By Laura Freeman
Throughout her life, when Amanda Tapley McGriff, MD has faced obstacles, she has come up with creative solutions, beginning with the use of her musical talents.
“My grandfather, Dr. Witold W. Turkiewicz, was a piano virtuoso who taught music at Samford University,” Tapley McGriff said. “He also taught the children in our family to play and he showed us that we had to put in the work if we wanted to perform on a stage someday.
“My brother and I loved music and playing the piano. We decided we wanted to raise money to help sick children. But how could a couple of teenagers raise enough to make a difference? Someone suggested that we put on a concert and sell tickets. By that time, we had developed our music to the point that we had the confidence to go for it. We also recorded the classical pieces and sold CDs. When we added up the proceeds, we were surprised to find we had raised almost $50,000, which we donated to Children’s of Alabama and St. Jude’s in Memphis.”
Her next challenge was the cost of medical school. She had dreamed of becoming a doctor since childhood, but while paying for college was doable, she was concerned about taking on massive student loans needed to pay for medical school.
When she learned that the Miss Alabama pageant awarded scholarship money, she decided to give it a try, even though she didn’t really see herself becoming Miss Alabama. And while she didn’t win the first year, she learned that a good deal of scholarship money was available, even for contestants who didn’t come in number one.
“The next year, I worked as hard as I could, getting everything as perfect as possible, memorizing every note of the music for the talent competition,” she said. “I became Miss Alabama 2008 and went on to the Miss America pageant. I didn’t win first place there, but I did bring home enough scholarship money to bring my dream of paying for medical school within reach.”
On the stage at Samford where the Miss Alabama pageant was held, Tapley McGriff also created a memory she will cherish forever.
“I played a piano duet with my grandfather,” she said. “Since he taught at Samford, he had played duets on that stage with the boys in our family. That year, he had been diagnosed with cancer and knew he didn’t have a long time left. As we left the stage he smiled and said, ‘I played on this stage with my boys, and I got to play my swan song on this stage with my granddaughter.’”
After medical school and a residency in emergency medicine at UAB, Tapley McGriff is now a physician with credentials at multiple emergency departments in the Birmingham area. “Working shifts at Brookwood, Princeton and other ER’s in the area gives me the flexibility for one of my biggest dreams, which is to start a family and raise children,” she said.
She married Army Captain Bronson McGriff in the fall of 2019. Two months later he was deployed, she found out she was pregnant, and she became a newly minted ER doctor just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was a hard time for everyone,” she said. “We saw so many people coming in the ER who were so very sick. We didn’t know who was going to make it and who wasn’t. I didn’t know if a mask would keep me safe or protect my baby, but I had to help as many people as I could. It was lonely going home and only being able to talk with my husband by phone or video chat.
“Finally the world is getting a bit more back to normal. My husband is home. We had a baby girl, Amelia. I’ve been working as an ER doctor and really enjoying it. In a couple of months, I’ll be taking some time off when Amelia’s baby brother is born.
“After that, I’ll be going back to ER medicine. I went into that specialty because there’s always something new. You never know what will be coming through those doors next. Every patient has a story.”