Medical student Paul Carr was on an internal medicine rotation at Hamilton General Hospital when he noticed someone familiar walking down the hall.
"Mr. Carr?" she said.
It took only a moment before Carr recognized her as a former student from his years spent as a school music teacher. She was now a nursing student, while he was a medical student, both studying at McMaster University.
The encounter, which some would say happened by chance, reinforced Carr's belief that everything happens for a reason.
"It was such a beautiful experience to see someone I knew as a young child who I remembered teaching to play an instrument and coaching in basketball. To see her thriving as a successful, intelligent young woman was amazing," says Carr, who is graduating from McMaster's Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine this week.
Carr graduated with a Bachelor in Music with co-majors in education and performance from McGill University in Montreal in 1998.
Up until three years ago, the saxophonist could be found in the band room at Glenburnie School in Oakville. He spent a good part of his 20s, and his early 30s as the junior and intermediate music teacher for students in grades 3 to 8 at the private school. He also led three after-school bands, and coached several of the school's sports teams.
His bustling professional life was mirrored with an equally busy life at home, with his wife, Dawn and their two young children, Anika and Felix.
Paul Carr with his children, Felix and Anika. Photo by Dawn Stremler
"In my early 30s, I wondered if it was too late to explore my other love, which was the sciences, and I was hoping medicine would become what it has turned out to be for me," he says. "Medicine has many of the same things I love about teaching, such as the camaraderie with my peers and watching children grow up and thrive."
Making the transition back to being a student took several years, as he wanted to be there as a father during his children's early years.
After doing well on a practice MCAT, he took an online correspondence course in anatomy and physiology and was hooked. He credits Dawn for her unwavering support of his decision to investigate medical school applications.
Carr applied at a number of medical schools, but says McMaster showed particular interest and went the extra mile, calling him directly when one of his letters of recommendation failed to be forwarded to their admissions office. The letter was resent the same day and he was offered an interview. He knew then it was the place for him, and was thrilled to later accept the offer of admission.
"McMaster seemed like the only school that was interested in what I could bring to the table," he says. "They saw my wealth of experience and that I brought a different perspective."
Carr says his three years at McMaster proved to be fulfilling, and reminded him every step of the way that he had made the right choice in this life-changing decision.
"McMaster was absolutely perfect for me," he says. "I am a self-directed learner, so it allowed me to learn the content in a way that worked best and stayed with me. There were also students from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, so I enjoyed the social aspect immensely, as well."
Carr entered the program knowing he wanted to become a family doctor. He will soon start his residency in family medicine at the University of Toronto.
"I've always wanted to do family medicine because I like the idea of the long-term relationships and seeing the fruits of those relationships," says Carr, who was raised in the Avenue and Eglinton area of Toronto and currently calls that city home.
He acknowledges medical school has been difficult at times for his family, especially for his children who are now aged 10 and 8. But, he says, he knows in his heart it was the right decision, and notes they are coming around to the idea of him becoming a doctor.
"Sometimes I know they still wish they were at their other school, where I was a teacher, but my daughter, in particular, talks about how proud she is of me," he says. "That means a lot. They are also thankful they don't have to move for my residency."
Carr also recognizes the ongoing support of his mother and his wife's parents, and the inspiration of his late father, a pediatric psychiatrist, as key to his successful transition.
Inspired by the team environment of teachers and administrators he worked with in Oakville, Carr says he would like to become part of an interdisciplinary primary care team in the Toronto area. He's also interested in exploring palliative care and emergency medicine under the umbrella of family medicine.
Carr will be one of 208 physicians who graduate from the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at the convocation on the afternoon of May 24, 2018.
Among those cheering for him in the crowd will be his wife and kids, as well as his mother.
While teaching made a significant detour on his journey to becoming a doctor, Carr says he wouldn't change a thing.
"I feel exceptionally lucky," he says. "Some people don't find one job they find satisfying, let alone two. I have had the opportunity to experience both of my passions.
"I am so excited to be starting residency and incredibly grateful to McMaster for giving me this opportunity."