Ahn starts new chapter with pediatrics career

At age 9, Christina K. Ahn was walking with her father and her young cousin when the toddler fell and was bleeding from a cut. She remembers wanting to help care for the child.

“My dad said to me, ‘If you want to help kids in the future, study hard and become a doctor,'” she says.

Phillip Tarr, M.D. (left), and Robert Rothbaum, M.D., work with Christina K. Ahn in the clinical simulation center. Ahn was mentored by Rothbaum and Tarr in pediatric gastroenterology while a medical student.

With the support of parents John and Sonia Ahn and older sister Charlene, that’s exactly what Ahn has done. She earns a combined master of arts and medical degree from the Graduate School of Arts & Science and School of Medicine May 15, and, in July, she will begin a pediatrics residency at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Stanford University, the Kinston, N.C., native worked as an intern at Roche Bioscience, researching new drugs to treat osteoporosis. She also spent a year researching spinal cord injuries at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Then, she attended the School of Medicine with an esteemed Spencer T. Olin Fellowship for Women, a merit-based, four-year, full-tuition scholarship. Along the way, she has taken advantage of the opportunity to try new things.

Instead of taking the summer off between her first and second years of medical school, Ahn worked with Robert Rothbaum, M.D., professor of pediatrics, to establish the Family Connection, a support program for families of children with chronic gastrointestinal diseases, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. The program connected families with children who had been newly diagnosed with families who had been dealing with the diseases longer.

“That summer was a turning point for me,” she says. “I realized I had a definite interest in pediatrics and gastroenterology.”

She continued to volunteer in Rothbaum’s clinic throughout medical school. Rothbaum says Ahn made significant contributions to the care of patients as a student.

“Christina radiates positive energy,” Rothbaum says. “Her warmth and generosity set an example that we aspire to reach. Good doctors are basically good people who are highly interested in others. Christina lights the way along that path.”

School of Medicine

Between her third and fourth years of medical school, Ahn received a prestigious Doris Duke Fellowship, which allows for a year of research. Ahn worked with Phillip Tarr, M.D., the Melvin E. Carnahan Professor of Pediatrics, on a multicenter study examining the potentially bene-ficial effects of a treatment for children who develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, a disease that can occur after a gastrointestinal infection with E. coli bacteria. That experience renewed her interest in research.

“I like knowing that these results could affect the direct management of care,” she says.

To date, she has had three papers published and has one in press.

“Christina is bright, hard-working, curious and thorough,” Tarr says. “She has tackled a very challenging project and seen it through to completion. I am amazed at her maturity and communications skills and am delighted she is training in pediatrics, and even more delighted she is staying here to do so.”

Also delighted that she’ll be doing her residency in St. Louis is Brendan Hickey, a software engineer at The Boeing Co. and an MBA student at the Olin Business School. Ahn and Hickey were married April 4 in St. Louis.

Ahn’s talents extend beyond science and medicine. A violinist since age 3 and a pianist since 5, she formed a piano trio with her medical school classmates. In 2006, she was the pit co-conductor and lead violinist in the medical student musical “Guys and Dolls” and, in 2008, was lead violinist in “Bye Bye Birdie.” She also played in the Stanford Symphony Orchestra as an undergraduate.

In addition, she has a passion for writing and has won several awards. In 2007, one of her essays was selected for the Princeton Review’s “Medical School Essays That Made a Difference,” and, in 2006, she won first place in the prose division of “The Legible Script” National Literary Competition.

“I hope that through my medical experiences, I’ll have more stories to share,” she says.