Resident physician applies experiences in advocacy and teaching to medical practice

April 19, 2021

By Kate Alfano

Tyler King, DO, is a PGY-1 at TIGMER-Laredo Family Medicine Residency Program in Laredo, Texas. He graduated with a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine from New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM) in May 2020. During his time in medical school, Dr. King served as National President of the Student Osteopathic Medical Association (SOMA), a 15,000-member organization committed to advocacy and enhancing the osteopathic profession. Prior to medical school, he was a high school history teacher and Teach For America Corps Member in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, where he taught for four years and earned a Master of Science in Education from Johns Hopkins University School of Education. Dr. King also earned his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Tennessee in May 2012.

Who or what inspired you to become a physician?

My maternal grandfather, who was a urologist, inspired me early on in my life to pursue a career in medicine. His medical school stories combined with a clear passion for treating those in need were too appealing not to consider becoming a physician. I originally wanted to be a pediatrician but with more exposure, I found my home in family medicine.

Can you briefly describe your career path?

In high school, a friend informed me that I could major in anything I wanted before going to medical school. I took this a bit literally and majored in political science while taking all of the pre-requisites for medical school. During college I got involved in political campaigns and advocacy. By the end, I decided to apply to become a Teach For America Corps Member and help close the educational achievement gap in our country. I then taught middle school science and high school history for four years in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. Finally, I decided it was time to go back to medical school, knowing from the beginning that I would likely be pursuing family medicine due to my passion to help underserved patients and their families. I got very involved in advocacy during medical school and ultimately matched at Laredo Medical Center this past March 2020.

What unique challenges are represented in your patient community?

Laredo is located in Webb County Texas along the U.S.-Mexico border, one of the most underserved communities in the country. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to train at a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), and our patients are desperate for quality health care. Most of our patients are uninsured, and many are undocumented. While we can provide excellent primary care, sometimes our patients have difficulty obtaining access to subspecialists who do not see uninsured patients. At times, this puts our patients in impossible circumstances that can make me feel powerless as their primary care physician.

What did you learn from your experience in Teach for America?

During my four years teaching in the Rio Grande Valley, I learned a lot about myself and the institutions that have left many people behind in our country. While the American dream still exists, it is not equally possible to obtain for all. Far too often, the ZIP code in which one is born determines life opportunities and outcomes. This has to change, and as a Teach For America alumnus, I am committed to fighting against this inequality for the rest of my career.

As a political science major, what advice would you give to physicians about politics and advocacy, especially given the current environment?

Regarding advocacy, we need more physicians to get off the sidelines and advocate for our profession and for our patients. If we are silent, non-physicians will be the ones reforming our health care system. We must feel empowered to make our voices heard by local, state and national policymakers. Regarding politics, we are obviously a very divided and polarized nation right now. Unfortunately, there is no one source the majority of the country deems reliable or trustworthy for basic facts and information. This has created two alternate realties and is very dangerous for the future of our democracy. I would hope that all physicians participating in advocacy keep this in mind and make their arguments in a purely fact-based manner when possible. It’s also always important to tell stories that are relatable when advocating for the world you want to see.

What is your vision for change for the health care system?

I believe our country’s health care system is broken, and we need to fundamentally change the incentive structure from a fee-for-service model to a value-based system that rewards quality care, not volume.

What brings you joy in your work?

Working for an FQHC brings a lot of joy because patients are incredibly grateful for your commitment to them as fellow human beings. As a mission-driven person, it brings me joy to know I am serving patients who need care the most. I trained to become a physician for all patients, not just those with the best insurance. Many of our patients have not seen a medical provider in years, and it’s a great feeling to get them reestablished and back on track with critical treatment and preventive measures that can literally add years back to their life.

What do you enjoy doing outside of medicine?

I enjoy spending time with my wife Alejandra and one-year-old daughter Sophia. Once the pandemic is over, I look forward to traveling with them to new places and getting together with family and friends again. I also enjoy a good podcast on the drive to and from the hospital.

Reposted with permission from the Texas Academy of Family Physicians.