Five Meharry Medical College Students Spend Summer at Stanford

In May, five students from Meharry Medical College traveled over 2,000 miles from Nashville to Palo Alto to spend two months living, training, and contributing to the Stanford community, as part of the newly created Stanford Department of Medicine-Meharry Initiative.

Started in 2017, the program was initiated after Abraham Verghese, MD, the Linda Meier and Joan F. Lane Provostial Professor of medicine, visited Meharry College last spring.

“I have personal experience on how Stanford can transform lives—it did mine,” Verghese explains.  “My hope was that by bringing students who are unlikely to visit and experience otherwise, we can transform their lives whether or not they ever subsequently train at Stanford.”

With the support and sponsorship of Department Chair Robert Harrington, MD, and Vice Chair of Finance and Administration Cathy Garzio, Verghese designed a program to expose Meharry students to current research at Stanford, and to encourage connection between the two institutions. 

Participants were busy on campus – researching, shadowing faculty, and attending on-campus lectures. They also enjoyed life in California beyond the laboratory – exploring their home base of Palo Alto and taking trips to places like Lake Tahoe and Los Angeles.

Learn how two Meharry students, Sara Tefastion and Terrance Embry, spent their time at Stanford: 

Sara Tefastion

“It's been a life-changing experience in many ways. Being here at Stanford is opening up doors I can’t even see right now. I hope they continue the program."

Sara Tefastion, a second-year medical student at Meharry Medical College, grew up with a passion for medicine. “I've always wanted to be a physician, ever since I was a kid,” she says. So when she had the chance to come to Stanford over the summer as part of the Stanford-Meharry program, she jumped at it. 

Tefastion, who lived in Eritrea, East Africa until she was thirteen, wanted to be certain she was ready for medical school and not just idealizing the work of a physician. After college, she took time off to “travel the world and enjoy myself.” She ended up volunteering for AmeriCorps, where she worked with underserved populations, doing not just medical work but also dental and social services work. And even though she was “basically miserable every single day,” she says she got up every day ready to work and “do it again and again.” It was then that she realized she was meant to be a doctor: as she puts it, this “truly has to be my passion for me to be as miserable as I am and still have the desire to do it and not just want to quit."

She was accepted to medical school at Meharry—it’s close to her family in Atlanta, for one thing, but also, she says, “Meharry really does emphasize working with underserved populations. It's really what the heart of Meharry is. It struck a chord in me.”

When Tefastion came to Stanford, she had an idea that she wanted to be an internist or a hospitalist, working on primary care and preventive medicine. “My stay here is actually a big part of solidifying that desire,” she says.

During her two months at Stanford this summer, she worked in an endocrinology clinic with Sun Kim, MD, assistant professor of endocrinology, on diabetes research, specifically studying “insulin secretion clearance and resistance in whites versus nonwhites leading to higher risk of type 2 diabetes.” She helped the psychology department run a study in the Mind and Body Lab. And she shadowed doctors like Maja Artandi, MD, clinical associate professor in primary care and population health, whom Tefastion calls “such an amazing clinician.”

Tefastion was inspired by “how much Artandi’s patients loved her” and says that her experience with Artandi, along with the chance to hear Verghese speak about “what presence really meant in a hospital setting or the patient-physician relationship,” were the highlights of the program.

Tefastion truly enjoyed her time at Stanford, and describes herself as “so grateful for this experience.” She and her fellow Meharrians plan to take concepts they learned this summer (the Presence 5 and the Stanford 25 in particular) and “make it into our own research” back at Meharry, helping underserved populations get better access to healthcare and emphasizing “what it truly means to be present, even as a medical student.”

“It's been a life-changing experience in many ways,” Tefastion says. “Being here at Stanford is opening up doors I can’t even see right now. I hope they continue the program.” 

Terrance Embry

"Being able to come here and not only build my CV, but be able to put Meharry’s name out there in a positive light – that’s an opportunity I was grateful to have."

Years before Terrance Embry, a second-year medical student, was accepted to Meharry Medical College or worked alongside Stanford nephrologists to research treatments for intracranial aneurysms in patients with kidney disease, he was a curious child with an innate instinct to help others. “I’ve always wanted to help people,” he says, “If someone gets cut, if someone gets injured, I want to help out.”

He spent visits with his pediatrician asking about medical concepts and procedures. “He explained things to me at a young age, and he would always ask me about my dreams,” Embry recalls. “He cared about how I was doing in school – in life, things like that.”

When it came time to apply to medical school, Embry was drawn to Meharry’s history. “It’s a historically black college, and for me it was important to study and to be around people who have similar backgrounds to me, people who understand my struggles but also have similar goals.” He also deeply connected with the school’s commitment to underserved populations. “I come from an underserved neighborhood,” he explains, “so it’s important for me that their model matches up with my life.”

He spent his time at Stanford trying on an array of identities – loosely structured around his interest in the brain. On any given day, he could be found: In the lab, helping  Manjula Tamura, MD, professor of nephrology, identify aneurysm treatments; In the clinic, reading CT scans and MRIs alongside an interventional radiologist; in the classroom, attending lectures on technology, design, and innovation; or in the office of Reena Thomas, MD, PhD, clinical assistant professor of neurology,  who became his unofficial mentor and connected him to a neurologist in Nashville. “That’s just the Stanford way,” he reflects. “Everyone’s been so friendly and has wanted to provide us with opportunities and to see us succeed.”

Though he left the Stanford campus in late July, Embry said he would take the lessons he learned this summer along with him. “Everyone at Stanford worked together, and I think when people do that you’re exposed to a different viewpoint, and that ultimately benefits the patient.”

This focus on interdisciplinary connection is what he believes makes the Stanford-Meharry program so successful. “Being able to come here and not only build my CV, but be able to put Meharry’s name out there in a positive light and share my perspective with Stanford – that’s an opportunity I was grateful to have."