More than 38 million people worldwide were living with HIV in 2019. That same year, the patient demand for HIV care outpaced the number of new specialists entering the field. The need for HIV-trained physicians continues to increase to meet this demand.
With advancements in antiretroviral treatments, individuals living with HIV now have a longer life expectancy. Both HIV specialists and primary care physicians have a role to play in long-term care.
The HIVMA Clinical Fellowship Program is a joint program between the IDSA Foundation and the HIV Medicine Association that encourages interest in HIV medicine among newly trained physicians by providing one year of HIV clinical experience with underserved patient populations. The fellowship includes training on antiretroviral therapy and treating common co-infections and comorbidities, such as sexually transmitted infections, hepatitis C, mental health and substance use disorders.
Since the beginning of the HIVMA Clinical Fellowship Program in 2007, the Foundation and HIVMA have provided $2.6 million in HIV clinical training awards and trained 27 HIV primary care physicians.
Taylor Schmidt, MD, was awarded the 2020 to 2021 HIVMA Clinical Fellowship. In addition to this fellowship, Dr. Schmidt completed his residency training and HIV clinical training at UT Southwestern Medical Center. He will now continue to work with underserved communities as a primary care provider at Uptown Physicians Group and Prism Health North Texas. We spoke with Dr. Schmidt to learn more about his experience as an HIVMA Clinical Fellow and how he plans to work in a primary care setting that caters to the HIV population.
Tell us about your career goals and why you decided to pursue HIV clinical training.
My primary career goal is to be a primary care provider who caters to people in the LGBTQ+ community, especially to those living with HIV. I first became interested in this area in medical school when I volunteered at a clinic to help provide free HIV and syphilis testing. Following that, most of my clinical rotations in my third year of medical school were in a county hospital. We had many patients that had no insurance, and many of them had advanced HIV. I was able to see first-hand the consequences of not having treatment for this patient population. That became a big motivator for me.
I am also a member of the LGBTQ+ community, so I felt like it was personal for me to help this population. I later heard about the HIVMA Clinical Fellowship opportunity. I jumped on it because I thought it would be a perfect fit. That is how I became involved in the field.
How did you learn about the HIVMA Clinical Fellowship Program, and what made you want to apply?
In my second year of residency, I was thinking about the career path I wanted to pursue. I preferred clinic-based, outpatient work, so I spoke with James Cutrell, MD, infectious diseases program director at UT Southwestern Medical Center, and told him I was interested in HIV and primary care. Dr. Cutrell mentioned that UT Southwestern was considering opening an HIV fellowship focused on outpatient HIV medicine. It all came together very nicely, and through UT Southwestern’s HIV Medicine Fellowship, I then learned about the HIVMA Clinical Fellowship Program and applied!
Who were your mentors, and how did they influence your career path? Dr. Schmidt: Both Dr. Cutrell and Ellen Kitchell, MD, have been great mentors to me. Dr. Kitchell is the associate medical director of HIV Clinical Services at Amelia Court at Parkland Hospital. Both Dr. Cutrell and Dr. Kitchell have such a heart for patients and are wonderful clinicians. They’re both knowledgeable and passionate about HIV, and they truly care. Their example has been a wonderful path for me to follow.
What did you enjoy most about the HIVMA Clinical Fellowship Program?
As part of the program, I did three months of inpatient HIV work. We saw many patients with various complicated infectious diseases, and it was helpful to get that experience. We also had patients newly diagnosed with advanced HIV. Getting them on medications and seeing them get better was the most rewarding part of the program and the entire field. It’s incredible to watch patients physically improve. Their whole demeanor improves as their health gets better, too, and it’s awesome to see that.
Why should medical students be interested in a career in HIV medicine? What makes it an exciting space to work in?
It’s an exciting area of medicine because it’s changing so rapidly. There are many new therapies coming out, including medications for treatment and prevention. I think patients are grateful for this, and as a physician, you form wonderful relationships with your patients. It’s very rewarding. I also feel like this field chose me. I felt called to help this patient population and learn more about HIV and its complications. The HIVMA Fellowship Program was a great opportunity to help me get more involved.
What advice would you give to medical students and fellows interested in HIV medicine? How can programs like the HIVMA Clinical Fellowship Program help them achieve their career goals?
If you have any interest in HIV medicine, my advice would be to try to see some patients living with HIV. It’s important to get experience with the medicines and to have an understanding of the related complications. Then, if you think it might be a good fit, investigate fellowship programs like the HIVMA Clinical Fellowship Program. I can’t think of a better opportunity to learn more about HIV.
Why do you think it is important for IDSA Foundation and HIVMA supporters to invest in programs like the HIVMA Clinical Fellowship Program, especially given the shortage of trained HIV professionals?
It’s important to invest in these programs to train the next generation of physicians delivering HIV care. Patients with HIV are living longer and will require medication for their entire lives. From my experience, I can tell that those living with HIV really appreciate primary care providers who are trained and knowledgeable about HIV medicine. It’s important to keep funding programs like the HIVMA Fellowship Program to help meet that need.
What do you hope to see for the future of your career and the future of HIV medicine?
I hope patients will have better access to HIV medicine and better treatment for comorbidities like substance use and depression. I hope someday we can find a cure, but even without a cure, we have the tools to end the HIV epidemic within the next few decades. That’s a motivator for me. In my career, I want to help contribute to this. I look forward to working with underserved patient populations to move closer to this goal.
Applications for the 2022 to 2023 HIVMA Clinical Fellowships are now open! Learn more about eligibility requirements and apply online through the fellowship application page. Applications close Nov. 8.
For more information about the program, visit hivma.org/professional-development/hivma-clinical-fellowship.