Former video editor took a road less travelled to medical school

Janet Harvey - 1 June 2013

It was all the sitting alone in a dark video editing room that convinced Neil Parker he needed a career change. The former video editor had spent several years working for a small production company and then in a TV newsroom when he realized he wanted more interaction with people. He considered going into teaching or nursing but talking with some physician friends piqued his interest in health care and he decided that medical school was the path for him.

But it was a long road to get there. His previous year and a half at university had resulted in what's known as a "dean's vacation" (suspension due to low GPA) followed by two years at a manual labour job assembling heating panels before he went to film school. It was a big risk to stop working and return to school to do a B.Sc. and there was no guarantee that he would be accepted to medical school. But in a strange convergence of major life events, Parker got his acceptance letter in May 2009 from the U of A Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry the same week his first child was born, and just days after he and his wife bought their first house and Parker turned 30. When he receives his medical degree on June 7 as part of the centennial convocation class, his wife, Laurel, and children Layla, four, and Beau, one, will be there to cheer him on.

As an older student and father of young children, Parker's experiences at medical school were quite different than his younger classmates. "It definitely requires a level of focus to achieve any sort of work-life balance and to be a good husband and dad as well as a good student," says Parker, adding that his wife has been incredibly supportive. But he observes that his life experience had some advantages as well.

"Once I got onto the hospital wards it was a big advantage to have had a career where I worked as part of a multi-disciplinary team," he says referring to the specialized roles involved in working on a TV news story. "Communication skills and my leadership experience from video producing helped me out. Relating to some patients might be a little easier when you're older too and have a little more life experience, and having kids definitely helped me in my pediatrics rotation."

In fact, the rapport with patients is what made Parker choose psychiatry as a specialty. "I originally was pretty convinced I would do family medicine," he says. "But when I did my psychiatry rotation I really loved working with the patients and that changed my mind. You can build long-term therapeutic relationships with the patients and I like the variety of spending time in both the hospital and the clinic."

As for his video skills, Parker lent his expertise to three or four video class projects over the course of medical school but these days he has stored the video camera away … except for the home movies of his kids of course.