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Student Profile: Tyler Looysen, MD, MPH
Second-Year MPH student Dr. Tyler Looysen recently sat down with North Dakota Medicine to talk patient care, public health, and podcasting.
Interview conducted by Brenna Nordeen
Thanks for your time, Dr. Looysen. And congratulations on your medical degree. What made you want to become a physician?
I have always loved creative problem solving. Over the years, I learned that I am happiest when faced with a challenge and when able to work with others. Being a physician seemed to guarantee a never-ending stream of challenges, each allowing me a unique opportunity to grow and become the best version of myself. When working with others, insight can be gained on the human experience through everyday discussion. Since this was a part of the daily life for a physician, it provided another reason for me to become one. Finally, I wanted to have the ability to use the skills and knowledge that I have gained throughout life to give back to others. Physicians, like all healthcare providers, are lucky enough to have this ability built into each workday.
At what point did you decide to add an MPH to your education?
During my fourth year of medical school, one of my mentors, Dr. Max Johnson, mentioned the idea to me. He told me that the program would offer many benefits to a physician. Among these were the skills to recognize, collect data on, and draw meaningful conclusions about disease patterns in my future patients. I liked the idea of adding these abilities to my arsenal. For quite a while, it has been my desire to collect and use a variety of connected and seemingly disconnected skills in an attempt to make myself the most effective healer that I can be.
How do you think these two degrees, in combination, will enhance your practice?
Physicians and all other healthcare providers dedicate their working lives to helping others deal with disease. During my medical school training, I learned about the ins and outs of the human body and mind. I began to learn how to recognize, diagnose, and treat a variety of physical and mental conditions. I also began to learn how to practice patient-centered care as a member of a healthcare team. The knowledge gained from all of these lessons provided me with a strong base in how to be an effective healer of patients.
My MPH training has fit in this mix perfectly, expanding both my skills and awareness. I’ve been able to learn how to recognize disease patterns, collect data, crunch data, draw meaningful conclusions from data, and communicate those conclusions to peers and colleagues. I’ve learned how to think about and model complex systems in order to solve problems and how to design interventions to affect health behavior change at a city, state, or national level.
Do you know what residency program you will apply for when you complete your MPH?
I am applying for a residency in ophthalmology this fall.
And you do a podcast, right? What was the genesis of that project?
Over the past five years or so, I’ve developed a strong interest in watching content posted online by a variety of people. As a no-budget filmmaker, I found it inspiring that people just like me were producing entertaining and groundbreaking content with no formal studio backing. I began to wonder if the same format could be used to bring about changes in health behavior by increasing public awareness and knowledge about health issues. I mentioned my interest to Skyler Ienuso, who was a colleague in one of my MPH classes.
We met to brainstorm how such a thing would take form and Skyler suggested the idea of using the podcast format. I knew little about this format and was not an active consumer of podcast content, so I enlisted the help of my friend, Aaron Thuen. We had previously founded an electronic rock band together known as All My Friends Are Fiction. Not only was Aaron a self-taught audio and video production genius, but he was also an active podcast listener. Together, the three of us developed the idea for a 20-40 minute long video and audio podcast with episodes centered on a single healthcare topic that would feature discussions with different experts. Thus was Ty and Sky’s Health Pub born.
The podcast is centered around a single aim: to help empower the public by bridging the communication gap between them and healthcare providers, policy-makers, and other experts. We seek to provide our audience with both knowledge and entertainment. In order to achieve this, we discuss health issues as though we are meeting over drinks or coffee with our guests. We have a matter-of-fact discussion, which is free of medical jargon. We also try to get to know each of our guests on a personal level by playing games and asking them off-the-wall questions in order to connect their hobbies or interests to the topic. It has been very fun to see what comes out of our discussions!
What do you like to do when you’re not studying or working on your podcast?
I am quite a Nintendo fan boy and really enjoy playing video games. I also like spending time with my pets, tinkering with home automation devices, playing board games like Munchkin and Settlers of Catan, and producing music videos. When I can find the time, I work as an event DJ around North Dakota and Minnesota.
What do you imagine your ideal career to look like?
My ideal career would involve using every tool at my disposal as a healer to help my patients and communities fully understand different diseases and deliver effective treatments for those diseases. I hope to run an ophthalmology practice in an area where I can serve rural communities, as I grew up in a rural area myself. In addition, I hope to continue to engage the community by producing video content. I plan to use the skills that I have gathered from my time in UND’s MD and MPH programs combined with the ones I will gain in residency in order to heal on both the individual patient and population levels.
Describe the most rewarding experience you’ve had at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences so far.
I am currently collecting data for a research project that is looking at the cost effectiveness of utilizing a specific camera device to help ophthalmologists screen for diabetic retinopathy in a rural family practice clinic in Minnesota. Subjects’ retinal pictures are obtained by the device and sent to a vitreoretinal specialist to be interpreted. After interpretation, management recommendations are given to the primary care provider based on the findings. All of our subjects are volunteers and do not receive any compensation, yet they sign up for the study in droves hoping to contribute to the discovery of information that will help others. It is extraordinarily inspiring. It really speaks to the power that selflessness and sense of community have in helping humans conquer the challenges imposed by disease. I really enjoy getting the chance to meet every volunteer even if only for a short time.