A dedicated and compassionate medical professional

Her Story

Dr. Senait Fisseha

Dr. Senait Fisseha is a Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology and the Director of International Programs at the Susan T. Buffett Foundation. Dr. Fisseha came from a very loving, closed knit and large family including 11 siblings.  She grew up in Addis during the turmoil of the Derg regime. Although she was quite young to remember the details of the times, her family suffered the devastating loss of a brilliant and courageous brother who had studied in the United States but had came back home to help his mother. When the Emperor was deposed in 1974, Dr. Senait’s father suffered as a political prisoner and resultantly her mother carried the burden of taking care of a large family by herself. Despite growing up with such tragedy, Dr. Senait persists as an optimist, choosing to see the positive in every person and situation.

Dr. Senait left Ethiopia for the US in 1989, after completing high school and a few months’ stint in medical school at Addis Ababa University. She had dreamed of being a doctor long before she really knew what the profession entailed. In the US, she spent 17 good years in school preparing for her professional life. Completing undergraduate work at Rosary College in Chicago Illinois, she was then chosen for a coveted spot in a combined Medical and Law degree six-year track at Southern Illinois University. This she completed graduating with Honors and inducted to Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) honor society – an honor reserved only to the top medical students in the US selected not only for their high academic standing, but as well for leadership among their peers, professionalism and a firm sense of ethics, promise of future success in medicine, and a commitment to service in the school and community.

I was not spending money, time and energy much on shopping and entertainment unlike my peers, as I believed such achievements require a lot of sacrifice

Subsequent awareness of the death of 1 out of three women due to unsafe abortion, would later inform her decision to specialize in Obstetrics and Gynecology, completing a residency in the field with a fellowship in Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility at the University of Michigan. After completing her fellowship, she joined her department as a junior faculty member at the University of Michigan, where she was promoted to full Professor, and subsequently, in a meteoric rise, the Chief of Division of Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility, and Medical Director of Center for Reproductive Medicine. She also served as a co-Director of the medical school’s Path of Excellence in Global Health & Disparities.

My husband is the best thing that happened to me and my children are my biggest blessings – always with supportive hands whenever I am in need

In 2015, Dr. Senait accepted a job to be the Director of the International Program at the Susan Buffett Foundation, one of the largest US Foundations, dedicated to serve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls all over the world. A mother of four, Dr. Senait credits her husband for his unending support.

Through a US Government (NIG/CDC), non-government agenciesand foundations grant to develop a global health research and training collaboration in Ethiopia, Dr. Senait has been leading the University of Michigan-Ethiopia Collaborative Platform for Global Health since its inception. She is also the founding Executive Director of the Center for International Reproductive Health Training (CIRHT), a new center at the University of Michigan established with a $25,000,000 grant to advance global reproductive health pre-service training in academic institutions within Sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia, regions with the highest burden of maternal mortality.

I try to live a purpose driven life and aim to use my brief presence in this universe for a positive impact

Driven by the desire to ameliorate human suffering and promote social justice, service is Dr. Senait’s passion in life. Her dream for her community/country is a more just, open and inclusive society, where everyone has a fair shot to succeed in life no matter who he or she is, or where they come from. A society where gender equity is the norm, where boys and girls, men and women have the same opportunities, benefits, access to power, resources and responsibilities. That is the world this visionary dreams of, for every child borne.

Throughout her academic career, with years of collaborative engagement in Ethiopia and now running a foundation, Dr. Senait’s life journey has revolved around women’s health, reproductive health and reproductive justice. She is a firm believer that investing in girls and women is investing in the community and nation at large. When you spend 1 birr on a woman, she spends back the 80 cents on her family: which correlates to a famous quote she often refers to by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn – “Women hold up half the sky”. Working in the field of global health has been a transformative experience where she witnessed firsthand what it means to invest in girls and enable them to control their own reproductive destiny. Dr. Senait states that her role at the foundation has allowed her to promote girls and women’s reproductive health. This is achieved by supporting organizations that work in sexual and reproductive health and rights advocacy. There is additional support of research and service delivery in women’s health. She stresses that all women deserve access to quality health care no matter where they live. Training and educating health workers, is key, to ensure this is achieved. Her collaboration with the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, St. Paul Hospital Millennium Medical College and eight other universities in Ethiopia has allowed her to play a significant part in improving the quality of training of Ethiopian medical students and OBGYN specialists.

I believe in mentorship and collaboration. I was able to get this far in because of mentors who made their hind sight my foresight

The establishment of the Center for International Reproductive Health Training (CIHRT) is one of the most significant achievements of Dr. Senait. She founded CIHRT in 2014, at the University of Michigan, to increase the number of health professionals providing quality, comprehensive reproductive health care support in nine Medical Schools all over Ethiopia, including St. Paul in Addis Ababa. Her aim is to train compassionate doctors that provide quality, and dignified care to women. Through these collaborations, dedicated Women Health Centers have been established at all the nine medical schools, in different regions, named “MICHU” clinic. The name was coined to ensure the centers were “comfortable” (i.e. phonetic “MICHU” in Amharic) for women while also reflecting the University of Michigan’s collaboration (MICHigan).

Dr. Senait believes that self-awareness and doing meaningful things helped her thrive. She says it is extremely important to find one’s own strengths and putting that to work in ways that inspire oneself but also others. Dr. Senait points out that it is very important to find time for oneself while also maintaining an appropriate work/life balance. Avoiding people with negativity to the best of her capacity, Dr. Senait believes in finding inspiration from those who have dedicated their lives to the service of others. She states she thrives most when she engages and collaborates, as she loves building relationships.

Life, by definition, has its ups and downs. Growth and development that benefits all, requires significant sacrifice.

A strong believer in networking and identifying mentors to help cultivate the different facets of her life, she has professional & spiritual mentors along with a broad social circle. Dr. Senait herself mentors many youngsters, mostly women, in medical school and also creates opportunity for networking and collaboration amongst them. “As a woman born and raised in Ethiopia, I recall that “traditional women” used to network during coffee ceremonies, mahiber, edir, ekub…etc. These moments helped them mentor each other effectively. Ironically, it seems the more we get ‘educated’, this centuries old culture of mentorship appears to be disappearing. The power of mentorship has been proven in different venues; such as to women ‘moving up the ladder’ and we can no longer ignore the detrimental effect of the absence of adequate and effective mentorship” says Dr. Senait.

Other Contributions

Dr. Senait has done cutting edge work preserving reproductive potential in cancer patients. In her role as program director at the Susan Buffet Foundation she has extended philanthropy with maximal effectiveness. She is naturally gifted in motivating and stimulating students and junior doctors as a Full Professor in the Department of OB/GYN; but then, also challenging her peers, awakening the desire and need to ‘serve’ which is generally present in those who have chosen to be ‘physicians’ in the first place. Dr. Senait frequently engages her community on a very personal level; she is a big inspiration to young women but also men, as a model and example to follow in her footsteps.

Since 1996 DR. Fisseha has volunteered in different professional associations as a:

  • Member, American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM)
  • Member, European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE)
  • Fellow, American College of Legal Medicine (ACLM)
  • Member, Norman F. Miller Gynecologic Society
  • Diplomat, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
  • Member, American Association of Ultrasound Medicine (AAUM)
  • Board of Directors and Secretary, Hamlin Fistula Foundation, USA
  • Board of Directors Member, Willows Foundation for Reproductive Health, Istanbul, Turkey and several other associations

What do they think/say about Dr. Senait?

Her colleagues and mentees appreciate Dr. Senait’s mentorship and leadership role, stating “I don’t even know how it is humanly possible to do a hundred different things at hundred different places at the same time, supporting many at the same time. Traveling from Michigan to Ethiopia several times a month and yet actively doing her jobs is beyond imagination. I am afraid she might collapse one day”. Another appreciative colleague says “she is not only a successful leader & mentor but also a great wife and mother as I witnessed it with my own eyes. Well, I don’t know how she manages to do all these without fail, but she is doing it.”