Tina Adjei, MD, MPCHU ’99, is committed to improving the delivery of care to patients who need it most.
Throughout her career, emergency physician Tina Adjei, MD, MPCHU ’99, has worked to improve the delivery of care to patients who need it the most. Her path hasn’t always been linear, but there’s certainly a through line — whether she’s working on the emergency room floor, assessing ways to reduce hospital admissions or mentoring doctors in training, Adjei is bridging the gaps of racial and socioeconomic inequality in medicine.
Adjei grew up in Washington, D.C., in an academic household — her father was the chair of the Engineering Department at Howard University and encouraged Adjei and her siblings to pursue similar careers in “hard” sciences. As a young person, Adjei wanted to take a different route. She actually envisioned herself as an entrepreneur, but she also knew that she wanted to help people.
“I was an old soul, and I was lucky to have many adults in my life who let me know that I had endless opportunities and to take advantage of them. It was my mother who said, ‘Do something you enjoy, something you care about,’” she says. That something, she realized, after getting her undergraduate degree in zoology from Howard University and her master’s degree in developmental biology from American University, was medicine. She chose MCP Hahnemann because she was ready to branch out of her hometown, and she particularly liked the medical school’s focus on diversity. “There was this sense that the school embraced you and appreciated what you brought to the table,” she says. “At the same time, there was an opportunity for minority students to come to campus and meet during the summer and learn about the medical school environment. This did a world of good for bolstering our confidence and making us feel at home.”
Ultimately, Adjei decided to specialize in emergency medicine, feeling a kinship with the doctors she met on her rotation in the ER during her first year of medical school. “In general, I found that they were well-rounded people, many of them well-traveled, who enjoyed the unpredictability and excitement of the emergency room, and that spoke to me.”
PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL CHALLENGES
During her residency at the University of Maryland, Adjei honed her knowledge of the diseases of poverty and the poorer health outcomes specific to inner city populations. But over time, she found she wasn’t seeing the daily new challenges she’d hoped for in the ER. During her second year of residency, Adjei’s mother passed away, a painful loss. “It was very devastating for me,” she says. “She was the reason I became a doctor and strove to be successful in life.” As an ER attending, she encountered a revolving door of chronic problems associated with structural racism, food insecurity and lack of access to health care. With that came a sense of her own ineffectualness to make a difference. “After a while, you start to feel burned out. You realize that when people come the ER, you have very little power to change their lives. You can’t go to their home and make sure they have food or a job. You can’t even make sure they go to their follow-up appointments. There’s only so much you can do to help, and most patients were falling through the cracks.”
BUILDING CONNECTION THROUGH INNOVATION
Five years after completing her residency, a friend and colleague from the University of Maryland announced that he was opening an urgent care facility, and Adjei latched on to the concept. Starting her own business would allow her to define the way she interacted with patients and perhaps make more of a meaningful impact on their lives, while exploring her entrepreneurial dreams. She also had a unique vision for how urgent care could fulfill a bigger role in a community setting.
“I saw that I could combine cutting-edge technology with a warm, family-like atmosphere,” she says. “I wanted to be almost like a primary care provider within a community practice. I didn’t want you to just come in for one injury and never come back — the idea was that you’d want to return and trust us with your care, and we could handle anything short of preventive care or a hospital admission.” When she was pregnant with their third child, Adjei and her husband, George, set about making this plan a reality — giving the new clinic a true mom-and-pop flavor with modern, high-tech conveniences. George, an IT director at Discovery Communications, did his part, handling technology and infrastructure such as the patient files and databases, office network and keycards. MyCare Express Urgent Care opened in Eldersburg, Maryland, in 2008, followed by a second location in Reisterstown, Maryland.
Over the years, Adjei developed the exact practice she envisioned while deepening her own knowledge and experience as a physician and entrepreneur. This allowed her to build long-term relationships with her patients, many of whom she keeps in contact with today.
The success of MyCare was part of a larger trend in the United States, with the explosive growth of the urgent care industry. Then came the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, which changed the equation for small practices, and particularly for a model like Adjei’s, which relied on more minutes spent with each patient. By the time she was approached by Carroll Health Group with an offer to buy MyCare in 2014, she decided it was the right juncture for a transition.
Adjei initially stayed on as medical director at MyCare under its new ownership and then served as an administrator for the health system, but soon realized that she was much more at home providing direct care to patients. In 2017, she went back to her roots as an emergency room attending at Kaiser Permanente in Halethorpe, Maryland. For now, she says, with two teenage daughters and a preteen son at home, this feels like the right place to be.
PAVING THE WAY FOR OTHERS
All along the way, in both hospital and urgent care settings, Adjei has devoted herself to mentoring young medical students and physicians, particularly women and minorities. She’s interested in broadening cultural competence for all doctors as well as increasing the number of traditionally underrepresented people practicing medicine. “Being a minority and female gives me a unique perspective and allows me to understand the health disparities and challenges minorities and women face daily. In the end, this changes how health care is delivered and perceived by the patient,” she says. “Women and minorities need opportunities to see providers who understand them and can meet their needs, and it’s also important on the journey of medical training that young students encounter professionals in the field that look like them.”
One of the biggest barriers for minorities wanting to go into the medical field is the cost of medical school. Mentoring was one way to help, but as Adjei became a successful entrepreneur, she knew she wanted to use her advantages to ensure that students had access to the kind of education she had. Creating the Mary Lee Edwards Scholarship for women and minority medical students at Drexel was a way to do that while honoring her beloved mother, she says. “When I think of her, and how she helped me become successful, it seemed only fitting to pay it forward in her name. When a student writes me a thank you letter, I know she meant something to them, too.”