Dr. Tinsay Woreta completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from the University of Maryland College Park, where she had earned the Banneker/Key full-tuition merit scholarship and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2002. She earned the Jack Kent Cooke Graduate Fellowship Award, which is a full-tuition merit scholarship to medical school. She completed her medical degree training at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a Master’s degree in Public Health degree with a concentration in Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2007. She then completed her Internal Medicine residency in 2010 followed by a fellowship in Gastroenterology and Transplant Hepatology in 2013 at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
After graduating from fellowship, she moved to Lubbock, Texas, where she served as one of a few transplant hepatologists in Lubbock caring for patients with liver diseases. She joined Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center as a full-time Assistant Professor of Medicine and served as the interim chief of the Division of Gastroenterology from 2014 to 2016. She also served as the medical director for the Center for Liver Disease & Transplantation at Houston Methodist J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center – Lubbock during that time.
She returned to Johns Hopkins in 2016 as a full-time Assistant Professor of Medicine, where she currently works. She currently serves as the program director of the Advanced Hepatology and Transplant Hepatology fellowship program at Johns Hopkins and takes an active role in the education of fellows. She received the Gastroenterology Fellowship Teaching Award in 2018. She continues to care for patients with a variety of liver diseases before and after liver transplantation. She also performs clinical research to improve clinical outcomes for patients with chronic viral hepatitis and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. She is board certified in Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, and Transplant Hepatology and has authored many publications and chapters in the field.
She is an active member of People to People and has served on the Board of Directors and taken an active role in activities such as hosting the Global Health Forum radio program. She also served as a co-organizer for the continuing medical education program offered at P2P’s annual conference on Health Care and Medical Education.
In her spare time, she loves to spend time with her husband, Dr. Wudneh Temesgen, who is a general surgeon at Kaiser Permanente Mid-Atlantic States, and their 3.5 year old son Neamin.
Answers to Questions from P2P e-Health Newsletter
- Can you tell us about your upbringing?
My family moved to the United States from Ethiopia when I was 1 year old. We initially moved to Massachusetts where my father was doing a master’s degree in public health and then to Baltimore when he started his Internal Medicine residency. My parent’s story was the typical immigrant’s story—they had left their beloved homeland of Ethiopia because of political instabilities and in search of better educational opportunities for their children. They tirelessly worked long hours, my mother as a registered nurse and my father as an internal medicine physician, to support their family. This left an indelible impression on us as young children. We learned the importance of education and a strong work ethic starting from an early age.
We moved to a suburb outside Baltimore called Columbia when I was 5, as my mother was determined to have us start kindergarten at a highly rated public school system. It was difficult growing up in Columbia at a time when there were almost no habeshas or people of color at all, which made us as young children struggle with questions of identity. Nevertheless, we were surrounded by a rich extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins who looked like us and loved us. They exposed us to the wonderful aspects of habesha culture and instilled in us a reverence for the communal way of living and rich cultural traditions, which was in stark contrast to the individualism of life in the U.S. My twin sister Fasika and I felt at home when we started our college years at the University of Maryland College Park, where we were surprised to find a large community of Ethiopian students. We joined the Ethiopian Student Association and reveled in studying the language and culture and engaging in public service projects such as organizing book drives.
- How did you get into the field of medicine and your specialty?
From an early age, we witnessed the power of medicine and the amazing impact that health care providers can have on the lives of individuals. My father would take us with him on his rounds in nursing homes and hospitals, visiting his elderly patients, and visiting my mother working in the Intensive Care Unit. His patients were overjoyed to see him, and seeing the profound impact that the human touch and spending time with patients could have left a long-lasting impression.
In high school, I grew to love the biological sciences because of my outstanding science teachers and the fascinating subject matter. Because I also loved interacting with people, I realized that medicine would be a career path that would allow me to combine my love for biological sciences with a desire to help and serve others.
As a medical student, I decided to pursue a career in Internal Medicine because of its broad and comprehensive nature which covered every organ system in the body. I also realized that I enjoyed working with my hands to do procedures that would help in the diagnosis and management of patients. My interest in the subspecialty of Gastroenterology and Hepatology began when the former dean of my medical school who was a hepatologist gave us a fascinating lecture on the numerous and essential functions of the liver. One of my first patients that I saw on the wards as a medical student was a health care worker who had acquired Hepatitis C via a needlestick injury before the era of direct acting antiviral therapies and had progressed to developing end stage liver disease with jaundice, ascites, and hepatic encephalopathy. I recall him sharing his story with us, allowing second year medical students to examine him and learn all the physical manifestations of end stage liver disease while our instructor quizzed us on the pathophysiology and medical treatment for hepatic encephalopathy. The image of that incredible patient is engrained in my mind, and made me realize how essential the liver is to normal functioning and how sick individuals become when the liver fails. It also highlighted to me how important it is to treat preventable causes of liver disease such as viral hepatitis before individuals progress to end stage liver disease when medical therapy is no longer effective and liver transplantation is the only option for cure.
As I continued with my medical career, I grew to appreciate the critical role of public health in medicine to prevent unnecessary suffering and death from complications of diseases that are preventable and treatable. Learning about the high prevalence of viral hepatitis such as Hepatitis B and C worldwide including in Ethiopia solidified my decision to pursue a career in Hepatology.
- How do you juggle between personal life & medical practice?
I have found that the balance between personal life and medical practice is a difficult one as medical training and the practice of medicine can be all consuming and intense. Over time, I have gotten better at juggling this by learning to prioritize the most important tasks at work and home and not worrying about the rest. I have come to realize that your time and attention are the most precious assets you can give to your patients and family, and have learned that being fully present with them is perhaps the greatest gift you can offer them. I counsel my patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease to eat healthy and exercise daily and that is a good reminder to me that I need to practice what I preach and take the time to prepare healthy meals and exercise.
- What is your worst day (case) in medicine?
My worst day in medicine is always when I lose a patient who is not ready to face death from complications from a totally preventable liver disease such as liver cancer due to Hepatitis C. Because individuals with liver disease can feel totally fine without any symptoms for years, they often don’t realize that they have any liver problem until they present with symptoms, at which time they often have advanced liver disease or liver cancer. It is heartbreaking to tell such patients and their families that they now have an incurable stage of disease that will take their life when they have so much more life that they want to live.
- And your best day?
My best day in medicine is when I am able to offer a patient a treatment that cures of them of their disease and adds years of good quality of life to their lifespan. One of my most memorable patients was a 72-year old lovely woman with end-stage liver disease secondary to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease with severe complications. She and her wonderful husband and daughters were terrified as she was quickly declining and had been turned down by a liver transplant center because of her age. I evaluated her and found that she was an excellent candidate for liver transplant and helped transfer her to a liver transplant center which accepted patients above the age of 70 years. She received a life-saving liver transplant and 5 years later she continues to thrive and see more and more great grandchildren. She sends me a message at least monthly expressing her deep gratitude and showering her blessings on me and my family, which is the highlight of my day.
- What do you think is the hardest challenge in patient care, especially in GI care and why?
The hardest challenge in patient care for me is trying to practice in a health care system that is more focused on treatment of complications of diseases rather than prevention of disease to begin with. It is also difficult to treat patients when society is working against them to make it hard for them to make healthy life choices because of a lack of access to healthy food options and mental health services.
- Any particular advice you want to offer to clinicians & care providers?
My advice to clinicians and care providers is to always take care of yourself and your family first. Only after you prioritize yourself and take care of your own needs will you be able to take care of others effectively. I have found mind body exercises like yoga and meditation to be particularly helpful in trying to achieve mindfulness, i.e. being fully present in the moment.