Resident Liason Martha Tesfalul MD

Shifting from Service to Building: Refocusing My Efforts in Community Engagement

While my resume has had countless iterations over the years, one section that has been robust overtime is that of “Community Service.” Starting by volunteering at my church and later supporting numerous charity events through junior and senior high school volunteer groups, I made it a priority to find a way to pay forward the blessings I have been afforded to others. It was only later in college as I learned invaluable life lessons through campus life as well as in sociology and anthropology classes that I realized community building, that is the intentional practice of enhancing the capacity of communities themselves, rather than service alone is how I should focus my engagement with others.

A crucial avenue for acting on my early passion for community building as a medical student was the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), the oldest and largest student-run national organization focused on issues impacting medical students of color. The impressive individuals who were SNMA members on my campus turned out to crucial allies to me that encouraged me even when I found myself feeling overwhelmed with various challenges, including the unexpected loss of my father during my first clerkship. It was only with their unwavering support that I realized I could move beyond adversity to prosperity. They were also the ones who worked alongside me to ensure that we were respectful and empathetic neighbors to  the underserved communities who we lived alongside. My experience as a coordinator for a pipeline program focused on working with young men of color allowed me to better appreciate not only the tragedy of the often untapped potential in that demographic but also the tremendous value of the brotherhood the mentees experienced working together.

When I started residency, I initially found myself focused primarily on my clinical duties. However it was not long before I felt an unease about my lack of ties to the new area in which I was working outside of work. I fortunately found myself invited to the fall scholarship event of Sinkler Miller Medical Association (Sinkler Miller) by a friend in 2014, and the rest is history. At the event, I was a captivated witness to the organization’s commitment to building the capacity of trainees of color as well as to facilitating community among practicing and aspiring physicians in the Bay Area. Thus when I received an invitation to apply for a position on the board, I accepted enthusiastically.

Though I have been a member of Sinkler Miller for less than a year, I can say without hesitation that it will be one of the highlights of my time in the Bay area regardless of how long I am here (and hopefully that ends up being a long time). The organization has given me the opportunity to forge connections with like-minded physicians in the area as we strive alongside one another to become informed about issues affecting our community and to leverage this amazing network to address them. My hope is to help other trainees in the area to tap into the tremendous potential of this organization through my personal role on the board. If you know of anyone who is looking to get their minds sharp, hearts connected, and hands dirty in some community building with us, please do not hesitate to send them my way!


Martha Tesfalul is originally from Houston, TX, where she grew up with her parents and four younger siblings. She obtained her BA in Sociology with a Citation in Health Policy from Harvard University and her MD at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She is also a former Doris Duke Clinical Research Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. Currently Martha is a third year resident in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of California San Francisco and a non-voting board member of Sinkler Miller Medical Association.

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