Girma Tefera, MD, FACS, joined the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Division of Member Services in February as the new Medical Director of Operation Giving Back (OGB). OGB is a comprehensive resource that helps surgeons find volunteer opportunities worldwide that match their expertise and interests.
Dr. Tefera is a vascular surgeon and professor of surgery, department of surgery, University of Wisconsin (UW) Hospital and Clinics, Madison. He is also vice-chair, division of vascular surgery and chief of vascular surgery, William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital, Madison. Dr. Tefera specializes in minimally invasive vascular interventions, including stent grafts for complex aortic aneurysm treatment, as well as percutaneous treatments of carotid arteries and vascular diseases of the lower extremity.
In pursuing a surgical career, Dr. Tefera took the road less traveled. He grew up in Chencha, a small town of fewer than 5,000 people in southern Ethiopia, as one of seven children. At the age of 12, he left home to enroll in high school 22 miles away, and at age 15, he was admitted to a college preparatory school 400 miles from home. After graduating at the top of his class, he was one of six Ethiopian students offered a full scholarship at the University of Pisa Medical School, Italy. After graduating in 1982, he returned to war-torn Ethiopia, where he worked for five years as a general practitioner, primarily in the Armed Forces General Hospital, department of surgery, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Asmara, Eritrea. These experiences with treating injuries on the battlefield strengthened his surgical skills as well as his resolve as a surgeon.
As war continued to ravage his homeland, the Ethiopian government resisted his efforts to leave. In 1988, he seized an opportunity for a surgical residency at Krankenhouse Friedrickstadt in Dresden, East Germany. After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, he continued with his surgical training, where he gained a general surgery certification in 1992.
He emigrated to the U.S., where he sought refuge from the conflicts of his homeland. This move proved to be deeply challenging. “It is hard to relate the difficulties a foreign graduate faces to get in to surgical residency,” he said. He persisted and was admitted into a residency program at Howard University Hospital, Washington, DC, and in 1999, began a vascular surgery fellowship at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, followed by his work as a faculty member.
Surgical Volunteerism Award
Dr. Tefera is taking the reins of a program that in 2011 honored him with the ACS Surgical Volunteerism Award. OGB, in conjunction with the ACS Board of Governors, oversees the annual award that pays tribute to one Fellow for exceptional volunteer work, either domestically or abroad. The award to Dr. Tefera recognized his significant contributions to improving the delivery of surgical and emergency care in Ethiopia. He was acknowledged for the strategic partnerships he developed to strengthen health care delivery, focused on systems development and building workforce capacity to train local partners. In 2010, Dr. Tefera and his local partners celebrated the opening of an emergency medical training center and the start of a training program for emergency medical specialists at Addis Ababa University. The center has since trained more than 4,000 health care professionals in medical emergency care.
In the past five years, more than 100 volunteers from Wisconsin and other U.S. partner schools have traveled to Ethiopia, and more than 15 residents have graduated in emergency medical care. The partnership has created a foundation for developing comprehensive trauma and emergency care for the entire country.
Giving back to OGB
Dr. Tefera looks forward to directing OGB. “It is such a privilege for me to ‘give back’ to a program that has given so much to me,” he said. “I am delighted to have this opportunity to direct such an important global volunteer program and to have an impact on its future.” In his new role, Dr. Tefera will turn his attention to the range of global surgical programs offered at the ACS Clinical Congress. He also will coordinate the College’s response to disasters worldwide, develop new programs and opportunities for surgeon volunteers, communicate the work of OGB, and increase College participation and recognition among other similar global organizations. In addition, he will oversee a redesign of the OGB website to match members’ needs with volunteer opportunities.
Dr. Tefera has been involved in giving back to his country of origin together with his diaspora colleagues. He chairs the Board of Directors of the Ethio-American Doctors Group, a diaspora organization that is striving to build the first Joint Commission International-accredited hospital in Ethiopia.
Dr. Tefera is married to Rahel, and they have two children, Daniel and Eden.