Balancing Work, Family and Self-Care
Nov 06, 2020 Nicole Levine, Photographs: Rachael Porter
Meet Dr. Nicole Tyer
A Cedars-Sinai physician who channels her 'fruit-and-nut' childhood for a balanced life
When Nicole Tyer, MD, moved from her native California to New York City, she maintained her daily avocado habit, scooping the luscious green fruit onto salads or spreading it on her morning toast. In a city where ovens tend to be used for storage rather than cooking, and takeout is a way of life, even her medical colleagues ribbed her.
"They'd say, here comes the California girl with her salad," says Tyer, sitting at the kitchen table in her apartment off Wilshire Boulevard—where she and her family settled when they moved back to Los Angeles about a year ago. She's now an expert in blending the best of both worlds.
Having grown accustomed to walking and public transit as their go-to modes for getting around, the Tyers chose an apartment close to their jobs. A larger, traditional house would inevitably include a longer, traditional commute to match. Plus, eliminating the drive means more time with her family: husband Ethan, an entertainment attorney, and their two children, Winston, 4, and Eleanor, 2.
Tyer describes her move back to Southern California as bringing her "full circle" in a few ways. She isn't just returning to the mountains and beaches she loves. Her career also started at Cedars-Sinai, where she completed her residency and served as chief resident after graduating from medical school at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
Her drive to study medicine began as early as she can remember, when she was still in kindergarten. She grew up with dairy farmers on both sides of the family. Her uncles started and owned longtime L.A. fixture Alta Dena Dairy, with about 70 family members working for the company at its peak, including her father and mother.
"We were the classic California fruit-and-nut family," Tyer says. "We had cows. My dad kept bees and harvested his own honey. We picked our own avocados, plums, strawberries, blackberries, peaches, apricots, nuts—the list goes on and on!"
She didn't grow up on the dairy, but nearby in Etiwanda, an area nestled just below the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, surrounded by orchards.
"Growing up in a family with a dairy prepared me to be a doctor because of that strong work ethic," she says. "You're on call 24 hours a day. You get up at 4 in the morning to go milk the cows. If a calf is being delivered in the middle of the night or equipment breaks, you go out and tend to that. You work nights and weekends. That's just the dairy life."
Her mornings still begin before sunrise, but now it's so she can squeeze in a 10-minute yoga video.
"Having kids and working full time has made it difficult to dedicate myself to long stretches of exercise," she says. "It's just not practical. I've learned how to fit it in."
Instead of an hour at the gym, she does short workouts she finds on YouTube. Then she makes the 15-minute walk to work. The Tyers embrace activity as a family. Even their 14-year-old West Highland terrier, Mack, has logged plenty of hiking miles. He's a fluffy, white, wiggling armful of energy even as a senior.
"When we tell the kids it's time to go hiking, they get excited," she says. "It's time to find rocks. They're going to look at the mountains."
Her family savors living in the city with nature nearby. She walks to the local grocery store with Eleanor as part of their routine errands. On Fridays, Tyer heads to the Santa Monica Mountains, relishing views of the canyons, trees, sand and surf. It's also how she recharges to be ready for her family and her patients.
"Life is happening while we're on our phones," Tyer says. "Life never stops. Work never stops. It's up to us to find the time to be active and appreciate the beauty of the outdoors. We're so lucky we have that in L.A."
Tyer says that when it comes to exercise, she’s the “queen of fitting it in.” Anyone can rule their own empire of improvised exercise and healthy living. Here’s how she does it.
- Early to rise. Instead of hitting the snooze bar or the gym, hit up YouTube for exercise videos first thing in the morning. If you can dream it, someone’s made a short workout for it.
- Walk when you can. Tyer suggests taking a quick stroll during lunch.
- Go outside. Tyer points to a recent study that found that just two hours a week outdoors can lower stress levels, decrease blood pressure, and reduce the risk of allergies, asthma, diabetes and heart disease.
- Don’t multitask. Do one thing at a time and do it mindfully. Tyer puts down her phone and breaks activities into segments. That might mean a 15-minute bike ride with her son, followed by 15 focused minutes catching up on email.
- Treat life as an adventure. Tyer says seeing the world through her children’s eyes injects adventure into everything—even a walk to the store.