Member of the Month:
Elena N. Zamora, MD, MHA, DABFM
TAFP Board of Directors member teaches medicine and life through professorship and mentoring
By Kate Alfano
Elena Zamora, MD, MHA, DABFM, is an assistant professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and was the 2020-2021 resident director on the TAFP Board of Directors. She greatly values mentorship, both as the mentor and the mentee, and wants to become certified in obesity medicine to help patients on their path to wellness.
Who inspired you to become a physician?
When I was young, I had a strong interest in becoming an astronaut. Then my father told me “they take doctors to space.” My father, a physician, was a big source of inspiration as I spent my many summers greeting patients and answering phone calls at his private practice. Later, I would travel with him while he made house calls. Here, I was exposed to medical topics, the doctor-patient bond, as well as the responsibilities that come with working in the medical field. He never tired and his passion for medicine intrigued me. After dissecting my first fetal pig, I was fascinated with learning how organ systems function together and began shadowing various doctors around Houston, Texas.
Can you briefly describe your career path?
I attended Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, for my premedical education and went on to live in beautiful St. John’s, Antigua to study my basic sciences at the American University of Antigua College of Medicine before completing my clerkships in Brooklyn, New York at various affiliated hospitals. I returned to Houston for my family medicine residency at University of Texas at Houston — a place I owe so much gratitude for helping me to build a strong foundation in evidence-based medicine.
What are your plans for your career?
I intend to stay in academic medicine. Currently, I am focused on adjusting into my new attending position and completing a training on faculty fundamentals through the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine (STFM). I have a vision of helping patients lose weight through building a wellness program and becoming board certified in obesity medicine. When I am working in my office, I always visualize having medical students, residents, and even high school students sitting there with me to discuss their own career path. I hope to be very involved in mentorship opportunities. I am still waiting to visit space.
What drew you to academic medicine? What do you like most about teaching?
It’s a funny story how I learned how much I loved teaching. During the end of my intern year, I felt weak in my clinical knowledge regarding COPD management so I asked an attending if I could give a lecture because I knew that if I could have an opportunity to teach the material, I would learn in the process of preparing the lecture. My attending not only approved but also invited medical students and residents to attend the session. During my lecture, I covered COPD diagnosis and management and taught the audience how to interpret ABGs. I will never forget the two female medical students sitting together towards the back of the room with their arms raised eagerly to answer one of the ABG practice questions. When they answered correctly in confidence, I felt a feeling of fulfillment in having been part of their learning experience...and the rest is history. I met with my mentor and made it known that teaching had become a passion.
My favorite thing about teaching is teaching bedside manners to learners. If I can teach one learner how to make a patient feel listened to and cared for, I have contributed to society in a unique way.
Why do you choose to be a TAFP member?
As physicians, we learn to practice evidence-based medicine; however, so much of our practice depends on and is shaped by health care policies. Joining TAFP was important for me to feel connected to the process of making big decisions that affect the field I love. Looking back, I was unprepared for just how many topics and health care policies would be addressed during my time serving on the Board of Directors. Being part of health care policy-making is a large step any physician has the privilege to take.
Is there anything from your service on the board that you’re particularly proud of?
I am proud that the Board is respectful to opposing views. Even as a young physician, I felt comfortable speaking up and being heard. I am also proud of the support I received from Ms. Juleah Williams, who is the TAFP Membership and Workforce Development Manager. She guided and encouraged me throughout my time as resident director. What a kind and approachable person she is! If all goes well, I hope to be proud of our upcoming TAFP Suture Workshop being held for the Resident and Student Track at the upcoming TAFP Annual Session.
What do you enjoy doing outside of medicine?
Running and being outdoors. I love to find new trails. Luckily, Houston has been working on a 10-year project on the Memorial Park Conservatory to which new paths are being made. It’s a wonderful place to meditate as well.
One of your passions is mentorship. Can you share how mentors have played a positive role in your career?
Remember the saying, “You can always find someone doing better than you at something.” I believe there exists a wealth of knowledge to gain from people who have walked in your “desired path” before. Successful people have had accomplishments as well as failures and their first-hand insight is crucial information that can become easily available. You just have to ask for the advice. I have had mentors stress the importance of “looking presentable at work, showing up early, not taking your work home with you, and automating your work-flow.” My professional and personal mentor, Dr. Shira Goldstein, has taught me about billing, how to prepare lectures, how to edit my CV, how to have a work/life balance and many more lessons to which I am grateful for her dedication.
What advice would you have for students, residents, peers and patients regarding mentorship?
Being a mentor helps you to hold yourself accountable and be mindful of the example you are setting for future generations of health care providers. Having a mentor helps you stay on track and grow as a professional and individual.
The advice I give medical students at the end of every lecture is if you observe a physician that you feel sets an example to which you want to follow, ASK them to mentor you.
TAFP’s Member of the Month program highlights Texas family physicians in TAFP News Now and on the TAFP website. We feature a biography and a Q&A with a different TAFP member each month and his or her unique approach to family medicine. If you know an outstanding family physician colleague who you think should be featured as a Member of the Month or if you’d like to tell your own story, nominate yourself or your colleague by contacting TAFP by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (512) 329-8666. View past Members of the Month here.