During his final year as a student at Indiana University School of Medicine, Peter Arnold, MD, encountered a patient who needed urinary catheterization. The patient looked up at him and dourly asked, “Do you know how awful these things are?”
To which Arnold gently answered, “Yes—I’ve had three.”
After earning his MD in May, Arnold began his training as an intern in the urology residency at IU School of Medicine this month. He never wavered in his interest for this field that specializes in medical conditions and diseases affecting the urinary tract and male reproductive system.
His experience with urology started on the other side of the exam room door, way back in elementary and middle school. After several years of treatment for recurrent urethra strictures, Arnold underwent surgery at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.
“When we, as humans, are not able to do something that is so normal and a part of daily living, that impacts the way we see ourselves and, thus, the way we interact in our social circles and communities,” he said. “Back in the day, a urologist at Riley, Dr. Mark Cain, restored that normalcy for me.”
Now Arnold wants to do the same for others.
“I hope to provide a sense of, ‘Hey, I've been there too!’ with my future patients,” he said.
Arnold had a déjà vu moment while doing a urology sub-internship at Riley last year.
“I walked into a patient room and sensed, ‘Whoa, I’ve been in that room before,’” Arnold recalled. Although almost two decades had passed, he recognized the location. “It was a strange moment to be back there, but on the other side.”
IU School of Medicine has a rich history in urology, dating back to the 1880s. That’s when William Niles Wishard, MD, built the first county hospital in Indianapolis (now known as Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital) and established arguably the first Department of Urology in the nation. Since then, important clinical advances have originated in the department, including a cure for testicular cancer and a new treatment for prostate cancer.
Arnold’s mentors in urology include Timothy Masterson, MD, professor of urology at IU School of Medicine and an oncologic surgeon with Indiana University Health.
“He knows his patients so well,” Arnold said. “There’s so much to do today as a physician, but he spent time with the families. He seemed to know everybody in the room. I hope to create that environment for my future patients.”
Growing through global experiences
Arnold grew up with the familiarity of medical practice. His father, William Arnold, MD, is a geriatric psychiatrist who graduated from IU School of Medicine in 1986. Arnold’s older brother, Zachary Arnold, MD, is also an IU School of Medicine graduate and is now a fourth-year resident in the Department of Anesthesia.
“My dad is the one who originally inspired us, but he never pushed us into any specific field—or into medicine at all,” Peter said. “He encouraged me to get an EMT license, and I did that for a couple years first.”
During his senior year as a premed student at Indiana University, Arnold took the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and began applying to medical schools. He also submitted another application that year for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, which grants scholarships to graduating college seniors, graduate students and young professionals to pursue graduate study, conduct research or teach English abroad.
“I had a friend do a Fulbright Scholarship in France, and she really encouraged me to look into the program,” Arnold said. He wanted to go to Malaysia, a Southeast Asian country that is predominantly Muslim and Buddhist. “I’m a practicing Christian, so I thought that would be a great chance to spend time in a place where my views were by no means the majority.”
When Arnold was accepted to both IU School of Medicine and Fulbright, he had a tough decision to make. He found help in an unlikely place—a concert of indie folk band The Head and the Heart.
After bumping into Jennifer Hartwell, MD, on his way to his seat, Arnold learned she was a trauma surgeon and assistant professor of surgery at IU School of Medicine. She offered to let him shadow her. It was the start of a long-term mentoring relationship.
“I believe people are placed into each other's lives on purpose,” said Hartwell, former associate dean for wellness at IU School of Medicine, who recently took a faculty position with the University of Kansas School of Medicine. “I am grateful that I spilled my beer on Pete's shoes all those years ago, and I have been able to see him grow for years.”
When Arnold asked Hartwell for advice on whether to take the Fulbright scholarship, she encouraged him to seize the opportunity to learn through immersion in a foreign culture.
“That makes us better doctors and better humans,” she said. Medical school could wait.
Thankfully, IU School of Medicine agreed to let Arnold postpone his admission. “I will always be grateful to them for letting me do both,” Arnold said.
He spent the entirety of 2018 teaching English at a Malaysian secondary school on the island of Borneo. He also organized extracurricular events including an English Camp, board game and movie nights, and a hiking trip to the summit of Mt. Kinabalu.
“It was a challenging, wonderful year filled with a lot of growth,” he said.
He also met his future wife, Rachel, through the Fulbright program. The couple recently married following Arnold’s graduation from medical school. Together, they enjoy outdoor adventures including SCUBA trips and hiking with their dog.
It’s no surprise Arnold was eager for additional cultural experiences during his time as a student at IU School of Medicine. In the spring of 2023, he traveled to Eldoret, Kenya, with the AMPATH program, a partnership between Moi University, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and the AMPATH Consortium of universities, led by Indiana University.
“It was neat to meet Kenyan medical students and compare and contrast how we do things in our countries,” Arnold said. “When you’re outside of your comfort zone and the things you’re used to, the learning becomes that much more salient.”
Something AMPATH co-founder Joe Mamlin said during a fireside chat with the medical students has stuck with Arnold: “Global health is a mindset; it’s not a location.”
“You can practice global health anywhere,” Arnold said. “It’s about recognizing the social determinants of health that affect health outcomes and addressing them.”
‘Here to get better’
The empathy Arnold carries as a former urology patient, coupled with his global experiences, uniquely equip him to offer compassionate and culturally competent care as a new physician, said Chandru Sundaram, MD, MS, director of the residency program with the Department of Urology.
“Peter has been involved in teaching and mentorship throughout college at IU Bloomington, in Malaysia as a Fulbright Scholar and as a four-year mentor with the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization,” added Sundaram. “His background in teaching, mentorship and research will be an asset as a resident when he will be involved with teaching medical students and other residents at IU School of Medicine.”
During medical school, Arnold sought research experience, working with Hartwell on a project investigating different techniques for splenectomy and their rates of complications.
“Pete took this project fully into his hands. He wrote the abstract, successfully submitted and presented it, and then wrote the paper published in a respected journal,” Hartwell said. “What is more, Pete's paper represents the first paper, that I am aware of, to collect data from all three Level 1 trauma centers in Indiana.”
In life and in medicine, Arnold operates by the motto “here to get better.” His passion for learning and growing won’t stop after he completes his medical training.
“In residency, I’m looking forward to honing my skills and getting started doing what I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” he said. “It’s about getting to pay it forward for the wonderful care I received, and the compassion people gave to me when I was a patient.”
Hartwell often tells Arnold she’s proud of him, not just for completing projects and training with excellence, but also for who he is as a human.
“He is hard-working, whip-smart, kind, patient, wise and humble,” she said. “Pete will be successful in anything he does. His heart for others will always drive his work.”