospital in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report. She got an interview and was accepted, but she feared starting over at a new place.

“Being hearing impaired, there have been a lot of barriers to overcome, and I was ready to have it a little easier in residency,” McKee Crume said. “People at Boston were encouraging me to step outside my boundary even further.”

And it was the perfect place for someone wanting to practice pediatric medicine.

“In pediatrics, I spent a lot of my time educating parents, and I want education to be a main part of my pathway,” she said. “And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that I love kids.”

Bonnie McKee Crume and Alex CrumeThanks to her husband, she chose Boston, and they moved there this summer. He got a job teaching math at a charter school.

“I told her, when you get an opportunity to go to the top place, arguably, in the world for pediatrics, you can’t pass that up no matter how uncomfortable the situation,” Crume said.

“I noticed how much I had grown in the past four years,” McKee Crume said. “I know if I continue to step outside my comfort zone, so many more opportunities will be out there for me.”

Mullican believes her choice will pay off.

“She can do whatever she wants now,” he said. “She can teach at Harvard. She can come back to Abilene and practice. She can write her own ticket.”

Marching band member in uniform on cover of The Ichabod winter 2020

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2019-20 winter edition online and look for it in mailboxes in January.

View past editions


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