Like many young married couples, Tyler and Shana Childress spend a significant amount of time enjoying their favorite activities together, such as playing basketball and tennis, walking their dogs, cooking and watching Marvel movies. However, there’s one task that takes up a majority of their waking hours together.
“Studying,” Shana said emphatically.
The Childresses, who are Beebe natives, are completing their first year of medical school at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. It’s not unusual for aspiring physicians to meet in medical school and eventually marry, but it is more uncommon for a couple to start and complete their medical education together.
The couple feels fortunate to have each other to lean on through a challenging but rewarding experience.
“It’s been crucial,” Tyler said. “If one of us doesn’t understand something, we can help explain it to each other and really talk through it. There’s also the motivation factor. If one of us doesn’t feel like studying that day, we can pick each other up. We hold each other accountable. There’s a ton of information we’re constantly having to process and it can be really tough, but we’re both just really blessed to have each other to rely on and help push through.”
The Childresses’ relationship has been particularly beneficial in a year that has brought unexpected challenges in numerous walks of like. In a typical year, medical students regularly gather in study groups and benefit from the camaraderie they build with their classmates. Social distancing requirements brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have limited much of that interaction, but the Childresses have had their “built-in study partner.”
“We watch all of our lectures together and then go back and review them together,” Shana said. “We’ve talked to classmates who live alone and it can be difficult for them to study with classmates through Zoom. It’s just been so great for us to have each other right there all the time.”
Shana estimates that they spend about 40 to 50 hours a week studying, and they do a vast majority of it together. When asked if they’ve grown tired of each other, both Shana and Tyler smiled at each other and jokingly replied, “Not yet.”
Tyler and Shana became friends shortly after Shana’s family moved to Beebe when the two were in fifth grade.
“We were friends as kids, and then we reconnected when we were in the same AP chemistry class in high school,” Tyler said. “We started dating then and have been together ever since.”
Upon graduating from high school in 2015, Tyler and Shana attended Arkansas State together. They married shortly after they graduated from Arkansas State in 2019 and then moved to Little Rock where they spent one year working at Baptist Health Medical Center, Shana as a patient care technician and Tyler as a scribe in the emergency department.
With dreams of becoming physicians, they soon began applying for medical school, and last fall, they ended up back on the campus where they spent their undergraduate years. In 2016, New York Institute of Technology opened a second location of its medical school in Arkansas through a partnership with Arkansas State University.
The medical school sits in the middle of the Jonesboro campus, and it proved to be the perfect place for the Childresses to study medicine.
“We definitely wanted to stay in state for medical school, and NYITCOM was just a great fit,” Tyler said. “We were on the A-State campus when NYITCOM opened, so we got to see this place from the start. We took tours when it first opened and developed some really strong relationships. We already knew a lot of people here and we knew our way around town, so that made the transition easier.”
As native Arkansans, the Childresses also connected with the mission and vision of the medical school. Among U.S. states, Arkansas annually ranks near the bottom in physicians per capita and in a number of health outcomes, such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.
The medical school was established to train physicians in Arkansas to help meet the growing need for doctors in the region and to provide health education programs to help Arkansans lead healthier lives.
Tyler is interested in specializing in either family or internal medicine, while Shana plans to pursue pediatrics or obstetrics/gynecology. They want to practice in Arkansas once they complete their medical training.
“We just understand the realities of the disparities of health care in Arkansas,” Shana said. “The mission really resonates with us. We’ve seen it firsthand. The majority of my family lives in a place where the nearest hospital is about 45 minutes away. Going to the doctor is a big deal because of the time and travel. We’re excited to have the opportunity to help fulfill the mission of our school.”