UNC Fellow Tyler Buckner Looks for the Positive

This profile is part of a series highlighting how UNC Lineberger and the UNC School of Medicine are shaping the next generation of cancer researchers and physicians

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - When asked about his best experience at UNC, Tyler Buckner’s story is one about finding positive things in unexpected places.

Now a fellow with Adult and Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, he recalls a patient he took care of as a resident.  The 8-year-old with an aggressive, hard-to-treat cancer had been a challenge for the care team.  The pain and stress of her illness, combined with necessary procedures, made her difficult to care for because she got upset very easily.  Buckner says, “We all walked on pins and needles around her, trying to keep her calm.”

“A few months later I was working in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and one of her close friends, a girl with acute myeloid leukemia, was very sick and had just come off the ventilator.  We got a request from one of the floor nurses and our 8-year-old friend had been getting regular updates and wanted to come see her when she woke up.  I was there in the room when she came down to the PICU to visit.  She was so encouraging, hopeful and sweet to her friend – with whom she’d shared some long hospital stays – I was amazed.  It was probably one of the most beautiful moments I’ve witnessed during my lifetime,” he said.

This ability to see the positive side of tough situations characterizes Buckner and led to his interest in oncology.  “The diagnosis of cancer carries with it enormous weight for every patient and family – and patients respond to their illness in amazing ways, with hope, sadness, strength and courage.  Being a part of these stories and trying to help however I can as people move through such a tough time in life is very important to me.”

Buckner is positioning himself to care for those patients across the lifespan by specializing in both pediatric and adult oncology. “I think that my being an internist makes me a better pediatrician, and vice versa.”

Buckner, a native of Tullahoma, Tennessee, went to college in Memphis and medical school at UNC. He chose UNC for residency and fellowship over Vanderbilt, University of Alabama, Indiana, Ohio State, Medical College of Virginia and other top schools. “I have continued to choose UNC over anywhere else because of the people. People here enjoy working together and helping people take care of patients. Throughout the institution, people make a conscious effort to ensure that we treat each other with mutual respect and appreciation for everyone’s unique contributions to patient care.”

He also recommends UNC for “a great history in hematology with lots of wonderful mentors and teachers. There is a very strong concentration on education for learners at all levels. I’ve always felt that people know that I’m here to learn, and they remain dedicated to the goal of teaching me at every possible moment.”