Joanna Holland - General Pediatrician

CurioCity Careers
23 January 2012

Name: Joanna Holland

Field of Work: Medicine (Pediatrics)

Place of Birth: Belfast, Northern Ireland (but raised in Toronto)

Age: 38

Your job title: General Pediatrician (and Assistant University Professor)

Who doesn't want to be a pediatrician? You get to be a doctor and help people, and you get to hang out with kids all day!

It's not all fun and games though, have a look at Joanna Holland's profile to see what it's all about. It's harder than it looks, and it's even harder to get there, but the rewards more than make up for it.

What is a Pediatrican?

A pediatrician is a doctor who looks after children. They can work in offices, in hospitals or both. Some look after kids with all different kinds of problems, while others, such as pediatric cardiologists or neonatologists, specialize in a more specific area of medicine. Some pediatricians, like me, are involved in teaching medical students and residents (senior medical trainees).

What is a typical day like for you?

I work in a children's hospital. On a typical day I spend the morning seeing all the patients who are admitted to hospital under my care, getting updated on how they were overnight, and making their treatment plans for the day. There is a team of medical students and residents with me, and in fact they do a lot of the hands-on work, while I teach and supervise them. We spend the afternoon following up on the morning's plans, for instance looking at the results of tests that were done during the day, as well as admitting new patients who have come to the Emergency Department-this means taking a history of their illness, doing a physical examination, and starting their treatment. I might also do a teaching session for the students or see a patient who has an appointment with me in my clinic.

Did you always want to be a Pediatrician?

I can't remember exactly when I decided I wanted to be a doctor (I remember at one point in elementary school I wanted to be a children's book author!) but I think it was some time in high school. I decided I wanted to specialize in Pediatrics quite early in medical school.

What courses in high school prepared you for this field?

To get into medical school you need to take University courses in biology, chemistry, physics and math, so I needed to take these courses in high school.

Where did you go to university/college?

I went to McGill University for a science degree, and then I went to medical school at the University of Toronto.

How did you decide where to go?

McGill has a good science program, which was important to me, but to be honest the main reason I went there was because I thought Montreal would be a fun city to spend four years in-and it was! Toronto was home for me though, so I was glad to go back there for medical school.

Was there extra training required for this career after you finished college/university? If so, what?

To be a doctor, you have to go to University, and then Medical School, which is four years (except for McMaster and University of Calgary, which are three years with no summer breaks.) After medical school you need to complete a residency program in the specialty you choose. This ranges from two years (Family Medicine) to eight years or even more (for instance pediatric neurosurgery). The Pediatric residency program is four years.

What is the coolest part of your job?

I love working with kids. The interesting thing about Pediatrics is the variety; a newborn and a six year old and a fifteen year old are completely different from each other. I interact with them in completely different ways, and they have very different kinds of medical problems.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Definitely getting woken up in the middle of the night!

What’s the salary range for this particular job and field?

It's very variable, depending on how many hours you're working, if you're working in an office, or a clinic, or a hospital, working days or nights, or doing other things like teaching. Within medicine, Pediatrics is actually one of the lowest paid specialties. Even so, most pediatricians would make well over $100 000 per year.

Ooooops! Everyone makes mistakes so what was the dumbest thing you've ever done at work?

Hmm, mistakes in medicine can have pretty serious consequences, so there are a lot of checks in place to prevent that. For instance, if I order the wrong medication dose, usually the hospital pharmacist will let me know right away. I have, however, more than once forgotten to bring my slides when giving a lecture.

Any advice that you would give others seeking a similar career?

It's competitive to get into medical school, and the training is long, and it's a tough (but rewarding!) job. To make sure you really want to do it and give yourself the best chance of being successful, spend some time working or volunteering in the field. There are lots of opportunities to volunteer in hospitals. Any experience working with people is helpful. At the same time, it's important to have other interests and abilities, so if you can get involved with sports, or music, or something else that interests you, that would be great too.

What are some great web links or references for someone interesting in reading up more about this career?

There are some tips on the medical school application process at

A lot of medical students and doctors have blogs that describe their day to day life on the job. There's a guide to them here:

One of my favourite authors of books and articles about what it's like becoming and being a doctor is Perri Klass, who is a pediatrician in New York City. You may be interested in her "A Not Entirely Benign Procedure-Four Years as a Medical Student". She has also edited a book called "The Real Life of a Pediatrician", which is a collection of essays by Pediatricians (this is part of a series about many different medical specialties). Atul Gawande, an American surgeon, is also a wonderful writer. He writes for the New Yorker and has written several books that provide a vivid picture of what it's like to be a physician.

What are the top 5 songs on your mp3 player?

Through and Through and Through - Joel Plaskett

Till I Am Myself Again - Blue Rodeo

Video Killed the Radio Star - The Buggles

Walk Like a Man - Jersey Boys Soundtrack

What Would You Say - Dave Matthews

What’s your favorite hangout?

I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and I go down the harbour almost every weekend in the summer. I love it there. We watch the boats and the people and have some ice cream.

What’s the all-time best movie?

Back to the Future-my favourite movie in Grade Nine

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

People smoking in non-smoking areas.

If you were to sing a song at a karaoke bar, what would it be?

I may have sung "Don't You Want me Baby" at more than one karaoke bar-always as a duet of course.

CurioCity Careers

We hope you enjoyed learning about this great STEM career! The information in this career profile was provided by this individual especially for CurioCity. We hope it helped give you a sense of what this type of job is really like.

Let’s Talk Science is pleased to provide you with this information as you explore future career options. Many careers require a background in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Even jobs that don’t use specific STEM concepts on a day-to-day basis benefit from the skills gained through a study of STEM. People with a STEM background are very much in demand by employers across all career sectors. If you would like to learn about more careers that have a STEM connection, visit

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