Aspiring physician Tyler Watson (right) works in the chemistry lab with his mentor, Dr. Michael Leonard.
The first future physician
With dreams of becoming the first doctor in his family, Tyler Watson ’14 immersed himself in research and clinical experience, completing a Magellan Project with gastroenterologist Raymond Cross ’93, M.D., at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore this past summer.
Working full-time as a clinical research assistant, as well as shadowing Dr. Cross 10 hours a week in his clinic and six hours a week in the operating room, Watson learned the importance of doctor-patient interaction. “Being able to be compassionate, understanding and willing to work with patients is not something that can be learned in a textbook. For me, I have been able to observe this relationship firsthand and see how essential it is for patients and physicians to interact,” said Watson.
After three knee surgeries, Watson is no novice when it comes to being a patient. As a result, his football career at W&J ended after two seasons—a disappointment, to be sure, though it left him more time to focus on his studies. The McClellandtown, Pa., native redoubled his academic efforts and set out to gain as much real-world experience as he could in different disciplines within the medical field. He wanted to make a well-informed choice for his future.
In the summer of 2012, supported by a Merck Internship for Excellence in Science Grant, Watson worked with Dr. David Provenzano, an anesthesiologist and researcher at Pittsburgh’s Ohio Valley General Hospital Institute for Pain Diagnostics and Care. Their research focused on monopolar radiofrequency (a minimally invasive technique to treat back pain) and was presented at the 11th Annual American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine Meeting in Miami and at the 4th Annual World Anesthesia Convention in Bangkok.
Though the recognition has been nice, for Watson, the most gratifying part of his research is the possibility of helping people. “We were able to discover findings that have the potential to change and improve clinical practices,” he explained. “It was fascinating, and even humbling, that what we did is going to alter patients’ lives.”
The Pre-Health Professions Society president and Beta scholar credits W&J’s close-knit community and dedicated professors for his success. “It’s nice to know that professors’ doors are always open,” he said. “You can walk in with whatever you need help with. School or life, or anything, they’re always willing to help.”
The chemistry major found a mentor in one of his professors, fellow first-generation college student Michael Leonard, Ph.D. “Tyler has been consistently focused on his goals and has shown dedication and perseverance as he works toward them. Through our conversations, it became clear to me that Tyler is a serious and dedicated student with a strong interest in research experience,” said Dr. Leonard.
Without the support of his family, though, Watson would not be where he is today. “If I ever need something from them, they’re always going to go out of their way to accommodate whatever I need,” he said.
A testament to his parents’ dedication to his education occurred this past summer when Watson achieved another important milestone in coming closer to his medical school dreams—taking the MCAT. What Watson did not expect was the integral role his dad would play.
“I signed up for my MCAT two months before I was supposed to take it, which I thought was enough in advance, but I thought wrong,” said Watson. “The first one I could take was in Roanoke, Virginia. My dad actually switched his vacation week so he could take me down to Virginia to take my test.”
Being the first in his immediate family to earn a degree was strong motivation for Watson.
“It was a goal for me to go to college and finish with a degree,” he said. “It’s hard for me wanting to be a doctor because no one in my family is a doctor. A lot of my family is blue-collar, hard-working, not really involved in the world of academia. It’s just different.”
Reflecting on his approaching graduation, Watson said about his family, “I feel like it’s going to mean a lot to them because they know how much work that I put in and they’re very proud of me. They’ll be happy that I’m doing what I want to do.”
While admitting that being the first in his family to go to college was sometimes a challenge, Watson looks on the bright side of being a first-generation student. “I feel like as a first-generation student you are creating yourself,” he said. “W&J has a lot of opportunities for students to do that. I think that’s what I get more as a first-generation student: It’s my journey because it’s not like I’m following my parents’ steps.”
-ALLYSON GILMORE ’12