University of Minnesota Health Cardiologist Ashenafi Tamene, MD, discovered his love for heart health while treating rheumatic heart disease patients in his native Ethiopia.
We spoke with Tamene about his medical experience treating valvular heart disease, getting used to the Minnesota winters as a transplant from Africa and his love for Brazilian soccer.
You started your new job in September of this year. Can you talk about your new role within University of Minnesota Heart Care?
I am a non-invasive cardiologist—or general cardiologist—with University of Minnesota Health Heart Care. I am responsible for providing cardiologic care for and support for the surrounding primary care community. Essentially, my role is to be the face and the go-to person for cardiology consultations and to help my surrounding primary care physicians provide their patients with the care they need.
What interest, skills and experience do you bring to our organization?
In particular, I focus on cardiovascular imaging, which I enjoy because I have a lot of interest in treating valvular heart disease. Preventive cardiology is also a passion of mine. My other interest is nuclear testing imaging, which fits in with my imaging background. Finally, I do administer clinical care in a clinical setting and in an inpatient setting in the hospital.
You’re originally from Ethiopia but completed your residency and a fellowship at the University over the last six years. Why did you choose to work with University of Minnesota Health Heart Care?
The best part about my work here with University of Minnesota Heart Care are the complex cases that always keep me at the tip of my toes. You have the opportunity to grow as a physician and there is a lot of room for support. I’m always surrounded by a lot of talented people who I have had the opportunity to learn from. And of course family. My wife is a permanent resident here. I have two kids. So, Minnesota is a very good place to raise kids and have a family.
Why did you choose to specialize in cardiology?
It goes back to the fact that I always wanted to be a cardiologist since my first clinical rotations back in Ethiopia. We had a large, young adult rheumatic heart disease population. Rheumatic heart disease is a disease of the valves that develops following a strep throat infection. And usually, with a good health care system, at-risk patients would get committed early and recognized early. But, if it is left untreated, it can have long-term consequences. So we saw a lot of adults with bad valves in Ethiopia. So, why cardiology? The first time I was exposed to it, I fell in love with taking care of these kinds of patients.
What is your favorite memory so far as a physician?
There was a patient that I helped treat for heart failure. And there were a lot of complex—not only medical, but social—issues that went along with this specific case. After he was treated, he sent me a thank you card. And usually when patients send thank you cards there are just a few words jotted down. But this one was heartfelt. He had a long note in there that was very specific about what happened. And it always kind of makes me emotional when I think about it. It was very touching.
So, that was during your fellowship at the University of Minnesota. Do moments like this reassure you chose to stay in the right place?
Oh, absolutely. Once you get used to the weather, it kind of wins over you. You tend to get a lot of people from different walks of life. There’s a large immigrant population, mostly East African, Ethiopian and Somali. So I can relate to that. The older people here kind of remind me of the old folks back home. They have very similar mannerisms and expectations. So it’s been really nice.
What do you love about the University of Minnesota Health community?
I have been here for six years and I know what the system looks like. The senior staff that are available, to talk with and bounce ideas off of in the imaging department are amazing. So, I was very happy with what I had when I decided to become a physician here. It was a no-brainer.
What’s one surprising fact about yourself?
I am a crazy Brazilian soccer fan. I love the Brazilian football team. I watch a lot of soccer. Soccer is of course the number one sport in Ethiopia and I’d say probably 80 percent of Ethiopians are Brazilian fans. I root for Brazil even when they’re playing against African teams! In our house, my dad was pretty crazy about them. So, I think I inherited that from him.