My Medical Training
Starting medical school I knew only one thing for certain: there was absolutely no way I was going to be a pediatrician. That’s what my dad was, and I saw that there was no glamour in his line of work. Instead I set out to be a surgeon, either heart or brain. I worked my summers home from Rice University in the surgical suites of my hometown hospital, pushing beds and holding retractors. I did my research in the neurosurgery lab, hoping to learn if brain cooling could help injured rats swim water mazes. I even crewed sailing races for a local heart surgeon, pressing him for career advice on the downwind runs.
And yet. And yet what interested me most as I worked my way through the University of Texas Houston Medical School was not being able to name every nerve, artery, and ligament in the body. It was not learning to tie perfect knots in sutures with slippery, gloved fingers. Instead I was fascinated by those master detectives on the internal medicine and pediatric wards, the doctors who could notice the one element of the patient’s story, the subtle heart sound, the slightly off-kilter lab value that tied everything together and pointed toward the cure. I loved talking to my patients, learning about their lives, hearing what made them who they were.
From Internist to Pediatrician
Towards the end of medical school I found myself seated before a renowned brain surgeon being offered the internship I had sought for years and politely declining. Instead I joined the doctors who had become my heroes, those who trained in internal medicine and pediatrics together (“med-peds”), plowing through six years of clinical rotations in four to earn board certifications in two separate specialties. I went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of two schools that had invented such programs, and I never looked back.
That, however, was not the end of the story. For my first four years in practice I saw mainly adults as an internist with the occasional pediatric patient here and there. Then I moved to Wilmington, NC for my wife’s job and worked as a stay-at-home dad for a few months. Finding that I missed medicine too much, I looked in vain for a med-peds position and settled instead for the job I could find, caring only for a children. After my first week there my wife said, “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile this much since we met.” She was right: I’d never been so happy. The fact is if you can spend all day with kids and not come home grinning, you’re missing out. I guess that’s what my dad knew all along.