A growing shortage of medical providers with the knowledge and expertise to care for HIV/AIDS patients, particularly those in hard-hit minority groups, is threatening many of the gains made in the treatment and prevention of this complex disease. A promising young physician, Albert Slezinger, MD, has been awarded a 2011 Minority Clinical Fellowship Award by the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA), part of an effort to address this disparity, and the broader shortage in the HIV medical workforce. Dr. Slezinger will serve his fellowship at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center in New York City.
Today, thirty years after the first cases of HIV/AIDS were reported, many HIV clinicians are nearing retirement or have already left the workforce. At the same time, demand for HIV care continues to grow, with more than 50,000 new cases of HIV infection occurring annually. Minorities bear a disproportionate burden: More than a million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS today, and African Americans and Latinos account for 69 percent of the AIDS cases in the United States. But there are few African American or Latino physicians in this field of care, a trend seen in medicine generally.
“To end this pandemic, we must do more to ensure that patients in underserved minority communities have access to routine HIV testing and the expert HIV care and treatment services they need,” said Kathleen Squires, MD, HIVMA chair. “One of the best ways to accomplish this is by providing a pathway for talented minority health providers to focus on HIV medicine, which is why HIVMA created the Minority Clinical Fellowship program, now entering its fifth year. Previous fellows are continuing careers in HIV medicine and working with these populations.”
The results of a major study (HPTN 052) from the National Institutes of Health, announced in May, showed definitively that early HIV diagnosis, followed by appropriate care and treatment by qualified professionals, can save lives and reduce the spread of HIV disease. “The challenge we face today, here and around the world, is translating our scientific advances into practice for all those who need lifesaving care,” Dr. Squires said. “This impressive young physician, with his commitment and dedication to serving minority communities, will help reduce HIV-related disparities by providing expert HIV care in an underserved community.”
Dr. Slezinger will receive funding to support a year of dedicated HIV clinical training, beginning in July, and mentoring and clinical support from an experienced medical professional in a clinic that serves large minority populations. He will complete his fellowship at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center and will receive mentoring and clinical instruction from José Tiburcio, MD, a 2007 recipient of an HIVMA Minority Clinical Fellowship. The fellowship provides a stipend, plus benefits, as well as financial support for the fellow’s mentor for one year.
In 2011, HIVMA received support for the fellowship program from the Gilead Foundation, Genentech, and Tibotec. Applications for 2012 are currently being accepted. Information is available at www.hivma.org.
About Albert Slezinger, MD
The career path of Albert Slezinger, MD, wound through Venezuela, the United States, and different medical specialties before reaching HIV medicine. During his residency specializing in family medicine at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center in New York City, however, he discovered a passion for working with HIV-infected patients from underserved populations.
For three years, he worked in a low-income neighborhood primarily populated by Hispanics and African Americans, where he learned important lessons about HIV treatment and prevention in these underserved groups. “I learned about inpatient and outpatient management of the disease, and also how important the role of primary care is in educating the community,” Dr. Slezinger said. “It is the most effective tool to avoid the disease.”
His training at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center working with HIV-infected patients led Dr. Slezinger to expand his experience by pursuing the fellowship. “I felt it would be the perfect way for me to progress in the HIV field,” Dr. Slezinger said. His goals include completing the foundation of his training in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of HIV disease using a multidisciplinary approach; using a variety of community and academic resources to help patients; and retaining a primary care approach to caring for those with HIV. “I want to help people with HIV/AIDS by responding to their needs in a culturally sensitive manner,” he said.
The training offered by the HIVMA Minority Clinical Fellowship will allow Dr. Slezinger to continue this important work in an area of great need for HIV/AIDS care, he said. “It will also give me the opportunity to share the knowledge I gain with others as I continue in my career, since I am interested in working in hospitals in underserved communities.”
Dr. Slezinger graduated with his medical degree from the University of the Andes School of Medicine in Mérida, Venezuela. Dr. Slezinger’s fellowship will take place at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center with mentoring and clinical instruction from José Tiburcio, MD, who was a 2007 recipient of an HIVMA Minority Clinical Fellowship.