Tyler Mains

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Feeling limited in his role as a teacher, Tyler decided to pursue medicine to help those without easy access to health care.

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Undergraduate:  University of Southern California, 2009
Major:  Biological Sciences; Minors in Theater, and Psychology & Law
Medical school:  Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 2016
Specialty: Internal Medicine

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I initially wanted to be an actor, which is largely the reason I went to USC.  I started college as a theater major, but decided after a year that I wanted to do something with science.

What led to your interest in medicine?

My passion for medicine has evolved over time. In high school, I loved all of my sciences classes but didn’t know how that would translate into a career. 

In college, after I switched to a biology major I started shadowing a pediatric oncologist to learn more. He was a very compassionate physician and I was able to observe the humanistic side of medicine. However, I still was not convinced medicine was the correct path for me when I was graduating, so I decided to become a high school biology teacher to see if another path fit my interests. I loved teaching, but missed learning. I wanted to understand the human body better so I decided to apply to medical school.

Who or what inspired you?

While I was teaching, I had one student named Michael who entered my class limping one day. He told me not to worry about it, but when I asked if he had seen a doctor, he responded “I don’t see doctors.” I learned that the closest clinic Michael knew of was two bus rides away, and his mother didn’t have insurance so he simply avoided doctors. I felt limited in my role as a teacher to help Michael, so I decided to pursue medicine to help others like Michael who do not have easy access to health care.

How did you prepare for the medical school application process?

I spoke to friends who were currently attending medical school to get their advice, and I searched for online resources. I spoke to other friends about interview questions they were asked, and what questions I should think about when choosing a school. I also had several friends read over my personal statement to provide feedback.

Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT exam?

I think everyone has concerns about the MCAT. It is a challenging exam and requires a lot of preparation. However, I viewed it as an opportunity to solidify my knowledge of concepts I had learned throughout college.  This perspective decreased the stress associated with the test and increased my desire to truly learn the material rather than simply memorize it for the test.

Did you need financial aid to pay for medical school?

Absolutely. My medical school fortunately awards grants based on financial need, although I will still graduate with some debt. 

What makes your story unique?

My career interests started in theater then transitioned to teaching before leading to medicine. Along the way, I’ve become glad that I didn’t take the traditional path of undergraduate to medical school to residency. I took two years off before medical school, and spent that time teaching through Teach For America, where I taught high school biology in Baltimore City. 

During my second year of teaching, I founded a non-profit organization called MERIT (Medical Education Resources Initiative for Teens). MERIT is dedicated to preparing low-income students for careers in medicine. In medical school, I have continued to develop the program and am now taking a year off before fourth year to build the organization’s capacity and long-term sustainability. I hope to incorporate this type of community work in my career as a future academic physician.

How did you balance the demands of medical school with additional obligations and challenges?

Building a non-profit organization while in medical school sounds like a daunting task, but I found my work with MERIT inspired me to study, so it actually made medical school easier. I became disciplined with my time, so if I devoted two hours to studying in a night, I had to be extremely efficient and focused. I also think the two responsibilities complemented each other well and made me a happier person.

What did you enjoy most about medical school?

I am constantly inspired by patients. Once you enter medical school, you are seen as a medical professional long before you feel like a doctor. Patients will tell you things they have not told anyone else, including close family members, because they automatically trust you. In these vulnerable moments, the human character truly shines and there is nothing else in the world that simulates that feeling. Learning medicine is a humbling privilege, and physicians can truly improve patients’ lives.

What surprised you the most about medical school?

My classmates. Everyone enters medical school with his or her own interests, experiences, and goals. I didn’t realize how valuable my classmates would be, not only as study partners and friends, but also to broaden my perspectives and challenge my assumptions.

Are you a member of a unique demographic? If so, please describe how that shaped your medical school experience.

I identify as a gay male, and being in this minority has taught me to respect everyone’s life story. Every medical student, physician, and patient has his or her own challenges, and it’s important not to make any assumptions about someone’s situation. This perspective has allowed me to form strong bonds with patients and colleagues that I deeply value.

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?

No matter what is going on or how busy I am, I need to spend time with my friends. This is a non-negotiable because I am an extrovert by nature and gain energy from other people. Whatever grounds you, make sure you devote time to it because this will help you get through the tough times.

What advice do you have for new applicants considering a career in medicine?

Above all else, do what you’re passionate about in life. This may be related to medicine, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Don’t do things just because you think they’ll look good on your resume or they’ll help you get to the next step. Your lack of enthusiasm for these activities will be readily apparent in your applications and during interviews. 

Spend your free time getting to know your friends better, speaking with your family, finding new hobbies, and exploring the world around you. 

My path to medicine has taken many twists and turns, but I have loved every step of the journey. I believe my experiences will make me a better physician. 

If you had the opportunity to talk to a potential medical student, what would you tell him/her, off the top of your head?

There has been a lot of recent publicity about the lack of happiness among physicians, and the long work-hours in residency. It is true that the path to becoming a doctor is long and arduous, but it can also be enjoyable and rewarding.  Always take time for yourself and reflect on why you chose to pursue this career. 

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