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A Selfless Sibling’s Guide to Studying Medicine

Photo of Jonathan Tyes wearing a white doctor's coat and striped tie. He has a full beard.

“I need to make sure I do well not only for me, but also for all those who look like me following in my footsteps.”  

Jonathan Tyes – one of 17 students selected by faculty to participate in the University of Louisville School of Medicine’s Distinction in Medical Education honors program from his class – credits National Medical Fellowships with strengthening his resolve.

“NMF empowers its scholars with the training, resources, and speakers necessary to become community health advocates and effectively navigate medical school.”

It is NMF’s Health Equity Leaders Program, however, that is lucky to play a part in the first-generation college student’s quest to become the first physician in his family:   

“As a medical student in my mid-30s, I’m more driven, determined, and focused,” Tyes said. “I’ve had to give this all my effort and energy – and know when to ask for help – because I feel as if I carry the futures of other students on my back.  

“I need to make sure I do well not only for me, but also for all those who look like me following in my footsteps.”  

Tyes, the eldest and caregiver of ten siblings, was raised by his grandparents in the Cleveland metropolitan area.  

“They always nurtured my dream of becoming a physician any way they could,” he said.  

Despite limited resources, Tyes said his grandparents helped him find ways to explore his passion for medicine and higher education, including and most notably Granville Academy, a pre-college program for inner-city students in which Tyes met his mentor, the late Ms. Aisha Fraser.  

“She not only helped me pursue college but also ensured I was able to go, she purchased everything I needed for school and drove me down to Atlanta.”  

Ms. Fraser supported Tyes’ academic endeavors, including his participation in the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Health Careers Opportunity Program at Meharry Medical College, and a study abroad opportunity in Ghana focused on medicinal plants.  

However, Tyes was a few credits shy of earning his Bachelor of Science in biology from Morehouse College when his grandmother passed away, leaving him depressed, unable to focus, and financially burdened.  

Eventually, he was hired to work in recruitment and programming for Northeast Ohio Medical University, where he created Mini Med School – a collection of STEM workshops designed to expose underrepresented students to careers in health care through hands-on projects such as suturing, casting, and taking vital signs.  

His dedication to the matriculation and retention of underrepresented student populations in the university’s health professions and pre-medical partnership programs earned him additional mentorship from Dr. Sonja Harris Haywood, now the dean of Meharry Medical College School of Medicine.  

“She helped me devise my path back to medical school,” Tyes said. “Without her guidance my medical school career wouldn’t have happened.  

“I took classes at three different institutions, all about an hour from my home, to complete my undergraduate degree.”  

Tyes became a Certified Community Health Worker, earned his Associate of Science from Cuyahoga Community College, completed mission trips to Ghana, became a registered pharmacy technician, and earned a post-baccalaureate certificate from Southern Illinois University School of Medicine’s MEDPREP program.  

“I was able to rehabilitate my grades and strengthen my application, and despite not doing so well on the MCAT, I was able to earn admission to medical school,” he said.  

Tyes received a scholarship to University of Louisville’s School of Medicine and from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Health Professional Scholarship Program.  

However, in his second year of medical school, his family experienced homelessness, drug addiction, and gun violence.  

“NMF provided me with a need-based scholarship to help me stay in school and cover housing costs while I studied for my exams during this time,” Tyes said. “Then I received an email from NMF telling me I qualified for more programs.”  

NMF’s Health Equity Leaders Program helped Tyes to expand his Mini Med School to educational programming from Cleveland, OH to Louisville, KY and Chicago, IL.  

“I’m interested in changing the factors that lead to low matriculation rates for minorities in STEM fields,” he said.  

Tyes, who has conducted research with the Stanford University Diabetes Research Center in conjunction with Stanford Pediatric Endocrinology, University of Louisville Brown Cancer Center’s Department of Otolaryngology, Texas Children’s Hospital’s Departments of Otolaryngology and Anesthesiology, and more, said learning how to mitigate cultural health care factors is one thing, but changing the elements that influence why African American/Black, Indigenous, People of Color have shorter life expectancies based on their zip code is another.  

“Minoritized communities have poorer health outcomes and more medical complications overall,” he said.  

For example, Tyes recalled working with an African American breast cancer patient who was told her treatment and surgical plan would require one-hour appointments four days per week.  

“She said, ‘I can’t do that; I have to work to pay the bills and take care of my kids,’” Tyes said. “She was being told this would kill her if not treated, but because of her lack of financial and physical support, she put her health aside.”  

Tyes used his ASCO Conquer Cancer Medical Student Rotation Award to study various modalities of chemotherapy and other cancer treatment deliveries with the UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Department of Oncology.  

“From medication to mobile units, we must be able to meet our patients where they are to ensure they can receive care without completely altering their lives.”

When Tyes isn’t involved in clinical research or working up to 90 hours per week on rotation, he mentors other underrepresented students to ensure the diversification of the health care workforce continues.  

“From elementary school through doctorate programs, I provide academic consulting, career development, community resources, and more,” he said. “I edit personal statements, conduct mock interviews, review applications, help students earn scholarships – anything to help motivate and guide others with similar stories.”  

Tyes said he intentionally leads with the mindset that everything is not about him, but about those he can help with his story.  

“There is nothing I’ve ever asked God for that He did not provide,” he said. “I may have asked Him for it on a Monday and He may have sent it on a Friday, but He has denied me nothing.”  

Tyes, who will graduate medical school next year, is currently applying to residencies in anesthesiology – but says his work with the community will never end.  

“I can only imagine the kinds of projects that will continue to be developed by fellow NMF scholars, because when you give highly intelligent people the right resources, funding, and platform to do something good for others, that is a recipe for change.”