Former state representative enrolled in University of Minnesota Medical School
Hunter Cantrell, 27, attended Inver Hills Community College right after graduating from Burnsville High School in 2013. Hunter completed general education coursework during his two years at Inver with the goal to transfer to the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.
He went on to earn his Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Law, Health, and Life Science from the U of M in 2021, having focused his undergraduate studies on constitutional law principles, health and health policy, and complex, molecular biological sciences. He recently learned that he has been accepted to the U of M Medical School and will start fall term 2023.
Plenty happened in Hunter’s life between his time at Inver Hills and his acceptance to medical school. For one thing, he served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from January 2019 to January 2021. He ran successfully on the Democratic-Farm-Labor ticket and represented the citizens of Savage and Northwest Burnsville in District 56A.
Even more remarkable, Hunter’s term in office was preceded by several months of intense chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer that temporarily put his higher education plans on hold. Hunter explained that his Hodgkin’s lymphoma—initially undiagnosed—was adversely affecting his schoolwork at the U of M.
“I went on a leave of absence from the University of Minnesota one year after transferring from Inver Hills,” he said. “I had a GPA that simply was not competitive for medical school.”
When the time came for him to consider seeking reelection to the House, Hunter realized his true calling was medicine. He resumed his studies at the U of M and enhanced his medical school prospects by working as an undergraduate research assistant in the university’s Venteicher Lab, where his duties included designing and conducting CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing experiments and performing bacterial cloning and lentiviral transgene transduction.
“I decided that my life’s work and mission would be incomplete if I did not make an earnest effort to finish my bachelor’s degree and pursue becoming a physician,” he said. “I applied to the university’s medical school with a significantly stronger GPA and was accepted in 2022.”
House of Representatives and Medical School • Q & A
What circumstances inspired you to run for state office?
I come from a working-class family, and I recognized early on in my life that the decisions politicians make directly affect the lives of my family and community. I have been civically engaged since I was in high school and volunteered on the Vote No campaign to prevent the anti-marriage equality constitutional amendment in Minnesota.
That was my awakening to the power of grassroots organizing and advocacy. I never imagined I would run for office until I was sitting in a hospital bed after nearly dying from one of my chemotherapy drugs in October of 2017 while Congress was trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement—thus jeopardizing my life and the lives of countless others—and was determined to do my part to make sure we are able to make progress toward ensuring every Minnesotan is able to get the care they need.
I was still going through chemotherapy when I launched my campaign, and I was very honored to have represented the incredible community I have called my home for 20 years.
I definitely cherish having been the chief author of the bill to Ban LGBTQ+ Conversion Therapy as well as a number of other civil rights, and health equity, and healthcare affordability legislation. I carried around 80 bills in the house, including bills to fund housing stability, crack down on harmful health insurance practices, and a bill ensuring that Minnesotans with disabilities could no longer be paid less just because they have a disability.
I loved going toe-to-toe with Big Pharma, with the health insurance and hospital lobbies, and with wealthy, monied interests who oppose needed reforms to improve Minnesotans’ quality of life.
Perhaps my most favorite memories are the people who I got to meet, who shared their stories of their fears, hopes, and dreams so generously with me, and who I got to work with the try to make things better.
Are you considering running for higher office in the future?
I would certainly be honored to earn the support of my community to represent them in the future once I am finished with medical school.
Why did you decide to attend medical school?
Ever since I was in my early teens I had dreamed of becoming a physician. I have always been enamored with those who have developed the ability to use their hands, minds, and spirits to heal people who are in pain. I have always perceived medicine as the humble calling to which I should devote my life.
I encourage you to take a variety of science classes that appeal to your personal interests, but know that you may not know what these classes are until you complete your foundational courses. It is important to look at biology, chemistry, and physics (which I was never good at) as forming a composite lens through which one can actually manipulate the lessons and theories in these courses to do extraordinary things—though it might not seem like it at the time.
Do not be discouraged though if you, like me, find yourself in need of improving your GPA. Never give up hope that you have what it takes to boost your GPA, do well in your science coursework, ace the MCAT, and get accepted to medical school. Make sure to pursue extracurriculars—especially in patient care—and attempt to get your name as author on a publication or two.
Almost most importantly, do not forget that the humanities are just as important as the sciences in medicine. It is not art or science, it is both art and science.
What are you looking forward to most in medical school?
I am very much looking forward to learning the skills I need to improve patient health outcomes and become a reliable resource for my community once I graduate. I am excited to see the ways I am able to infuse humanitarianism and humanism into my medical practice, and to discover avenues of research that allow me to think creatively in pursuit of developing new regenerative medical interventions.
What medical specialty interests you the most and why?
I initially was quite interested in neurosurgery, and while I would be honored to become a neurosurgeon, a serious consideration I have is which specialty will permit me to engage maximally with my community while also pursuing some work-life balance.
More about Hunter…
Hunter has served on the Dakota Child and Family Clinic Board since late 2021. He previously worked as an AVID tutor for Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191.
Hunter’s mom, Beth, works as a nurse, and his dad, Travis, works as an IT manager. Hunter has two siblings—his brother, Max, 24, also an Inver alum, works in hose clamp sales, and his sister, Hannah, 22, is an aspiring fashion designer who recently graduated from the New York Fashion Institute of Technology.
Hunter has two dogs, a great Pyrenees-cocker spaniel mix named Obi, as in Obi-Wan Kenobi, and a pointer-Lab mix named, Koda.
In his free time, Hunter enjoys weightlifting, gardening, political advocacy and organizing, and music. He also loves painting and working with ceramics. In fact, he has returned to the Inver Hills campus for spring semester 2023 and is taking Ceramics II and Introduction to Painting. He took the latter course when he first attended Inver Hills and is taking it again as a refresher course.
“I really like the flexibility of acrylics, but I am eager to experiment with additional mediums as my skills continue to grow,” he said. As for ceramics, he likes making mugs and bowls for his friends. “The most challenging pieces I’ve made so far are tea pots. I enjoy making challenging pieces, but I really enjoy making things for friends of mine.”
Hunter resides in Savage, Minnesota, his hometown.
Learn more about Painting and Ceramics courses at Inver Hills by visiting our:
Hunter family, life, and advocacy gallery
What do you like best about your art classes at Inver Hills?
I love how supportive and talented the instructors are, and I love the arts community at Inver Hills. Everyone is so gifted and eager to share knowledge—it’s quite an artistically inspiring environment!
One word that best describes your experience at Inver Hills:
Hunter Cantrell • Q & A
How did your experience at Inver Hills inspire you to continue your education at the U of M?
Inver Hills is where I really got my academic footing under me! I was a mediocre student throughout high school and for the first year of my time here, but through the mentorship of the wonderful faculty, I became much more serious about my education and was given the tools I needed to succeed when I eventually moved on to complete my bachelor’s degree.
What advice would you give Inver Hills students with plans to transfer to a four-year school?
Make sure to do well in your courses; it might sound cliché, but it seriously matters in the composite of your education and for transferring into a program that will lead to your career. I also cannot stress enough the importance of checking to make sure your prerequisite courses are actually considered pre-reqs at the institution to which you wish to transfer.
What influenced your decision to focus your studies at the U of M on constitutional law, health policy, and molecular biology?
I was initially a physiology major, and while that major has wonderful faculty, its required courses were not necessarily courses I needed for medical school. When I returned to the U of M in the summer of 2020 and until I finished my degree, I was pretty much just taking courses that interested me, which happened to be advanced genetics, graduate stem cell biology, health geography, and a course studying U.S. Supreme Court precedents.
I believe that health, law, and science all intersect in the practice of medicine and in our daily lives. To complete my education, I actually was granted permission to create this degree after laying out a comprehensive plan for my coursework.
What were the most rewarding and challenging aspects of working as a university research assistant?
I don’t know that you can get into medical school without at least some research experience. The most challenging part is that research in any field requires a combination of both theoretical applications of some basic/some highly advanced concepts and practical learning. It requires sometimes long nights, and after months of work your experiments might have led to nowhere—but that’s the scientific process for ya!
What person has influenced your life the most and why?
My mom and dad have influenced me greatly. Both are extremely kind and compassionate people who have given back to our community and inspire my commitment to service and uplifting others.
Where do you hope to find yourself in 20 years? I hope to find myself well into my career as a physician and advocate with a good work-life balance and time to enjoy volunteering and spending time with others.
Where do you hope to find yourself in 20 years?
I hope to find myself well into my career as a physician and advocate with a good work-life balance and time to enjoy volunteering and spending time with others.
Hunter Cantrell • 12 Answers
- Favorite sport or physical activity: Weightlifting/bodybuilding
- Place you would most like to visit: Amalfi Coast, Italy
- Most exciting thing you’ve ever done: Serving in the Minnesota State Legislature, buying a car for a single mom in need, and paying off the lunch account balances at my former elementary school
- Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Eliminate hunger and homelessness in Minnesota to the greatest extent possible 2) Share with my friends so they, too, could live comfortably 3) Invest in resources my community needs
- Best book or movie you’ve read or seen lately: I’m watching Veep right now and thoroughly enjoy it
- Time period (past or future) you would explore if you could time travel: Whatever year I finish residency!
- One thing you most want to accomplish in your life: Do my part to help secure healthcare for every person in this country; on a smaller scale, I would love to discover regenerative therapies that are able to heal organ damage and damage caused by diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
- Your national bird if you were your own country: The mighty ostrich
- Dream occupation: Physician
- Person you would most like to meet: Beyoncé
- Skill you would most like to learn and master: Ceramics and painting; I am taking both at Inver Hills right now as a matter of fact!
- Most important issue or problem facing humankind: The proliferation of unfettered greed and profiteering off the commodification of our lives and basic necessities we need to survive; if we fix this, we should be good