Commencement 2024: Meet John Nelson

Date: Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Hometown: St. George, Utah 

Prior education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biomedical engineering, University of Utah 

Matched: Internal Medicine/Pediatrics, Indiana University

Portrait of John Nelson

What drew you to a career in medicine?

It’s been a major consideration in my mind to think of where I can be of the most service. Where can my strengths and my experiences be of the greatest benefit?  

One experience, in particular, comes to mind as preparing me for a career in medicine. After finishing my undergraduate degree, and before starting my graduate program, I spent two years living in Cambodia volunteering as a religious missionary. We taught free English classes and did some community service, but most of our time was spent teaching interested families about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I developed an appreciation for knowing how to teach well and the importance of knowing the people that you’re teaching. As missionaries, we went into the homes of the families we met. We tried to understand what things were difficult for them and what each individual wanted in life. After getting to know each family, I developed a great appreciation for who they were and the things that I could learn from them, regardless of whether or not they were interested in our message. 

Prior to those experiences, I was very much an introvert. My time with those families pushed me far beyond my comfort zone and prepared me to appreciate building relationships with patients. I learned that I need to value that relationship before I can help them. I have to invest the time for them to know that I care. 

Tell me about your background in engineering and how that intersects with your career goals.

My master’s was very focused on the process of identifying problems in a clinical space, brainstorming potential solutions, and understanding the practical viability of those solutions from technical, financial, and regulatory aspects. It’s a fascinating, complex process, and I think that helped me appreciate that you need a team of people to work on complex issues. You can’t do that on your own. 

I strongly believe that the principles of engineering are really, in essence, about solving problems, and you can apply those principles in any career. Those experiences in engineering have also given me an observing eye. As I’m working in the clinic, I keep an eye out for where there are annoying problems for patients or providers and how we could make things better.

Outside of coursework, what was important to you in your time here?

Honestly, my most impactful experiences have been working with patients and learning their stories. There is one patient who comes to mind who had end-stage heart failure and likely had weeks or months to live. I was able to sit down with him and hear his story and a little bit about what mattered to him in life. Based on that, we as providers were able to better explain what options we had available to offer him and how they would affect the things he cared about. I feel like it is these types of experiences that have really showed me how unique an opportunity it is to build a relationship with patients as they’re working through some of the hardest times of their lives. For me, being able to be with someone at that low point and offer help, hope, or comfort is almost a sacred experience, and I am grateful that I will get the opportunity to do that so much as a physician. 

I have also spent a significant amount of time in the Teaching Distinction Track. I hope to be able to utilize the skills I learned during those experiences, whether that's teaching patients or teaching other learners in medicine. 

What is a combined internal medicine and pediatrics residency program? Why did you choose that path?

It's a four-year program, and you’re board-certified in both specialties at the end. I appreciate that this training invites you to understand things at a very broad level across the full spectrum of ages, but it also requires a depth of understanding. You're expected to be as good with adult patients as an internist is and as good with pediatrics as a pediatrician. 

There are a large variety of careers that a “med-peds” provider could pursue. Just as an example of what you might do, some med-peds providers become cardiologists who specialize in congenital heart disease in adults. Having been “med-peds” trained, you would be especially well-positioned to do that because you’ve studied both adults and kids, and so you better understand the diseases that start in childhood even when your patient is much older than the typical pediatric patient. 

But despite the wide number of options, I think that I am most interested in providing outpatient primary care to both adults and kids. I think I would really enjoy being a provider for the whole family. 

What are you most excited for in residency?

I’m excited to get to know the people in a new city. I’m interested to see the differences between the hospitals here and the hospitals there. I think it will help stimulate my own education and broaden my experience. I’m also excited to develop the skills that come through residency. I know that in medical school, or my undergraduate or master’s degrees, when I stand at the end and look back, I think, “Wow, I have come so far.” There is so much that has changed. I’ve grown and learned. I’m much more capable than I was. I think that’s a fascinating process, and I’m interested to see what changes residency will bring. 

What advice would you give to a first-year medical student?

Talk to people. It’s easy to feel like you need to “be enough” on your own as you navigate the waters ahead, or sometimes it just seems like you don’t know where to turn for help. Find someone. You have to reach out and talk to the people around you—talk to the people in the class above you, the faculty, the deans, the advisors, the counselors. There have been so many times when I have been discouraged or confused and it was clarified after a simple conversation with someone who had some perspective to share.