Making a difference

Physicians in politics: Tyler King, DO, is a Laredo, Texas, city council member

Dr. King is focused on measures to improve public health in Laredo, such as addressing a food desert and taking steps to combat obesity.


This month, we are delighted to highlight the remarkable journey of Tyler King, DO, as our DO to Know. Dr. King has recently completed his family medicine residency at Laredo Medical Center, while also serving as a council member for district six in Laredo, Texas. Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. King’s passion for medicine was sparked by his grandfather, while his interest in politics was inspired by his grandmother. Today he stands as a unique blend of their influences.

Dr. King’s path to becoming a physician took a unique route. After graduating with a political science degree at the University of Tennessee, he joined Teach for America as a Corps member in the Rio Grande Valley. This experience solidified his decision to pursue a career in medicine.

In 2020, Dr. King returned to South Texas after matching with the family medicine residency program at Laredo Medical Center. During his residency, he felt a strong desire to contribute to the local government in Laredo, leading him to run for city council. Since January 2023, he has been serving, bringing his expertise and commitment to community service to the political sphere.

Dr. King is now embarking on a new chapter of service as he establishes his outpatient primary care practice, further expanding his impact and improving access to essential health care services in his community. With his unwavering dedication to medicine and politics, Dr. King is a trailblazer who is pioneering change and making a lasting difference in Laredo. My conversation with him regarding the changes he wants to make are below.

Could you share your journey and experiences that have led you to your current role as a primary care doctor, while also serving on the city council?

Throughout my education, I was influenced by my family, particularly my maternal grandmother, who was politically inclined, and my maternal grandfather, a urologist. Their diverse backgrounds shaped my passion for both medicine and politics. After graduating from high school, I had a conversation with my friend, who was also planning to pursue a premed track.

I was going off to the University of Tennessee and figured I would have to do the classic biology degree as most premed students do. She informed me of the flexibility in choosing a major and advised me that I could study what truly interested me and still apply to medical school. This conversation led me to decide on majoring in political science while also pursuing premed.

My interest in politics and government affairs began with the significant impact of 9/11, which occurred when I was in sixth grade. Since then, I have been fascinated by the workings of government and international affairs.

When I made it to college, I encountered an orientation leader who introduced me to Teach for America, an organization focused on addressing educational gaps in the U.S. I decided to join and took a detour from applying to medical school. I was placed in the Rio Grande Valley, along the Texas-Mexico border. This region captivated me with its unique population, and I became deeply involved.

It was here where I met and fell in love with my wife, Alejandra, who’s from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. While teaching at a charter school, I witnessed the socioeconomic and health disparities faced by my students, which reignited my desire to pursue medicine. So, I applied to medical school and joined the inaugural class of the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State, which was conveniently located an hour away from my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Alongside my studies, I founded the Student Osteopathic Medical Association (SOMA) chapter at my school and served as the national SOMA president.

During my medical school journey, I had the opportunity to intern at the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) government affairs office in Washington. In early 2020, my internship transitioned to a virtual setting. I decided to move to Laredo, Texas, where I had matched for my residency in family medicine. Alejandra and I made the journey with our seven-month-old daughter.

While in Laredo, I started connecting with the local community through social media platforms and learned about the city’s history and government. I initially wanted to volunteer for a previous candidate’s campaign; however, after learning he wasn’t going to run, the idea to run myself was born. I connected to a current council member from another district, who gave me his full support to run.

I had only been living in Laredo for two and a half years, but once I got to working on the campaign, I discovered that being an outsider was not seen negatively but rather embraced as a fresh perspective. This motivated me further to serve the community and bring positive change. After winning a scholarship from the Texas Academy of Family Physicians, I was able to fund part of my campaign and gained support through social media, which led to my winning the election.

I was sworn in on Jan. 3, 2023, and it has been very rewarding.

How has your transition to a role in local government affected your perspective on public health policies and health care systems at different levels of government?

Now, I focus on areas where I can make a real impact. Although I can’t change state-level SNAP incentives, I can advocate for them to our state senators. As a local official, I have easier access to state and federal representatives, enabling direct communication. This privilege allows me to propose health policies and advocate for better ones at all levels.

The presence of a food desert in Laredo has been a driving factor for me. Working with the Laredo Food Policy Council, we aim to increase access to healthy foods locally. We had a community health assessment, which showed that our community faces a significant obesity problem, with almost half of residents affected. It also revealed that 22% of Laredo’s residents live below poverty level, and 33% of the population is under the age of 18.

So, we have a very young population, which is promising to see from a business and economic development side. That’s where our community college comes into play to make sure we are training people for good-paying jobs.

Collaborating with local stakeholders, we strive to combat obesity and improve health policies. The experiences have highlighted the importance of local governance in effecting change.

How do you intend to help address the health care disparities in South Texas?

One crucial step to address health care disparities is to increase access to primary care services. After completing my family medicine residency, I will be starting my primary care clinic in district six on the north side of Laredo. This clinic will exclusively focus on outpatient primary care, thereby helping expand access to essential health care services in the area.

Additionally, the residency program in our region plays a pivotal role. We have a highly commendable program at Laredo Medical Center that commenced in 2018. The first class graduated in 2021, and as of now, we have a significant number of physicians practicing locally. It would be advantageous to explore opportunities to attract others to our region.

Beyond primary care and residency programs, addressing health care disparities necessitates a multifaceted approach. The assessment rightly emphasizes the need to improve access to specialty care, enhance culturally relevant health care, foster trust, encourage partnerships, strengthen community engagement and enhance overall health care access and affordability.

One substantial initiative that can contribute significantly to these goals is the establishment of a Webb County hospital district, considering that Laredo falls within Webb County. However, it is important to note that only the county has the authority to establish such a district. Therefore, we must find ways to advocate for the county to make this decision. One challenge we face is the historical reluctance to pursue this option due to concerns about potential tax increases for landowners. Nevertheless, we must work toward a solution that balances the financial considerations with the urgent need to improve health care access and affordability.

Having served as a commissioned officer and captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, and now with your roles in local government and as a family physician, you have held multiple leadership positions. What is the key to being an effective leader?

Humility lies at the core of effective leadership. It is essential to acknowledge when one is wrong and admit when something is not known, especially in medicine. It is truly unfortunate when individuals pretend to possess knowledge they lack, as it can endanger lives. So, for me, humility means recognizing and embracing my own limitations, and being unafraid to seek help and guidance when confronted with something unfamiliar. It is a willingness to be vulnerable and secure enough to admit when you need help.

As a family medicine physician working in an underserved area, what would you like others to know about the unique challenges and opportunities that come with practicing medicine in such settings?

It has been my experience over the past three years at Gateway Community Health Center that there is no patient population more appreciative and grateful for the care provided. The work is incredibly rewarding.

One of the significant challenges in underserved areas is the high rate of uninsured individuals. In our community, approximately 20% of the population lacks insurance coverage. Additionally, accurately accounting for the undocumented population poses difficulties.

I don’t think the 2020 census was able to effectively capture the true numbers, and the previous administration’s approach of asking individuals to disclose their immigration status hindered an accurate count. Undercounting in places like Laredo results in fewer federal resources allocated to the area.

What message or advice would you like to share with aspiring physicians?

One of the best pieces of advice I received as an entering first-year medical student came from one of my favorite faculty members. He advised me to embrace the mindset to “just survive and advance.” This advice reminds me to keep pushing forward, even in the face of challenges and obstacles. It’s about persevering, overcoming hurdles and continuously moving ahead in your journey.

Ultimately, it is essential to recognize the privilege we have as aspiring physicians. Graduating from medical school and practicing medicine is tremendous. Even if your career path doesn’t unfold exactly as you had envisioned, practicing medicine at any level in the United States means you are working in a privileged setting. This field offers opportunities for personal and professional growth, financial stability and a sense of fulfillment.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

Insights from a rural OB-GYN: A Q&A with Tammie Koehler, DO

From community college to C-suite: How this DO flourishes with his ‘never quit’ mentality

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