Q&A with Meinkeng Stephannie Acha-Morfaw, MD (she/her), assistant professor (CHS)
Hometown: Silver Spring, Maryland
Educational background: I was born and raised in Montgomery County, Maryland, in a full house with four siblings, to two loving and hard-working parents who emigrated from Cameroon. I started my post-secondary schooling at Montgomery College in the Montgomery Scholars honors program, where I focused on the humanities. I later transferred to Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, where I earned my Bachelor of Arts in biochemistry. I spent a year working as a scribe in an emergency department at a community hospital, which ignited my interest in emergency medicine. After that, I completed a post-baccalaureate program at Drexel University, where I also spent a summer in Rwanda learning about barriers to health care as a Dornsife Global Development Fellow. I earned my MD at the Chicago Medical School/Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science and completed my emergency medicine residency and chief residency at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Do you have an area of clinical interest, and how did you get into it? Health Humanities and Wellness. I became interested as a more junior resident, particularly during my PGY 2 year when we were at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Within our didactic curriculum, there was incorporation of the health humanities, and those sessions allowed us as residents to reflect on our patients, our interactions with them and how we were personally and morally affected by those interactions and by how the pandemic and BLM were unfolding. It became an outlet of sorts for me, and it seemed to help with resilience for residents and faculty.
How would you describe your work to a 5-year-old? I use art — like paintings, photographs, music, poetry and stories — to help people talk about other things. These things can be hard to talk about, like when people get sick or are going through tough times, like not being able to afford their medications, how people identify and more.
What attracted you to UW–Madison? I was attracted to the push for innovation that UW–Madison encompasses and the collaborative spirit across clinical specialties. Madison also presented a beautiful and welcoming city that seemed easy to live in with all the creature comforts I needed, but would also allow me to visit home (Maryland) without too much difficulty.
What are some things you’re exciting to do/visit/try, being new to the Madison area? I am excited to visit the Dane County Farmers’ Market! I’ve only heard wonderful things about it. There are also a number of festivals I would like to visit. So far, I’ve been to Art Fair on the Square and to the Capitol summer concert series Concerts on the Square.
What’s one thing you hope trainees will learn from you and your work? I hope that trainees will learn how to think about their patients as more than just a symptom or diagnosis and consider their narrative, individuality and life experience. By viewing patients this way, they can create stronger connections with them and provide them with a more personalized experience in the emergency department.
Do you feel your work relates to the Wisconsin Idea as it relates to medicine — that our efforts should influence people’s health and well-being beyond the care they receive in our emergency departments)? Yes, I do. By considering patients beyond their chief complaint or medical history and understanding where they come from, how they identify, what their beliefs are, and what their goals are for care can absolutely influence patients on a much larger scale. This is what incorporating the humanities into education and clinical practice can do.
My first job: Hostess at an Italian restaurant
My most unusual job: Tweety Bird at Six Flags
My hobbies and other interests outside of work: Reading, museums, listening to music, live concerts, musical theater, spas, cultural experiences
If you could have dinner with one person (passed, alive or fictional), who and at where would you make reservations? I would have dinner with Michelle Obama and it would be at a restaurant I visited in Tuscany.