My Path to Pediatrics – Mark W. Kline, M.D.
I had worked as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) in a busy public hospital emergency department prior to medical school. I thought I wanted to be a trauma surgeon. Pediatrics was nowhere on my radar.
All of that changed during my third year of medical school when I did a core clinical rotation in pediatrics. The pediatricians I worked with were gentle, kind, and patient. I loved the relationships I was able to develop with my pediatric patients and their families. Pediatrics was intellectually challenging and stimulating in the same way as internal medicine, but children were fun in a way adults were not. I was hooked.
My path through the field of pediatrics has been circuitous. I decided to pursue training in pediatric infectious diseases just as HIV/AIDS exploded on to the scene in the U.S. I began caring for a small number of hemophiliac boys with HIV/AIDS before the advent of antiretroviral therapy, treating complications of the disease, with little opportunity to alter the ultimate outcome. I refer to those as the bad old days of HIV/AIDS. Nevertheless, I loved working with the children and families and felt I was providing care and service very few other physicians could or would provide. I also grew as a patient advocate, an essential element of the complete pediatrician.
Within just a few years, I made the decision to devote my career to advancing treatment for children with HIV/AIDS. I led a large clinical research program that helped to develop several of the antiretroviral therapies that became standard-of-care for HIV-infected children in the U.S. and other developed countries. Ultimately, I founded a program to build infrastructure and health professional capacity to deliver HIV/AIDS care and treatment to some of the poorest and least fortunate children and families worldwide, first in Eastern Europe and Latin America, and then in sub-Saharan Africa. That program, the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative, today provides lifesaving care and treatment to hundreds of thousands of children and families, more than any other organization worldwide.
If I had it all to do over, would I choose pediatrics again? Absolutely. What a blessing it has been to work with mothers, fathers, and children under some of the most difficult and challenging circumstances, only to see them not just survive, but thrive. Children and families have a capacity for resilience that can inspire awe.
My advice to students and trainees who are just starting out? Follow your passion and pursue a plan, but be open to the possibility the plan might change. I’m happy I agreed to care for those few boys with hemophilia and HIV/AIDS so many years ago. That decision opened doors to a career I hadn’t planned and couldn’t have imagined at the time.