CEO and Vice Provost, St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College


Dr. Lia Tadesse

Dr. Lia Tadesse was born in 1976 in Addis Ababa to an entomologist father and a mother in education. She attended Etege Menen Secondary School where she was enrolled in a special high achievers class, excelling as one of the top students.  She shares, “I knew I was going to be a medical doctor since I was a little girl.”  She used to tease her dad, who had a Ph.D. in entomology saying, “One day I will become a real doctor.”  After finishing high school, Lia went to Jimma Medical School where she was one of the four female students who were eligible to enroll in medical school. Even then, Lia was very intrigued and wondered why there were only few female students.

Passion in life

For Lia, being a medical doctor is a passion not just a career.  She specialized in obstetrics and gynecology and believed this to be her calling as being with women at their most important and vulnerable time of their life and giving them the best service was gratifying. Lia became the first female chief of residence in her residency years at Black Lion Hospital.

During her residency, Dr. Lia was fascinated about the daily operational challenges and gaps that these hospitals had and started to wonder what she could do to make a difference and how she could bring about lasting change in the system.  One of these hospitals she looked at closely was St. Paul’s Hospital. During her time of residency as Chief of Resident, there were lots of challenges she was faced with for being a female resident as well as a medical doctor in the health service dominated by men.  However, she never saw these challenges as barriers despite the engraved culture of hierarchy.  True to herself, she led by example, and showed true passion for her field.

In 2007, she gave a presentation at the conference of Ethiopian Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, on young doctors.  It was an outstanding presentation document, which accorded her admiration by her fellow professionals. At this conference, she was spotted by the Ministry of Health officials and was introduced to then Minister of Health.  He was very impressed with the paper she presented and he believed that she had the passion and dedication to lead one of the government hospitals and hence he offered her to run St. Paul Hospital. Dr. Lia shares, “It was overwhelming and I was not really confident if I could handle the enormous challenges I was going to face by becoming the CEO of St. Paul Hospital”. However, for Dr. Lia, challenge was never good enough reason not to take the position; she took the position with support and encouragement of her family, especially her husband.

Achievements Dr. Lia is Proud of:

Since she joined St Paul Hospital as CEO and Vice Provost, Dr. Lia made significant improvements and contributions, which include:

  • Merging the medical department and the medical school as one to create an independent institution, allowed her and her team to make the necessary changes to both the hospital and the medical school and transfer resources between the two institutions freely.
  • Starting five new additional programs and it is also adding a high specialization program that has not been available in the country before with a focus mainly on ethical medical practices.  The leading vision is to produce role model medical doctors with great passion who can bring about change in the system.
  • Building a new and highly improved emergency services. “This emergency department” Dr. Lia says proudly, “has its own independent system that works very efficiently and effectively.  St. Paul Hospital now is one of the top hospitals to cater for mass causalities.”
  • In one of their projects, the hospital/college trained junior midwives working in different health centers for them to be more skilled and competent to provide service to their community.  As a result, hospitals, such as St. Paul, refer patients to these medical centers when hospitals become overwhelmed.
  • St. Paul hospital enrolled 38-40% of female students. Furthermore, another 30% of the enrollment is allocated for the four emerging regions: Afar, Somaliland, Gambela, and Benshangul. Apart from being the first hospital to do this, as a result, these doctors would go back to their community and make a significant difference.  The attrition rate has therefore decreased by training local people whom they have had ties with.
  • Dr. Lia says her biggest achievements are all the collaboration she has made with other international hospitals and institutions that provided various support to the hospital.  In her modesty, she said that she cannot manage to achieve any of these without the help and support of all partners and institutions.

Enabling Others:

Dr. Lia says “I believe in showing commitment by being and doing, not telling others what to do. By doing your best, you give the freedom for others to choose bringing out the best in themselves. Creating relationship and working as a team as well as creating enabling working environment is the way that worked for me.”

Dr. Lia stated becoming a board member in different associations such as the Ethiopia Medical Association as Vice president, allowed her to influence decision at the higher level and bring about the much needed changes in the health system, especially on ethical and quality service – issues very close to her heart.

Dr. Lia believes her calling in life is not only to be one of the best medical doctors but to bring about medical excellence within the health service. Her students are expected to be not only outstanding in their medical capabilities but also ethically sound individuals with great compassion for their patients. She further shares that for students to achieve their very best and be part of the change, the hospital and the school also provide various leadership programs.

Helping Other Women:

Dr. Lia’s life is centered on women’s health and empowering young professionals in the medical service. Although the journey hasn’t been easy, giving service to women and working in the broader issues and aspects of the health system is what keeps her going.

Currently 38% of their medical students are female, a long way from just four female students in her class, not many years ago. In their first and second year, 60% of the graduated students were female.