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Press Release

Two Talented Young Physicians Receive HIVMA Minority Clinical Fellowships

May 21, 2010

Arlington, Va. -- Two promising and dedicated young physicians have been awarded this year's Minority Clinical Fellowship Awards by the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA). The recipients are Damon Francis, M.D., and Chavon Onumah, M.D., M.P.H.

Each will receive funding to support a year of dedicated HIV clinical training beginning July 1 in clinics that serve large minority populations in Oakland, Calif., and Washington, D.C. More than a million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS today, and minority communities are among the hardest hit. African Americans and Latinos account for 69 percent of the AIDS cases in the United States, but there are few African-American and Latino physicians in this field of care, as is true in medicine generally.

"HIVMA created the Minority Clinical Fellowship program to help reverse this alarming trend and encourage leading African American and Latino physicians to pursue careers in HIV/AIDS," said Michael S. Saag, M.D., F.I.D.S.A., HIVMA chair. The ultimate goal is to increase the number of minority clinicians committed to providing HIV care, part of HIVMA's broader efforts to address a looming shortage in the HIV medical workforce.

"One of the best ways to address HIV/AIDS in the minority community is to support and encourage minority caregivers and physicians to focus on this field of care," said Arlene Bardeguez, M.D., M.P.H., F.I.D.S.A., chair of the Minority Clinical Fellowship committee and immediate past chair of HIVMA. "To meet the growing demand, it is critical that we have a continuous influx of new clinicians devoted to HIV care. We are thrilled to recognize and support two such talented and intelligent young physicians, whose commitment and dedication are exactly what these underserved patients need."

Dr. Francis, who is finishing his chief residency at the University of California in San Francisco, will complete his fellowship at the East Bay AIDS Center in Oakland, Calif., with mentoring and clinical instruction from Christopher Hall, M.D., M.S. Dr. Onumah, who is completing her chief residency at the University of Minnesota Internal Medicine Residency Program in Minneapolis, will focus on HIV care at Howard University in Washington, D.C., for her fellowship. She will be a part of the infectious diseases team and the AIDS Education Training Center, and will receive mentoring and clinical instruction from Lisa Fitzpatrick, M.D.

For both of this year's recipients, working with minority patient communities stems from a strong desire to provide quality HIV care to disproportionately affected African American and Latino populations. The recipients will begin their one-year fellowships in July. The fellowships provide a stipend, plus benefits, as well as financial support for each fellow's mentor for one year.

HIVMA received support for the fellowships from Bristol Myers-Squibb, Gilead Sciences, Pfizer, and Tibotec Therapeutics.

About the HIVMA Minority Clinical Fellowship 2010 Recipients

Damon Francis, M.D.

Working with the late Robert Scott, M.D., a pioneer in HIV/AIDS treatment who practiced HIV medicine and primary care in Oakland's African American community, made a powerful impression on Damon Francis, M.D., then a medical student at the University of California in San Francisco.

"During a six-week rotation, we spent 12-hour days seeing HIV-positive patients in clinic, among them an uninsured young mother, a Latino day laborer for whom I translated, and numerous gay African American men hiding their disease and their identity from their families," Dr. Francis said. "Along the way, I watched Dr. Scott cry at a patient's funeral and raise his voice at a community meeting, but mostly I watched him listen, teach, and heal."

Volunteering at an HIV clinic in Uganda and working on studies of malaria broadened Dr. Francis' experience, as did caring for HIV/AIDs patients during his internal medicine residency at San Francisco General Hospital. When Dr. Scott died unexpectedly in 2009, Dr. Francis said he reflected on his late mentor, who understood the younger doctor's career goals: to be a generous servant to patients and colleagues, to organize and empower the vulnerable, to challenge oneself every day, and to develop better approaches to HIV prevention and treatment in distressed communities. "The HIVMA Minority Clinical Fellowship will help me start to reach these important goals," he said.

Dr. Scott, who rarely spoke in terms of goals and objectives, would likely describe these aspirations differently, Dr. Francis noted. "He spoke of his 'AIDS ministry,' and he would have welcomed me to it by saying, 'I'm going to tell you, my ministry is hard work.' I wish he could hear me say, 'Amen. We better get going.'"

Dr. Francis graduated from the University of California in Berkley with a degree in integrative biology and earned his medical degree from the University of California in San Francisco.

Chavon Onumah, M.D., M.P.H.

"My introduction to HIV/AIDS was in the early '90s, when a close family member died from an opportunistic infection shortly after being diagnosed with AIDS," said Chavon Onumah, M.D., M.P.H. "Watching how the disease completely changed and prematurely ended the life of someone close to me inevitably left its mark."

Later, caring for HIV-infected patients during an inpatient rotation on an HIV/AIDS ward while in medical school at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans brought home the needs of minority patient populations. "Witnessing firsthand the devastating effects of the disease while caring for the disproportionate numbers of minority patients affected was disheartening, yet it pushed me to do more, said Dr. Onumah.

As a certified HIV counselor in medical school, she volunteered at local shelters and spoke at high schools about HIV awareness, prevention, and screening. During her internal medicine residency at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, an elective HIV medicine rotation provided an opportunity to see the evolution of the disease and the benefits of early diagnosis and treatment. Advances in antiretroviral therapy have slowed the progression of HIV for many patients, but higher rates of diagnosis and death among minority patients underscore challenges that remain, she added.

"There is still plenty of work to be done, and I will answer the call while following my passion," Dr. Onumah said. "Through the HIVMA Minority Clinical Fellowship, I hope to gain valuable clinical experience in HIV-related care and engage in a meaningful research project that will provide a foundation for my career in HIV medicine."

A graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans with a degree in biology, Dr. Onumah earned her medical degree from Tulane University School of Medicine, also in New Orleans. She earned a master's of public health degree from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

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This article was provided by HIV Medicine Association. Visit HIVMA's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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