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Member Profile: Marc Johnson, M.D.

Founding Member of the New York Chapter of Minority Providers of HIV Care

Summer 2001

Marc Johnson, M.D., is assistant professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, physician in charge at the New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens, and head of primary care at the AIDS Center of Queens County. As a founding member of the New York chapter of Minority Providers of HIV Care, Dr. Johnson sees his organization bringing two important things to its members and their clients: support and respect.

"One of our biggest strengths," he tells The Nexus, "is our ability to educate communities of color in a culturally appropriate manner. We're sensitive to the beliefs and cultures of the community, and we offer respect for the members of that community."

"We're also a support group for providers to talk about issues," Dr. Johnson emphasizes. "The group is meant to be a support mechanism to share some of the frustrations and some of the tribulations. It helps each of us realize we're not the only ones suffering these problems as we try to provide care to a complex group of individuals."

Toward that end, he notes, "we've been very supportive of the American Academy of HIV Medicine. Several of our members are also members of the Academy, and we plan to have further discussions about how we can support each other's endeavors. We want to have members from the communities of color represented at all levels of the Academy, from the board to the state chapters."

The Academy, he adds, "legitimizes us as a specialty. One of the problems with HIV medicine is that it's been thought of as something that general practitioners do. We never had our own specialty. But I think that one of the benefits of the Academy is it defines what HIV Specialists are and what our roles are. And that gives us credibility in terms of being a unique and vital branch of medicine."

Johnson emphasizes, "The Academy gives us a voice at the various legislative bodies around the nation. And that gives us the ability to advocate for our patients and help shape legislation and policy as it relates to funding and, ultimately, to help shape legislation that affects HIV care."

The New York chapter of Minority Providers of HIV Care started about two years ago when Sharon Rascoe, a community relations manager with Agouron Pharmaceuticals, Inc., gathered half a dozen or so HIV specialists at a meeting in San Diego. "We came back to New York and formed the group," Johnson recalls. "Since then, we've met almost every month. There are now about 200 members, including M.D.s, R.N.s, P.A.s, N.P.s, social workers, substance abuse counselors, and the whole spectrum of care providers for the HIV-infected and -affected individual."

The group meets to talk about issues as they relate to HIV care. For example, a recent topic at one of its 40-minute educational forums was AIDS and the central nervous system. Each meeting also features an open-mike session and a session on the legislative and policy aspects of HIV care and funding.

The group has set its sites even higher, Johnson says. Last year, for example, the chapter cosponsored -- with the New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens and New York State's HIV Clinical Education Initiative -- a conference on the legacy of the Tuskegee experiment on communities of color and their views of the medical establishment. In this experiment, sharecroppers with syphilis were intentionally denied treatment so that the natural history of the disease could be followed. "Because of that study," Johnson points out, "people of color have a lot of mistrust of the medical community and of medical research. We felt we should address its impact on how our community sees us as providers -- and how that's translated to HIV care." The all-day meeting attracted about 200 attendees, and the staff, lecturers, and presenters were all people of color.

This focus on communities of color supporting themselves is critical, Dr. Johnson stresses. "We know that the demographic of the epidemic right now is in communities of color," he says. "We're trying to respond by having people of color do dedicated programs, particularly at health fairs, educational forums, and such events in those communities, and to provide education to their own patients and to the significant others of their patients around issues of HIV treatment -- new drugs, clinical trials, things like that." He adds: "We know our own communities. We try to deal with some of our biases."

One arena the group enters -- with appropriate respect -- is integrating clients' faith with the organization's clinical mission. "It's very difficult in certain communities to get the church to help in educating the community," he says. "There are churches that haven't rallied around this issue as we would expect them to. They're not penalizing people, but we don't get the support in terms of outreach, education, and prevention messages that we'd like."

But, he stresses, "there are religious leaders who are very progressive who will allow educational forums in the church." He continues, "My patients generally have religious access. In the sense that this is one of the things they need for their care, I suggest they seek support from the denomination of their faith and try to get the support they feel is necessary. But by no means do we try to be pastors or preachers or imams or rabbis."

Well, one member does. "We have a pastor as a member," Johnson notes. Indeed, Dr. Johnson is perhaps proudest of the fact that the organization "is made up of various providers, so we can provide the whole continuum of HIV services. We've even set up a speaker's bureau, so when people want us to speak, we can provide targeted information from a spectrum of HIV professionals."

Back to The Nexus Summer 2001 contents page.

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This article was provided by American Academy of HIV Medicine. It is a part of the publication The Nexus. Visit AAHIVM's website to find out more about their activities and publications.