Ethiopian immigrant goes from shepherd to one of the world’s top chief surgeons
Dr. Mero Getta is living proof that the sky is the limit when following your dreams.
The once illiterate young boy now specializes in head and neck cancer surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Canada.
The Israeli doctor was chosen to become one of the few medical professionals in the world to specialize in the surgical removal of cancerous tumors of the head and neck as well as the base of the skull.
A Jewish family in Chicago took Getta under their wing in 2005 and played a significant role in its success, having funded it through Ben-Gurion University School of Medicine through the IMPACT Scholarship, on behalf of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF).
“The contribution of the scholarship to my success was crucial,” said Getta, who graduated at the top of her class. “It allowed me to invest most of my time in my studies and minimize the hours of work.”
Dr. Getta was born in Gondar, Ethiopia in 1983 into a family of 13. He tended the family’s cattle and didn’t go to school until he was 8 years old.
“We lived in a remote little village,” he said. “And my family, like all the other families in the village, made a living from animal husbandry. I didn’t go to school until I was 8 years old. I didn’t start my studies until after made Aliyah.
My main goal as a shepherd was to make sure that no animals escaped. It was a big responsibility. It taught me to take responsibility at a young age and worry all the time. I think that’s what built me. These are very important lessons.”
In 1991, Getta and his family immigrated to Israel as part of Operation Solomon. “We had a deep internal religious belief that we would be rescued and taken to Israel,” he said.
The family settled in Beersheba and the Ethiopian teenager graduated from high school majoring in physics and math. He served in the Israeli army as a combat officer in the Golani Brigade, where he commanded platoons of soldiers and participated in fierce battles during the Second Lebanon War.
Her dream of becoming a doctor was sparked by her father, who was a traditional healer in their village in Ethiopia. “I used to see people coming to us asking for remedies and healings,” he explains.
“Our village was far from the city, and not all of us had the opportunity to see a doctor in town, so people came to us for first aid. There, in my opinion, I began to make the decision being a doctor, I have always believed that it was the best job in the world, a job that has a lot of meaning and that gives life to people.
The generous donor who gave Getta a scholarship was Lin Goodman, whose husband was a doctor who himself died of cancer.
“She wanted to donate to someone who was planning to study medicine,” Dr. Getta said. “I met her after I received the scholarship, and we keep in touch to this day.”
Dr. Getta shares that he experienced quite a bit of racism throughout his career, but he always kept pushing forward.
“There is no doubt that the situation is not ideal,” he said. “A lot of my patients are surprised that I’m a doctor. We all have biases and stereotypes that we need to work on. As a society, I think we need to aim for a better place.
“Still, I never based myself on that. I always looked to the future. At home, we were always told that we had to work hard and be determined to succeed, no less than any other Israeli .
After completing his subspecialty and training, Dr. Getta is expected to return to work in Israel.
“My dream is very simple: to heal people and be a good doctor, and at the same time be a good father and a good husband,” Getta shared. “It’s not always easy to combine the two, especially since I have six children, and unfortunately they hardly see me.”
The IMPACT scholarship program was established by FIDF 20 years ago for IDF combat soldiers who put their lives on the line for the good of their homeland and the Jewish people.
“Our scholars have proven for 20 years that they strive to achieve their goals in academia, their involvement in the community and their integration in the fields of market and industry,” said Orna Pesach, Executive Director of FIDF IMPACT.