Four pediatric grad students head to med school

Tamara Vineberg - 31 August 2020

Peter Anto Johnson says his graduate experience in the department helped him obtain and disseminate knowledge, which will be fundamental when he becomes a physician.

Peter Anto Johnson will enter medical school at the University of Alberta this fall. He’s confident the skills from his graduate studies in pediatrics have laid a strong foundation as he continues his education. In addition to improving his research skills, Johnson’s master's degree taught him to manage time, solve problems and think critically.

It’s not often that four pediatric learners get a master’s before starting a medical degree in the same year. Ronan Noble and Aaron van der Leek will join Johnson at the U of A's medical school, while Emily Zehnder is headed the University of Calgary.

“It just so happened these four students came in at the same time and they all finished at the same time. Their ambitions overlapped in the sense they all wanted to go to medical school,” says Sujata Persad, associate professor and program director for graduate education.

Johnson admits that medical school was always his goal, but he found the admissions process very competitive. Although not required for admission, he decided to enter into graduate school in order to gain the relevant skills and experience for medical school. “I chose grad studies because I was interested in doing clinical research and potentially teaching in the future. Grad studies would also give me an opportunity to work with clinician-scientists and other research trainees, give me an exposure to pediatrics, all while building a good track record in academia and making a difference through systemic changes that could be brought about by research,” he says.

His desire to work in the medical field was sparked by a life-altering experience as an infant. He was diagnosed with intussusception, a condition that twists and clogs the intestines, and the care of medical personnel inspired him to work in medicine and research. Johnson was further influenced by his supervisor, Georg Schmӧlzer, associate professor in the Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Care. Schmӧlzer taught him the importance of keeping up to date with research. “I think research is such a valuable resource. It's a critical part of medicine itself. I think my graduate experience is something that's really fundamental for when I become a doctor because it really taught me how to obtain and to disseminate my knowledge,” says Johnson.

During graduate school, Johnson juggled a heavy flow of research, attending conferences and publishing papers. He was also involved in the Pediatric Graduate Students Association. Yet he expects medical school to be a challenge. “As a grad student, I was able to have both preclinical and clinical experience but I wasn’t directly involved in patient care. I think medical school will challenge me by dealing with patients and getting familiar with the whole process of actually being a doctor.”

Johnson also hopes that medical school will further develop his communication, professional and leadership skills. He says that his peers come from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, which will give him an opportunity to learn from their experiences. Johnson doesn’t have a definite answer to where his career will take him but he knows he will implement what he’s learned from his master’s and medical degrees. "As a future healthcare professional, I anticipate to translate my experience to high quality, evidence-based practice. I also hope to take leadership to streamline and mobilize systemic changes through my research."