Doctors and Sisters: Tinsay and Fasika Woreta Make Change at Hopkins
In March, the nation honors the vital role women play in our society every day by celebrating Women’s History Month. At the Cooke Foundation, we celebrate annually by highlighting the stories and experiences of the amazing women in our scholarship programs. Happy Women’s History Month!
Dr. Tinsay and Dr. Fasika Woreta, identical twins from Baltimore, took a chance over twenty years ago that ended up changing the trajectory of their careers and lives – applying for a Cooke scholarship to go to medical school.
As the youngest of four siblings, Tinsay and Fasika knew that finding graduate school funding would be important to their educational journey. When they were pre-med students at University of Maryland, College Park in 2002, their options seemed to be limited to medical schools that offered merit scholarships, which ruled out their first choice – the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. However, they applied for the Cooke scholarship upon its inception in 2002, and ended up becoming two of the first ever Cooke Scholars.
“I remember the exact moment, actually,” Fasika said. “My dad was driving me to a medical school interview at University of Maryland, and we had already interviewed and been accepted at Hopkins when we got the phone call. And then we realized a few minutes later that my sister had gotten the same call. For both of us to receive, as identical twins, the same scholarship was really a miracle.”
The Baltimore Sun caught word of the twins’ amazing accomplishments, and published this article on the sacrifices the Woreta family made to educate four accomplished kids. Tinsay and Fasika’s father is a recently retired doctor of internal medicine, and their mother, known for her strong work ethic, worked as a nurse. The family immigrated to the U.S. from Ethiopia when the twins were one year old.
“Growing up, I remember actually going with [our father] on rounds,” Tinsay said. “We’d see a lot of his elderly patients, who sometimes really had no one, and when he came, they were so excited to see him. It was amazing to see the power of the healing touch. He was a great example for us of how medicine is a career of service.”
Tinsay and Fasika were inspired to become doctors themselves not only by their parents, but also by the glaringly obvious health disparities between their birth country of Ethiopia, and the U.S. The twins travelled to Ethiopia for the first time as adults when they were eighteen. The lack of access to basic care in the developing world, like cataract surgery, or colonoscopy screenings, fueled their passion for medicine and global health.
Neither sister was ever interested in going into private practice; both wanted to remain in academic medicine where they could teach, do research, and work in underserved communities. They have each realized that goal, and both still work at Johns Hopkins as faculty in the medical school. When they received the Cooke Scholarship in 2002, they were able to add a Master of Public Health degree to their graduate studies, which they both credit as exceptionally helpful for gaining the research skills necessary for staying in academic medicine.
Fasika, an ophthalmologist, serves as director of the Hopkins’ residency program in ophthalmology. She also serves on the medical school’s selections committee, where she helps support diversity in medicine.
“Improving the workforce diversity is an important part of reducing health disparities,” Fasika said. “We know that patients, in terms of concordance with language, race, ethnicity, and even gender – there’s differences in the way we care for patients.”
Baltimore has a high population of African Americans, but the medical student pool at Hopkins does not historically reflect that – however, Fasika says she has noticed a big upward trend in the diversity of the medical school over the past five years.
She also says that although women represent more than half of medical students, women represent fewer than half of those choosing to enter ophthalmology, one of the most competitive fields of medicine (she recently published research with colleagues about this disparity). Women and other underrepresented faculty are also less likely to be promoted in academic medicine, so Fasika’s work with her colleagues focuses on identifying barriers, developing training programs, and supporting the promotion process to increase workforce diversity.
Tinsay, a gastroenterologist and hepatologist, is the fellowship director of those specialties at Hopkins. She is also the transplant and hepatology director, as well as the Associate Program Director for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the internal residency program.
“Baltimore is very diverse, and we really strive to have the provider workforce reflect the diversity of the communities we serve,” Tinsay said. “There have been multiple studies that show, in terms of patient rapport, this is beneficial.”
Dr. Fasika and Dr. Tinsay Woreta, two examples of the many incredible women in the Cooke Scholar community, make us proud to support high-achieving students with financial need. Learn more about our scholarship programs here, or visit jkcf.org.
Last year, we sat down with two other women from the first ever cohort of Cooke Scholars. Read our conversation here.