1. A woman who blazes a trail for others to follow through.
2. A pioneer in any field of endeavor.
Welcome to the “TrailblazHer” series. This series is written for future and current entrepreneurs that are craving more knowledge on how to be a success. With this series, we plan to explore the experiences of prominent women who are making a path for others to follow.
Dr. Fatu M. Forna is a board certified obstetrician & gynecologist, she is the co-founder of a non-profit organization which she named Mama-Pikin. The purpose of Mama-Pikin is to improve the health of women, children, and families in Sierra Leone, a country located in the western region of Africa. The foundation supports various rural medical clinics in Sierra Leone by providing medical supplies, staff training and support, and by conducting medical mission trips.
Dr. Forna also authors a children’s book series centered around her beloved family dog name Sheba. The book series is entitled Puppy Princess Sheba.
Dr. Forna received her BS degree in biology from Florida A&M, she went on to achieve her MPH in maternal/child health from University of North Carolina School of Public Health. Her medical degree was earned from Duke School of Medicine. She was trained in the field of obstetrics and gynecology at Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Forna has worked has a Medical Epidemiologist/Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer for Global AIDS Program (GAP), National Center for HIV, STD/TB Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta Georgia. Dr. Fatu Forna has published many peer-reviewed and patient oriented articles in her field. She has also received many recognition and awards for her work.
Join us as we learn more about how to walk the trail already blazed by Dr. Forna. See her answers to pertinent questions on her journey below.
1. What attracted you to global medicine?
I grew up in a country with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. This sparked in me a desire to pursue medicine. I knew at a young age that I wanted to be a doctor – the kind of doctor that helped prevent women and children from dying during childbirth. I am passionate about improving the health of women, children, and families around the world, and I have tried to pursue a career and to do philanthropic work in this field.
2. What pieces of advice would you give to medical students/residents/attendings who want to work for a world organization helping underserved countries?
Be focused. Seek opportunities that give you experiences in global health – pursue elective clinical rotations and research opportunities in foreign countries. Consider getting a public health degree and doing an internship abroad or at an international public health agency like WHO or CDC. Consider doing short-term clinical work in a developing country. Seek out mentors who are doing the kind of work that you would like to be doing.
3. If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t change anything. I have learned from many different experiences, even the challenging ones!
4. What would you say are the skills needed to be a successful in accomplishing what you have done?
Focus, determination, and courage. I have always remained focused on a career in global public health. I did not take the usual path, so I had to build up the courage to make career choices that were different. I always tell myself – you must blaze your own path, and write your own story. You can’t let someone else write your story for you!
5. What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
Allowing myself to feel sad and depressed when I was passed over for career or other opportunities that I thought I was qualified for or thought I deserved. I have since learned that God has a master plan for you – he never denies you a blessing, he just has something better for you. This has allowed me to better accept all the challenges that life has thrown at me and when I look back, every failure and every denial was God guiding me to a better opportunity!
6. How many hours do you work a week on average, how many of those hours are dedicated to global medicine?
I work 50-60 hours a week and 100% is dedicated to global medicine.
7. Describe/outline your typical day in your professional life?
I work for an international Public Health Agency in the area of Reproductive and Maternal Health. I provide support to the Ministry of Health and help develop programs to prevent teenage pregnancy, improve maternal health, and prevent unnecessary deaths of women and children during childbirth. My typical day is spent in meetings within my organization or with officials in the Ministry of Health; developing training programs for doctors, midwives, and nurses; writing protocols for public health interventions in the area of maternal and child health; and visiting
clinics and hospitals to observe, learn from, and provide supervision to clinicians in the field.
8. How has being a physician with a focus on global medicine affected your family life?
I have realized that I can’t do everything at the same time. I love travel and I initially had a job which required a significant amount of travel from the US to multiple African countries – I could no longer do that job while I was raising a young family, so I transitioned to a clinical job without travel until my kids were older. I was able to return to an international public health position and travel with my family once my kids were a little older. I always make sure that I prioritize my family’s needs.
9. What motivates you in general?
I have a strong desire to help people who are less fortunate. I have been blessed to have a career that allows me to pursue this passion.
I have also always wanted to travel, experience other countries and learn from other cultures. I am happy to be able to do this and to share these experiences with my family.
10. What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?
My greatest fear is having a family member sick or injured in a place where they cannot get prompt and lifesaving medical care.
It is a constant fear but it helps to know that in a small way, I am helping to improve the medical care available to other people who also have this same fear.
11. How do you define success?
Doing your best to pursue your goals and enjoying yourself along the way.
12. What is the best way to achieve long-term success?
Persevering, and adapting your plans during your journey – you might not always achieve what you initially set out to achieve, but learning from your failures and evolving and adapting as you work towards your goal, will help you achieve long-term success.
13. What has been your most satisfying moment in medicine?
Being able to craft a career that combines clinical medicine and public health. I have been blessed with caring for and bonding with individual patients, and with also working to improve the health of women and children on a larger public health scale.
14. In one word, characterize your life as a global medicine physician.
15. What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
I love reading, writing, and traveling. I am a children’s book writer and have been able to combine these hobbies by writing the “Puppy Princess Sheba” book series. It is about a puppy princess who travels with her family to countries around the world, where she learns about geography and the beauty of different people in different countries.
16. What makes you happy?
Spending time with my family.