A Medical Student's Passion for Flint

  • Brian Tesler, M.D.
  • 2014 Graduate
  • College of Human Medicine

Brian TeslerBorn and raised in Flint, Michigan, Dr. Brian Tesler, a 2014 graduate of the College of Human Medicine, has a passion for the city. Placed at Hurley Medical Center in Flint as a medical student, he has returned to Hurley to do his residency.

"I remember Flint from when I was a child, and it was a different place then," said Tesler. "The factories were still churning, and it seemed like everyone had a Cadillac. As I grew older, the factory jobs were disappearing and a generation of Flint for the first time became unemployed." He admits he was anxious at that time to leave the city.

Brian Tesler and friends work on a community gardening project in Flint.

But his journey in life brought him back to Flint with a very different focus: the people. "The people of Flint are hopeful, tenacious, and relentlessly positive in the face of adversity. I was inspired by the people of Flint and declared I would be one of them again," said Tesler.

MSU's College of Human Medicine has been working collaboratively with hospitals in the Flint area since the 1960s through the MSU Flint Area Medical Education (MSU-FAME) program. Third- and fourth-year medical students can be placed at one of the hospitals, giving them the opportunity to become immersed with Flint's people and communities. This helps future medical practitioners become aware of patients' needs in a complete context.

"One thing that is unique about the College of Human Medicine is they focus on more than just how physiological changes affect a person's health," explained Tesler. "They teach that the health of a person's community can make as much of an impact on health as bacteria or a virus."

The 2014 Flintstone Challenge

In 2014, Tesler was given the opportunity to serve as the director of the Flintstone Challenge (flintstonechallenge.org), a 5K run/walk established in 2012 by a group of MSU Flint campus medical students.

Starting lineup at the 2014 Flintstone Challenge, a 5K run/walk established by a group of MSU-FAME medical students.

Registration money from the event is donated to the Flint Community Schools Classroom Support Fund, which funds the Great Idea grants that are used to enhance the education of children in Flint community schools.

"My role was to facilitate the 2014 event, manage the fundraising, and ensure a matching or greater gift was made from the 2013 race," Tesler explained, "which we accomplished with the 2014 race, making a donation of $13,758!"

According to Jerome Winegarden, J.D., president of the Flint Schools Classroom Support Fund, the fund has supported numerous projects over the last 30 years, including such things as field trips, a Spanish class taught in conjunction with a class in Mexico, and a mobile planetarium dome that travels from school to school.

Winegarden is enthusiastic about the race and the students who make it happen. "We thought, 'There's no way these kids are going to be able to get this thing up and running,' but we were blown away by their efficiency, drive, and determination," he said. "Brian led the charge, and it was absolutely exceptional again—bigger, better, awesome!"

Winegarden, who manages a legal practice in Flint and serves as an adjunct professor with the MSU College of Law, explained that plans for this year's grant cycle include a focus on health, which will create opportunities for the medical students to go into Flint-area schools to talk about health-related issues and the Flintstone Challenge.

He senses a particular urgency to support the public schools. "With the crisis in education, it's extremely important to put our best foot forward," he said. He appreciates how MSU's College of Human Medicine is teaching its students to help out. "It's so important to learn to give back to the community, to be a hero in the community. These students are setting an example for others in their profession."

According to Tesler, the 2014 event hosted over 260 runners and introduced a health fair and an activity for children called the Littlestone's Challenge. In two years, the race has earned over $25,000 for the Flint Community Schools Classroom Support Fund.

Community Outreach: An Essential Component of the Student Experience

Besides serving as director of the 2014 Flintstone Challenge, Tesler has had other opportunities to serve the Flint community, including creating two community gardens that provide fresh produce to local soup kitchens. "Between myself, some fellow medical students, and my mother," he said, "we were able to create two city lot gardens that provide fresh fruits and vegetables [for] the hot meals served at the local soup kitchens."

Tesler has an abundance of good advice for MSU's upcoming medical students. "Medicine is more than what happens in a hospital, operating room, or even an office. Medicine is what you do when you connect with other human beings. You have to take your knowledge and immerse yourself in your community to really see what an awesome impact you can have on health. Don't try to treat people if you don't know where they are coming from, how they live, and what their lives are like, because if you do, you'll never heal anyone or cure anything," said Tesler. Tesler is keenly aware of the privilege and responsibility that physicians have in helping people, and the impact their efforts can have on a community. "I learned physicians have a responsibility to their communities to promote health and well-being," he said. "We can't merely see problems one by one as they enter our places of practice. We must immerse ourselves in the community we serve and find bigger solutions, better ways to help."

  • Written by Amy Byle, University Outreach and Engagement

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