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My Kind of Medicine: Real Lives of Practicing Internists: Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH

Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH
Obesity Medicine & Nutrition Physician & Clinical Fellow
Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School

Medical School: Medical College of Georgia
Residency: Internal Medicine & Pediatrics/ Palmetto Health, University of South Carolina School of Medicine

ACP Affiliation: Resident/Fellow Member and recipient of the 2013 Joseph E. Johnson Leadership Award

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This year’s recipient of the ACP Joseph E. Johnson Leadership Award, Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, an ACP Resident/Fellow Member who, despite her youth, already has a long history of being recognized for her leadership and academic achievements.

At the age of 14, Dr. Stanford received a biomedical research grant from the National Institutes of Health as part of a program for young scientists sponsored by Emory University. While her peers were hanging out at the mall, Fatima was spending her summers peering through a microscope in a medical laboratory at Emory. By age 24, she had received the bronze, the silver, and finally, the prestigious Gold Congressional Award for public service; and, in 2012 she was a regional White House Fellows finalist.

A scholar is born

Born and raised in Atlanta, Dr. Stanford says she remembers always wanting to be a doctor. When she was just three years old, a great aunt asked her if she was going to grow up and be a nurse, to which the young Fatima replied, “not nurse, doctor.” For Dr. Stanford, academic achievement was a goal instilled in her at an early age by her maternal grandmother who tutored her so well in her pre-school years she was able to skip first grade. Her father, a fine artist, and her mother, a corporate director with Macy’s, encouraged their daughter’s passion for learning and introduced her to their physician friends who became her early mentors.

In high school, Dr. Stanford excelled in science. She received the Atlanta Public Schools Science Achievement award and was a finalist in the International Science & Engineering Fair held in Canada. In addition to her studies, she ran track and was a member of the cheerleading team. She was selected class valedictorian and by the time she graduated, she had been named Ebony Magazine’s Top High School Student and was listed among USA Today’s High School Academic Team. Academic scholarship offers poured in (a record $1.9 million), and Dr. Stanford chose Emory University where she received her bachelor’s degree in anthropology and human biology and her master’s degree in Public Health.

Enjoying the larger view

Getting her master’s degree in Public Health delayed her entrance into the Medical College of Georgia by two years, but Dr. Stanford says she appreciates the macro view of medicine that Emory’s public health program provided her. While completing her degree, she worked at the CDC and the American Cancer Society, and says that each of these experiences illustrated for her the connection between care delivered at the individual level and its impact on the larger population.

Her appreciation for the larger view is also the reason she changed her specialty from orthopedics to internal medicine and pediatrics. Dr. Stanford says her initial interest in orthopedics was due in part to her desire to witness the immediate and gratifying results of replacing knees and hips. However, the more she studied medicine, the more she wanted to “treat the whole body and not just one part of it.” She began asking herself, “If I replace the knee of a patient who is obese, how much have I really helped?”

Dr. Stanford is currently completing a Harvard fellowship in the new field of obesity medicine. She is also interested in health disparity and policy issues and is hoping to do one more fellowship in Minority Health Policy and obtain a second master’s degree in Public Administration. Her long-term career goals include service in the fields of government and academia. Dr. Stanford believes it’s important for young physicians to join organizations like ACP that advocate for medical progress and innovation and can help nurture their careers. Her best advice to medical students is “Go into medical school with a very open mind to all of the possibilities medicine offers and take the time to seek out opportunities that align with your core values and what you are passionate about.”

Actions speak louder

One of the things Dr. Stanford is passionate about is exercise. She began taking dance classes at the age of three, and studied everything from classical ballet to modern. She even minored in dance at Emory. It’s hard to imagine she finds time for many extracurricular activities, but she says that dance and exercise have been a mainstay throughout her life, and give her the balance and focus she needs for her career. “I consider exercise a non-negotiable,” says Dr. Stanford; and, as a goal-oriented multi-tasker, it’s no surprise that her exercise regime includes high-intensity workouts like Insanity, and Zumba classes, the Latin-inspired high-energy dance fitness program.

Dr. Stanford’s love for “movement”, helping others achieve optimal health, and making a difference in the area of public health are some of the core values driving the trajectory of her academic and professional path; however, “What best defines me,” she says, “is a strong desire to give back and help others.” Noting her gratitude for all of the great mentors throughout her life—both personal and academic—Dr. Stanford says her desire is to be a public servant and perhaps someday play a role in government.“To effect large scale change in the area of public health,” she says, “it is vital that individuals with health care backgrounds are at the table with those making policy decisions.” Dr. Fatime Cody Stanford

Fatima and her husband, Corey J. Stanford, a software developer, are high school sweethearts who share a passion for travel and exercise. She describes him as her best friend and biggest cheerleader.


Washington, be warned—if Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford heads to the table in the nation’s capitol, there will likely be very little sitting, no leaving early, and goals will be achieved.


Back to May 2013 Issue of IMpact

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