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For Women in Medicine, ‘Having It All’ Is Hard – Living without Purpose is Harder

Photo of Dr. Tyeese Gaines smiling into the camera. She is wearing a black jacket and green blouse.

“The patients I went into medicine for – the populations made vulnerable, the chronically marginalized – weren’t even making it into primary care physicians’ offices because they were going straight to the emergency room.” 

Dr. Tyeese Gaines distinctly remembers how it felt to receive a scholarship from National Medical Fellowships in her first year as a medical student.  

“I felt seen and valued, knowing everything I’d accomplished and worked hard for up until that point was deserving of recognition,” she said.  

Dr. Gaines has worked non-stop ever since across multiple industries, dedicating her career of nearly 25 years to clinical instruction, emergency medicine, board leadership, thought leadership, and public relations, branding, and entrepreneurship within the health care space.  

“I can’t remember a time in which I didn’t want to be a doctor,” she said while recounting a memory of her father undergoing surgery when she was five years old.  

“I was in and around the hospital and when his surgery was botched, I told him, ‘Dad, if I were your doctor, I wouldn’t have messed up,’” she said.  

Dr. Gaines initially wanted to focus on premedical studies before applying to medical school – until a single guidance counselor convinced her she was not academically inclined enough to be accepted in a competitive major.  

“I wasn’t in the top 10 percent of my class at a magnet school – where every student already is in the top 10 percent – but neither of my parents had attended college back then, so I had no one to refute that assumption.”

Dr. Gaines was advised to apply only to general studies programs, but she didn’t completely listen and explored business and physical therapy programs as well. She was accepted into the latter with a full-tuition scholarship.  

During her time at Northeastern University, her interest in becoming a physician and passion for health equity and service for underserved communities never wavered, and so Dr. Gaines got back onto the premed track during her sophomore year.   

“I also attended what was then the Minority Medical Education Program (MMEP), which recharged my interest in becoming a physician and provided me with a network of likeminded pre-med students of color,” she said.  

Then Dr. Gaines attended her first Student National Medical Association (SNMA) conference.

“It was game-changing to see more than 1,000 down-to-earth students and residents who looked like me all in one space, all wanting to become active leaders in their communities.”

The next year, Dr. Gaines applied to Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine programs and was accepted into the 2005 Class at Nova Southeastern University.  

To maintain her creativity, Dr. Gaines said she also took a year away from medical school to earn her master’s degree in journalism at Northeastern University, which landed her a paid summer internship and a subsequent associate producer job for the 5am news at NBC in Miami upon returning to her studies.  

Soon after, Dr. Gaines got married and gave birth to her son while continuing to freelance as a contributor for news organizations and serve in leadership with SNMA. She became chairperson emeritus of SNMA last year.

“There were always a lot of moving parts, but we kept the wheels on the bus,” she said. “Sometimes you don’t know what you’re capable of until you’re forced to do more than you think.”   

Before starting her residency in emergency medicine at Yale University, Dr. Gaines authored a book entitled The Get a Life Campaign on time management, smart budgeting, and women’s leadership, and continued freelancing as a health editor with  

“During rotations, I found that the patients I went into medicine for – the populations made vulnerable, the chronically marginalized – weren’t even making it into primary care physicians’ offices because they were going straight to the emergency room.”

Patients in the ER are also more likely to take their health seriously at that moment of concern, Dr. Gaines added: “When someone is scared or in pain or unsure of what’s going to happen, that’s the time to grab their attention and talk about tangible changes to make today.”  

The emergency department is also a space in which Dr. Gaines said she can provide much needed clarification. “I’d help patients in the ER better understand the system, who to call when they left the ER, who to make an appointment with and why, who took insurance and which clinics didn’t require it – it’s such a huge and overlooked part of someone’s health care and follow-up needs.” 

Time flew by for Dr. Gaines, she said: “I didn’t look at the clock once during those rotations.”  

Her excitement led to a long and winding career path for nearly 15 years as a clinical instructor, emergency medicine physician, reviewing medical director, Certified Physician Executive, on-air medical expert, and health care entrepreneur with a Master of Business Administration.  

In between, Dr. Gaines also continued working as a producer, contributor, and journalist with news outlets such as NBC, ABC, and, and even started her own full-service public relations consultancy, Doctor Ty Media, providing media coaching, social media training, workshops, and branding and messaging advice for health care workers and organizations based on her own experiences as a frequent speaker and medical expert for more than two decades.  

It took a global pandemic to get her to pause to refocus and prioritize her multiple full-time pursuits – including growing a successful urgent care practice in Jersey City since 2018.  

“We were the only urgent care in my entire hometown of more than a quarter-million people that accepted Medicaid, and I was very proud of that,” Dr. Gaines said. “But the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible for us to continue building our early-stage business.” 

Instead, Dr. Gaines began covering more shifts in the emergency room and created a YouTube series entitled Black America’s Health, when the U.S. insurance company Humana offered her a full-time position reviewing claims and authorizations in April 2020.  

“Working in the hotbed of the virus, the chaos and burnout was intense,” she said. “I also thought it would be helpful to see firsthand how a payer operates to better understand how physicians and insurance companies can best work together to ensure quality care.”  

Dr. Gaines has since become a physician executive with Humana and continues to take shifts at the emergency department and provide branding and media expertise as needed.  

She also now has renewed interest in working more closely with organizations like NMF, having previously served on the alumni council (now the Alumni Alliance) and emceed the annual gala in her region.  

“Organizations such as NMF and Summer Health Professions Education Program are so important, especially knowing that if there were a pipeline program available to me when that guidance counselor diminished my confidence, I would have had a network to ask if that nonsense had any truth to it.”

“I think back to that guidance counselor and wonder how and where we can help even earlier on in the pipeline – before the science and math scores split between Black and white kids, for example, in early elementary school.  

“Despite having just raised a man into adulthood who actually thrived in the American school system academically, I have also seen firsthand how alarmingly easy it can be for too many students to become trapped in a cycle from the start. If you have a bad year in the second grade, for example, you are now typically stuck in lower math and science classes, and if you stay in the same school district, you may never get to take calculus or Advanced Placement classes in high school – all courses needed to prepare future physicians for medical school prerequisite courses. 

“By the time I received my scholarship from NMF, I already knew I was going to be a doctor and had made it through the admissions process. It might be time to think about how we might also fund early education programs to make sure those who want to become doctors are continually encouraged to do so.”