This feature was written by Scott Colton, BA, APR, COM/HPD Director of Medical Communications and Public Relations at NSU-KPCOM. It will appear in the Spring 2018 edition of NSU-KPCOM's COM Outlook.
When Tyler Cymet, DO, FACP, FACOFP, a 1988 alumnus, began attending the Nova Southeastern University-Kiran Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine (NSU-KPCOM) in 1984, his initial goal was to become a general practitioner and work in South Florida when he graduated. But, as the poet Robert Burns famously said, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
Cymet, who spent his teen years in Hollywood, Florida, was fully committed to staying in South Florida until various postgraduate educational and employment opportunities led him to lofty institutions such as Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Yale University School of Medicine. “Dr. Anthony J. Silvagni, the KPCOM’s dean emeritus, jokingly reminds me that I am an NSU failure since Yale and Johns Hopkins aren’t in Florida, and I ended up far from my intended path,” he said.
Although the illustrious postgraduate training he did in the Northeast exposed him to many mind-expanding concepts, Cymet also credits NSU for altering his projected career path. “If NSU hadn’t introduced me to clinical research, given me the opportunity to do my clinical rotations far from home, or provided me with various leadership opportunities, then I would have fulfilled my dream of being a general practitioner in Florida.”
During his formative years, Cymet’s parents exposed him and his siblings to a gamut of experiences, which included working in the hotel his mother managed in Miami Beach. “My older sister, younger brother, and I pitched in by working in the hotel,” he said. “We helped run the switchboard, worked at the front desk, and prepared the guest rooms.”
Thirst for Knowledge Leads to Medical Career
From an early age, Cymet proved to be a voracious reader who was extremely self-motivated to learn, which led to his skipping a few grades and graduating early at the age of 16. Due to his academic prowess, he also experimented with going to college when he was just 14 by taking classes at Miami Dade College and Broward College.
At age 16, he earned a scholarship to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. After a brief stay, however, he decided to return to South Florida to work at several jobs for about 18 months before going to college.
“The real decision on how I was going to spend my life was made while I attended Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia,” Cymet said. “I loved acquiring knowledge, thinking, and questioning. I considered pursuing a PhD in medical anthropology or psychology since understanding people seemed like the knowledge most worth pursuing. But medicine eventually made the most sense to me.”
While earning undergraduate degrees in anthropology and psychology from Emory University, Cymet began the arduous process of applying to various allopathic and osteopathic medical schools. “My family always pursued natural health options,” explained Cymet, whose extended family included several chiropractic physicians. “DO schools made the most sense for me since my personal philosophy is the same as the osteopathic philosophy, and I really wanted to learn manual medicine.”
By the end of the application process, Cymet was accepted to two medical schools: Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois, which was an allopathic school, and Southeastern College of Osteopathic Medicine (SECOM)—the precursor to NSU-KPCOM—in North Miami Beach. Making a definitive decision, however, wasn’t easy.
“SECOM had not graduated a class at the time I was accepted, so it was a difficult decision,” he said. “I decided to put deposits down on both schools and attend Northwestern University the summer before matriculating into SECOM as a way of comparing and feeling comfortable that the education would be at the same level.”
Once he began attending SECOM, his fears faded quickly thanks to the robustness of the curriculum and the enduring relationships he made with fellow students and faculty members. “My favorite memories are of time spent with my study group. Robert Crook, Michael Baron, and Rosemarie Bredahl Mead were friends and role models for me,” he said. “We spent a tremendous amount of time together in the library and doing things I never would have done had we not been organized alphabetically, making my best friends those in the SECOM class of 1988 whose last names began with B or C.”
Beyond bonding academically, Cymet’s peers broadened his worldview, exposing him to various activities and cultural events for the first time. “I had never gone to a concert before medical school, so Rosemarie made me mixtapes and took me to Grateful Dead concerts,” he said. “Robert taught me to be an outdoorsman and prioritized whitewater rafting and outdoor running over any kind of conventional life.”
He also credits faculty members, such as Edye Groseclose, PhD, professor of biochemistry, for helping him assimilate confusing concepts and preparing him for the fulfilling career he has today. “The first time I was ever overwhelmed academically was at NSU,” he admitted. “I remember going to Dr. Groseclose’s office without a clear understanding of a biochemistry concept. I didn’t even know how to ask for help. Dr. Groseclose taught me how to know I needed help, and how to ask for it. NSU changed how I viewed thinking and moved me from collecting facts to understanding and using the knowledge I have.”
Postgraduate Education Reaps Gratifying Outcomes
After earning his DO degree from NSU-KPCOM in 1988, Cymet embarked on a rigorous postgraduate educational odyssey that included completing an osteopathic internship and research fellowship at the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine, which focused on the effects of osteopathic manipulative medicine on pulmonary function. His next educational step involved doing his primary care internal medicine residency training at one of the most prestigious medical schools in the United States—Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut.
In 1992, Cymet began a fulfilling affiliation with the Sinai Hospital of Baltimore/Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Program in General Internal Medicine in Maryland, which would endure until 2008. During his 16 years with the institution, Cymet served in a range of roles, many of which overlapped due to his myriad responsibilities.
From serving as director of osteopathic medical education and associate program director of the internal medicine residency program to acting as medical director of outpatient medicine and founder and medical director of Sinai Community Care, Cymet oversaw a complex array of areas, which helped expand his knowledge base and sate his innate intellectual curiosity.
I’ve always loved the idea of pushing our understanding of people just a little further than it was before,” said Cymet, who appeared in five episodes of the TV series Untold Stories of the ER. “I love finding answers and enjoy being around smart people who ask questions. There is a beauty in understanding what we know well enough to also see the areas that don’t make sense, and understanding that our current knowledge may be wrong.”
During his years at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore/Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Cymet indulged his curious nature by becoming involved in a spate of interesting projects, including attempting to name a previously undescribed body part—the finger bump that occurs on the writing finger from continuous use, which is still unnamed and not completely defined. “While I understand it is an acquired body part,” he explained, “I was able to participate in debates over whether or not it is an actual body part.”
In 1992, Cymet experienced his first brush with fame when he published the “Ad Diction Ary of Drug Users’ Terms” in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. “At the time, it was the most widely read and cited article in the journal’s history,” he said. “I did about 50 interviews related to the article and felt like a minor celebrity.” He also defined a genetic syndrome that had previously been unidentified and thought to be fatal. “I had a patient with the defect who was very much alive, so the syndrome was dubbed Erondu-Cymet Syndrome.”
As the 21st century dawned, Cymet continued to rack up impressive achievements. He is especially proud of the role he played in the postal anthrax attack of 2001, which included helping to identify a new syndrome called Aborted Anthrax Syndrome. “I spent two years advocating for patients affected with the disease,” said Cymet, who has been married to his wife Holly Cymet, PhD, a biophysicist, for 15 years and is the proud father of nine-year-old daughter Ilana. “The question of who should be responsible for providing care to the victims of a bioterror attack is a clear question without a clear answer.”
His innumerable accomplishments and contributions to the medical profession also include working with the military to provide scholarships for osteopathic physicians, which resulted in an increase of more than 150 million dollars in scholarship money for students attending osteopathic medical colleges, and serving as president of the Maryland State Medical Society. Another proud achievement involved the establishment of a common clinical site for DO schools in Chacraseca, Nicaragua, through DOCARE international when he was the organization’s national president.
In 2008, Cymet shifted career gears and accepted a leadership position with the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) in Bethesda, Maryland, as chief of clinical education. The position has been a rewarding one for Cymet, who develops, coordinates, and implements AACOM activities related to clinical education—from undergraduate medical education through residency—with an emphasis on clinical faculty development and coordination.
Throughout his prolific career, which has earned Cymet significant recognition, including being named Physician of the Year by the Maryland Association of Osteopathic Physicians in 1998 and 2005 and receiving the American Osteopathic Foundation Educator of the Year Award in 2016, he has never lost touch with his osteopathic alma mater.
“I feel connected to NSU. Being a Floridian gets baked into you. And, even though I’d been a Floridian before going to NSU, the school leveraged the environment in unique and exciting ways. I would have never been to a migrant labor camp, worked with a public health investigator, or inspected the McDonalds onion chopping plant had it not been for NSU’s view of health and the role of a physician,” Cymet explained.
“Doing these things in your hometown gives it more meaning,” he added. “Sharing stories with current students at the KPCOM who are still having similar rural health experiences, and learning from many of the same people, maintains the strong bond I have with the college.”