Clifford Houseman, D.O.’07, FACOS, was in fourth grade when he told his parents he planned to become a physician. It wasn’t until his third year as a DMU osteopathic medical student, however, that he decided to pursue neurosurgery as his career. During rotation, he assisted with an emergency surgery on an 18-year-old woman whose prognosis was poor after she suffered a traumatic brain injury.
“However, after surgery she improved significantly and ultimately came into the office almost back to normal,” says Kelly Houseman, M.S., Clifford’s wife. “At that point he realized neurosurgery was what he wanted to do. During residency he enjoyed almost all aspects of neurosurgery but was frequently drawn to complex spinal disorders, revision surgery and adult scoliosis. He continues to do general neurosurgery but does tend to focus on adult reconstructive spine surgery.”
Clifford and Kelly also continue to be grateful for his DMU education, which led to a neurosurgical residency at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, NY; a neurological spine surgery fellowship at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville; and his current positions with Michigan Spine and Brain Surgeons PLLC and as chief of the neurosurgery section at Ascension Macomb-Oakland Hospital in Warren, MI, and clinical assistant professor in the College of Human Medicine, Michigan State University. Clifford, who grew up in Madrid, IA, was accepted into an early admission program at DMU when he was a freshman at Central College in Pella, IA; he graduated from Central and completed his first year of medical school simultaneously.
The couple, who met while Clifford was on third-year rotations in Michigan, recently demonstrated their gratitude to DMU by making a leadership gift to the University’s Purple & Proud Campaign. Their contribution will create and name the Clifford, D.O.’07, and Kelly Houseman Practice Laboratory to be located in the Innovation Building on DMU’s new campus under construction in West Des Moines.
“DMU gave him the knowledge, support and tools to achieve his academic and personal goals,” Kelly says. “He has remained humbled by the fact that a kid from a town of 2,500 people in the middle of nowhere-Iowa with one stop light could ultimately become a neurosurgeon.”
In her career, Kelly is a licensed professional mental health counselor. In addition to her work with patients, she has a website and a podcast and YouTube channel, “Kelly’s Reality, that feature a plethora of topics and interviews relating to mental health and well-being.
“My passion is making sure everyone, regardless of their past or feeling stuck in the present moment, knows that they can live their best, most fulfilled life through improving their mental health. I am living proof that therapy can change your life and I am honored to be able to pay that forward with my clients each day,” she says. “The most sacred, rewarding aspect of therapy is being a witness to change and watching someone thrive and overcome what they once found impossible.”
The Housemans’ work often crosses paths.
“We often joke that we both work on the brain, just one in the physical realm and the other in the emotional part. There are a lot of times that we discuss some similarities in what we do,” Kelly says. “His patients have chronic pain at times, which is highly associated with depression and anxiety. He says he spends much of the appointment time holding space for patients’ feelings and perceptions and recommending that they treat their mental health as serious as they treat their neurological conditions.
“He also jokingly says that my degree is what allows me to tolerate him,” she adds.
Clifford and Kelly balance busy careers with their children, Knox, 5, and Ophelia, 2. Knox began kindergarten this year, while Ophelia calls herself “Dr. Ophelia” and likes checking for fevers and listening to heartbeats with her stethoscope.
“We talk frequently about how blessed we feel, in these crazy times, that our family is healthy, and that we can both continue to do our jobs,” Kelly says. “Like everyone during this pandemic, we are looking forward to the time when things can get back to normal.”
The Housemans feel strongly about supporting their local community and causes they believe in, including DMU. They often reflect on times he was in medical school, residency and fellowship that “seemed hard due to lack of income and time but have been some of the happiest,” Kelly says.
“I think the entire experience is memorable because we made it through and lived to tell the tale. We met so many people and had so many wonderful experiences, making friends that we remain extremely close to today,” she notes. “Cliff will always be grateful that Des Moines University saw something in him and gave him the chance to reach his dream of being a physician. If it wasn’t for the training he received at DMU, we would not be where we are now, and we love the chance for another young professional to dream big and start their career in such a wonderful place.”