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Alumni Spotlight: Tyra-Lee Brett


A girl from Johannesburg, South Africa, with a dream to serve her community, that is Tyra-Lee Brett. 


From a young age, Tyra-Lee has always been an athlete, even competing with the national team, Karate South Africa. At age 15, her sports injuries found her frequenting emergency rooms where she was always met with compassion and learned to feel safe around the medical staff. 


“I don’t think I can pinpoint the moment I decided, but I can recall many experiences that lead me to wanting to be a physician,” Brett said. “I fell in love with medicine because I fell in love with sports, and it was through sports that I fell in love with human anatomy. My decision for medical school became clearer inside the walls of my high school science lab and carried over to other aspects of my life. I found my leadership skills in sports became leadership qualities in the classroom setting and team projects.”


After graduating high school in 2019, Brett and her parents made the lifelong decision to immigrate to the United States of America, where the educational opportunities in medicine would elevate her to achieve her goals.


“In 2006, when I was about five, my parents applied for our green cards. That was what my dad wanted, for me to have the opportunity to have an American education. It would take 13 years, but on the day of my senior prom I found out we had been approved. We immediately booked our flights, and luckily, we were in the U.S. just a few months before COVID hit in March.” 


Brett has a dream of following in her father’s footsteps and graduating from the University of South Florida. For her, it was an easy decision to attend Hillsborough Community College, where she could enroll in the FUSE program, a partnership that allows HCC students who successfully complete their associate degree guaranteed admission to USF. 


In spring 2021, she enrolled at the HCC Brandon Campus


At the College, Tyra-Lee has shined as a student leader. In her first semester, she joined HCC's
American Medical Student Association (AMSA) Pre-Health Chapter
, which she has served as chapter president.  


Going above and beyond, she has also served as the national AMSA social media coordinator. 


This past April, nine HCC AMSA students traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the National American Medical Student Association Convention. At the convention, Tyra-Lee was elected as the national AMSA Premedical Trustee for the 2022-2023 year, where she will represent 16,000 pre-medical students as part of the national AMSA Board of Trustees.


“I was lucky enough to find AMSA in my first semester, and it really has been the foundation to my future career. It’s only helped reestablish my passion for community advocacy and the issues surrounding health disparities in our community.” 


Tyra-Lee was an integral part of the 6th annual Hawk Run, which is hosted by HCC AMSA. 2021 was a record year in terms of participation and funds raised. In December, she joined faculty advisor Beth McCullough at an HCC Board of Trustees meeting to present a check for $12,000 to establish the HCC Hawk Run Endowment through the HCC Foundation


“I got to take a big check, like the ones in the movies, and hand it off to Dr. Atwater. When I got up to say my speech, I threw my notes aside. I had written all these notes about the logistics of the event, and I realized I didn’t want to take my time to say what they could read in a business report. I wanted them to see what HCC is doing and what events like the Hawk Run do for students. I even got them to joke around and think about making a team next year! 


One of the trustees came up to me afterwards and said, ‘It’s been a really long time since someone stood here and made us laugh and understand the reality and emotions of our students and community.’ 


That has to be the highlight of my HCC experience; I really feel like I made a difference that day.” 


Tyra-Lee is also a member of Phi Theta Kappa and was recently selected as a 2022 Coca-Cola Academic Team Silver Scholar. This recognition is based on scores students earned in the All-USA Academic Team competition, for which more than 2,000 applications were received this year. 


Thanks to the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, she will receive a scholarship for the fall 2022 semester. 


Speaking on the support from her family, she says, “My parents have done everything that they can for me to succeed, and I think that’s one of the driving forces to why I work so hard. If my mom’s working 12-hour shifts to put me through school, I’m going to work 13. I have to work just as hard as they do. They’ve given up a lot for my dream.”


“I’d also like to thank Professor Beth McCullough for mentoring me as if I were her own child. She’s offered me so much support, and I know she's done this for multiple students across her 20 years at HCC. She’s incredible. 


Thank you to HCC advisor Sara Tobin; she doesn’t even have a background in medicine but has really put in the work to learn what pre-med students need. She’s become our honorary pre-med advisor, and I send all my friends to her for academic support.” 


Looking towards the future, Tyra-Lee hopes to focus her career on ‘a hero serving a hero’ as she explains it. Outside of HCC, she has interned as an undergraduate research assistant at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital, where she led clinical trials in pain management strategies to combat the opioid epidemic. Now, she works there part-time. 


She says, “HCC was the best decision I could have made, and I think people need to break the stereotype of what community college is. To anyone that is coming into college and is worried about affording their education, why not come to a community college and benefit from the long-term effects? If someone says to you, ‘Oh, you must not have been good enough to go to a university,’ you look them straight in the eye and say, ‘No, HCC had more of what I needed at the time, and they offered me the support to continue my education.’


I can’t say it enough, HCC has been the best experience and has been the foundation on what is going to be an incredible medical career for me.” 

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