Student takes different path to studying medicine

Student takes different path to studying medicine

Tyler Parsons in the Beaumont lab

Soon-to-be Oakland University senior Tyler Parsons doesn’t want to become a doctor, but he often talks about issues regularly discussed by physicians. Various treatments for cancer, having a “medicinal mindset” or a “bench-to-bedside” approach could all be topics covered during a conversation with the 21-year-old biology major.

Yes, Parsons has talked about all of those things – but rather than preparing for medical school, Parsons has chosen a different path to medicine. And he’s excelling.

His passion for people and for finding better treatments for cancer has led him from being a student who initially wanted to prescribe treatment to one who wants to create it.

“I’ve lost a lot of family members to cancer. I want to be part of the research, part of the science and the actual bench work that would then give those physicians something better to give to their patients,” said Parsons, who is working towards a career in research oncology. “I’m a very competitive person and cancer’s winning.”

Parsons, a Troy native, works in the Research Institute at Beaumont Hospital – Royal Oak, in the Radiation Oncology research lab. He was able to obtain his internship through connections he made in Oakland University’s Biological Sciences department in the College of Arts and Sciences, and the support of assistant professor Gerard Madlambayan, Ph.D.

Parsons’ graduate student mentor in the laboratory is OU doctoral candidate Jonathan Kane. Kane and Parsons are trying to determine how differences in the way radiation is administered can improve outcomes in certain cancer patients. Specifically, the research team, led by Brian Marples, Ph.D, a radiobiologist with Beaumont Hospital in collaboration with Madlambayan, is studying the effect of pulsed radiation in treating lung cancer.

“I know a lot of people know about the relationship with OU and Beaumont through the (Oakland University) William Beaumont School of Medicine, and that’s obviously a great opportunity,” Parsons said.

“I’m not going to medical school, and my goal is not to become a physician – it’s to do research and to get a (doctorate degree), to do more of the science behind it.  And that partnership between Beaumont and Oakland came into play here and opened a lot of doors for me.”

Parsons, who immersed himself in Dr. Madlambayan’s Biology of Cancer class, “always asked questions before, during and after class about material we covered, which demonstrated his interest in grasping new concepts,” Madlambayan remembered.

“Understanding how passionate Tyler was to perform research, we allowed him to help Jonathan with his project. So Tyler is getting his first experience in a biomedical research setting at Beaumont. As expected, he is doing an excellent job.”

Parsons’ journey into the research side of cancer treatment isn’t the only way to find a career in the medical field without a medical degree.

“Nurses, therapists and bioengineers work in clinical settings and can actually interact directly with patients. These are all programs we offer here at OU,” said Madlambayan.

The College of Arts and Sciences and the Biological Sciences department both have many research opportunities available to students. They’re exceedingly useful in preparing students for the world of professional sciences, said Madlambayan.

“Research activities allow students to understand the scientific process, which includes understanding a discipline, asking questions related to how things work and developing hypotheses to answer these questions. Students then learn how to design experiments, collect data and analyze their findings to see if their hypotheses were correct or not,” he explained.

“As a whole, this process teaches students how to think critically and problem solve, which are attributes that will make you successful in any area – especially the sciences and medicine.”

To learn about programs offered by the Biology department at Oakland University, visit