Sep 09, 2014 2:00 PM

Author: University of Utah Health Care

Most medical students have enough on their plates between studying the disciplines of clinical medicine, microbiology, pathology, and pharmacology—while also preparing for their first experiences with direct patient care.

University of Utah medical student Tim Mulvihill manages an intense workload for school and also squeezes competitive biking into the mix. Over the summer, he traveled to Madison, Wisconsin, where he won the men's open (amateur) USA National Cycling Time Trial Championship.

Mulvihill beat out a competitive field of some of the top cyclists in the country. We asked him to talk about how life as a med student and competitive cycling intersect.

Q: What led you to start competing in cycling? What brought you to Madison over the summer? What are your future goals for competition?

A: During college I had the idea that it would be fun to race a triathlon. I was running quite a bit at the time and had grown up as a competitive swimmer, so triathlon seemed like a natural extension. I started biking a bit to train, and quickly decided I liked cycling more than triathlon. I still run frequently, but I don’t make it to the pool very often. I started racing bikes in 2010, and have steadily improved since then. In 2012, I won the Utah state time trial championship, but I didn’t think I was ready to compete at a national level. In 2013, I won the state time trial championship again and decided I was ready to go to nationals.

I placed 6th at nationals last year, so there wasn’t too much room for improvement. Luckily I had a great ride this year and came home with the title! My goals are actually pretty mundane, and aren’t related to winning a particular race. In cycling you can measure the amount of power you produce in watts, and my goals are always to improve the amount of power I can generate for different durations. In a sense I’m competing more with myself than anyone else. I like pushing myself and it’s nice to be able to quantify my improvement.

Q: Medical school is demanding. How do you incorporate training into your daily routine?

A: I try to keep to a routine to make sure I’m productive every day. I’m up at six every day and study for a while first thing in the morning. It helps set the tone for the day and makes sure I keep up with the material. During first year I had class in the afternoon, and usually had the mornings free. I would study for three or four hours first thing in the morning, then ride for two or three hours. Then it was off to class for the afternoon, followed by more studying in the evening.

The first two years of medical school allow for a fair amount of flexibility in when and how you learn, and I took advantage of that by riding while there was daylight and studying when it got dark. A couple of days a week I would either have class for the full day or go to the hospital to get some hands on experience, and those days were more challenging. I’d typically end up running in the evening, even if I had to go at nine or ten at night. I’m more productive studying if I get some exercise, so it’s always worth it for me to squeeze in a workout.

Q:  Do you have any specialties in mind for your medical training? Also, what drew you to a medical career initially?

A: Right now pathology, radiation oncology, and internal medicine are at the top of my list, but I have a few years to go before I pick! I’m interested in cancer research, and would love to have both a clinical practice and my own lab someday. I have tremendous role models in my parents, who are both physicians, and my two brothers, who are also physicians. Medicine was always in the back of my mind as a career path, but I made sure I explored all of my options before picking medical school.

In the end it came down to graduate school or medical school, and I picked medicine because of the patient contact. I could help people as a researcher or a physician, but I was drawn to the direct relationship that physicians enjoy with the people they help.

Q: It seems like you could use your own experiences as a model for healthy living/fitting in exercise with a busy schedule in conversations with patients one day. Do you see yourself using these experiences in future health promotion?

A: I suppose someone could use myself as an example of how it is possible to make time for exercise in a busy schedule, but the motivation part of the equation is also a huge factor. I exercise every day simply because I love riding my bike, not just because it keeps me healthy. The key is to find a way to be active doing something that you enjoy. Just showing that it’s possible for busy people to be active isn’t enough. People need a reason to exercise other than because it will help keep them healthy.

Q: What are your thoughts on where you're at in medical school so far? And what are your impressions about the University of Utah's program at this point?

A: Medical school has been amazing so far. It’s been a very rewarding experience to go through something so challenging and interesting with a group of people who are all just as excited about being here as I am. I’m starting my second year of med school, and as an MD/PhD student I have around 7 years left. After next year I’ll move from medical school to graduate school to pursue my Ph.D. before returning to medical school for my final two clinical years.

Because the rest of my family is also in medicine, I had a pretty good idea of what medical school would be like before I matriculated. The challenge isn’t in the difficulty of the material, but rather the volume of information that is presented. It’s all interesting though, which makes it easy to spend so much time studying. 

The U’s program has been fantastic so far, and there’s no place I would rather be for medical school. I have wonderful classmates and instructors, and a very supportive learning environment. One of the things that stand out to me is how well the administration has responded to student feedback to continually improve the curriculum. The program really puts students first and has been willing to bend over backwards to make sure we have a first class experience as medical students.

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