thanks so much for visiting my website!
my name is dr. phil lederer and i’m an infectious diseases physician, writer, and public health leader. i’m an assistant professor at boston university school of medicine and i take care of patients at boston medical center.
my approach to health care encompasses body, mind, and spirit, and i am interested in ways to live a healthy lifestyle and experience healthy aging. i am a student of nutrition, natural healing, and integrative medicine, and specialize in preventing and reversing disease.
i was born in columbus, ohio in 1980 and lived in pittsburgh, pennsylvania, rochester hills, michigan, and lexington, kentucky growing up. i attended public schools and played in the high school orchestra.
but one day i woke up with severe abdominal pain. within a few hours i was admitted to the university of kentucky medical center with pancreatitis. thankfully i got better over the course of a few weeks, and inspired, i decided to pursue a career in medicine.
i graduated from high school in 1999 and moved from kentucky to the providence, rhode island to attend brown university, and concentrated in human biology. during my four years at brown i established a music in hospitals program at rhode island hospital and started an old-time fiddle string band. i also led community service/ experiential learning trips to rural west virginia and the mississippi delta through the swearer center for public service. i had hoped to work for teach for america for two years, but was rejected.
i graduated in 2003, and jobless, returned to kentucky. one day i was over at my friend gabe popkin’s house bumming around. on a whim, we decided to buy plane tickets to latin america. we spent the summer in el salvador and guatemala studying spanish, hiking volcanoes, volunteering in schools and clinics, and playing ping pong.
then i returned to rhode island and spent an amazing year as an americorps volunteer working in providence community health centers. working with fellow community health workers, nurses, and doctors, i did home visits and tried to help low-income diabetic patients improve their diet, exercise, and self-management of their chronic illness. americorps proved to be a turning point in my life, as i began to understand what it meant to be poor in america. for twelve months i did home visits with underserved, immigrants from latin america and africa.
i entered medical school in 2004 at the university of pennsylvania. during medical school i worked extensively in rural guatemala and also spent time doing research and clinical care in the dominican republic and botswana. i received my medical degree from the in 2008 and decided to leave the east coast’s winters for southern california.
i then completed an internship and residency in internal medicine at the university of california san diego (ucsd). during my time at ucsd i received the 2011 lee rickman humanism in medicine award, given to one resident physician annually. i spent much of my free time in tijuana, and when i wasn’t in mexico, i was in the pacific ocean, trying to learn how to surf.
subsequently, i worked in maputo, mozambique for a year as a member of the ucsd faculty. my focus was on transforming internal medicine residency training at maputo central hospital as part of the medical education partnership initiative. i also helped establish a tuberculosis infection control committee and research study of tuberculosis in health care workers.
but i still wanted to learn public health. so i joined the epidemic intelligence service (eis) program at the u.s. centers for disease control and prevention (cdc) and worked for two years as a “disease detective” and lieutenant commander in the united states public health service. as an eis officer, i worked on tb/hiv activities in mozambique, zambia, namibia, and uganda, as a member of the president’s emergency plan for aids relief (pepfar). my research included an ethnographic study in mozambique and a quantitative study of hiv testing using data from malawi.
i also worked with an interdisciplinary team to investigate whether laws and regulations in botswana, south africa and zambia addressed elements of the world health organization policy on tuberculosis infection control. finally, i participated in in the mers-coronavirus response, and was a member of an epi-aid to study neonatal abstinenence syndrome in florida, which resulted in a publication in mmwr.
i could have stayed in atlanta at the cdc, but i decided i wanted more training in infectious diseases. so i completed an infectious diseases fellowship in the combined program at massachusetts general hospital and brigham and women’s hospital, in boston, massachusetts.
during my clinical infectious diseases fellowship i worked with a group of internal medicine residents to publish a clinical case of babesiosis in pregnancy. in our discussion of clinical reasoning, we explored bayesianism, which looks for the “likeliest” explanation, versus inference to the best explanation, which seeks the “loveliest” explanation (i.e., the explanation that provides the greatest understanding). i also worked with a medical student to publish a case of marjolin’s ulcer, and with a group of infectious diseases subspecialists to describe a series of powassan virus encephalitis cases in new england.
after completing fellowship training i joined the medical staff at mass general as an assistant in medicine and the faculty of harvard medical school as an instructor. my scholarly work focused on tuberculosis infection control in resource limited settings. working with professor ed nardell, i continued to be interested in the question of how to engage health-care workers to reduce tuberculosis transmission in high burden settings. we learned that the change process was difficult, and adopting rights based approaches was important. however, we also learned that increased political will, supportive legal frameworks and financial investments to support health care workers were needed to decrease tuberculosis transmission.
i worked closely with dr. nardell on upper room germicidal uv, an important environmental control to reduce TB transmission. i spearheaded an interdisciplinary team which participated in the idea2 global 2017 program at massachusetts institute of technology (mit). our team was a finalist for the idea2 program’s competition at mit and we learned a tremendous amount about what it would take to scale-up germicidal uv in high tuberculosis burden settings.
in 2018 i left harvard and joined the faculty at boston university school of medicine.
throughout, i have focused on public medical communication and advocacy. my writing for the general public has included pieces about tuberculosis, emerging viruses, white coats, medical education, international relations, and the movement to ban nuclear weapons. i have been published in the new york times, boston globe, cnn.com, common dreams, bay state banner, and the harvard law record.
my academic writing has been published in mmwr, lancet infectious diseases, clinical infectious diseases, the journal of general internal medicine, open forum infectious diseases, presse med, the bulletin of the who, the international journal of infectious diseases, and academic medicine.
one developing goal of my academic scholarship is to help interdisciplinary research teams develop vaccines to prevent emerging infectious diseases such as influenza, coronaviruses, arenaviruses, and flaviviruses. in particular, i am interested in the design and evaluation of vaccines that can be effective in the face of sequence diversity. as an infectious diseases doctor with an passion for immunology, my focus is on epitope mapping of cellular and humoral immune responses.
my clinical teaching focuses on empathy, the physician-patient relationship, the bedside physical exam, the story and and ritual of medicine. i have been inspired by the work of professor abraham verghese from stanford and hope to live up to his legacy and mentorship.
i describe myself as a medical educator and “teacher,” but i actually view myself as a “facilitator” rather than a teacher. my goal is to get my students to think for themselves, to ask lots of questions, to help them dig deeper. most important is that we find happiness and keep asking questions. the simple answers are rarely the right ones. i also find myself drawn to the creative energy and kindness of students and young people, hence my excitement about being a “facilitator” in academic medicine.
you might be wondering why my blog is all in “lower case.” the reason is to emphasize its informality. i’m trying to surprise people with my informality and folksiness to keep them engaged with this website. i do know how to use capital letters. this blog has not been reviewed by a professional editor.
if you’d like to leave comments on my website, you can easily do so by typing on the bottom of each page where it says “leave reply.” if you’d like to be in touch with me rather than with my website, my email addresses are lederer[at]gmail[dot]com and philip.lederer[at]bmc[dot]org. i can be very slow with email replies, however. i am usually much faster with twitter messages.
any opinions expressed here, in my writings, research, on social media, or in interviews are my own, and do not necessarily reflect that of my employer nor any of my organizational or academic affiliations.
i live in jamaica plain, massachusetts, a historic neighborhood of boston known as the “eden of america.” in my spare time i do coaching/consulting as described on my website above. i also hang out with my 3-year-old son, spend time on the basketball court, and play old-time fiddle, jazz violin, and trumpet. i am also a versatile freelance writer/humorist and comedian. as you can see, i am involved in a wide variety of activities.
my story, told in a slightly different way
the early years
i also played the violin, starting with lessons at the age of three.
as a child i lived in pittsburgh, pennsylvania, rochester hills, michigan, and lexington, kentucky, where i attended public middle school and high school. in school my passions were music, drama, and art, but my public high school in kentucky was actually a math, science, and technology magnet program, so i obtained an excellent science education.
from kentucky i moved on to rhode island and then eventually migrated to philadelphia.
then i went to guatemala, the dominican republic, and botswana. both my global travels during medical school and impressions of poverty were to leave a significant mark on my life and work.
after medical school graduation
after graduation, i left philadelphia for a medical residency in san diego and, like many other young doctors, struggled mightily. my favorite experience was crossing the border into mexico volunteering in the public hospital and hiv clinic in tijuana and exploring the border region.
from san diego, where i was from 2008 to 2011, i moved to mozambique, where i worked for a year. it was here that my lifelong commitment to help people living with tuberculosis and hiv, and to medical education, was cemented. caring for a young hiv patients and many premature and painful deaths in mozambique taught me the difference between healing and curing.
after mozambique, my life took the turn for which i am now known, in the fields of public health and advocacy. working as a disease detective (epidemic intelligence service officer) at the u.s. centers for disease control and prevention (cdc) helped broaden my perspective on health, including an emphasis on root causes of suffering, and upstream factors.
then i worked in atlanta as a cdc disease detective (if you watched the movie contagion, that’s what i did, along with a lot of 16 hour flights back and forth to south africa, and time spent far away from my family…
then, my wife and i decided to go north from atlanta to boston, in 2014 to harvard (mass general/brigham and women’s hospitals) for id fellowship. eventually I ended up at boston university and boston city hospital (known officially as boston medical center)
struggling to complete my first novel
my early years as an americorps volunteer, my caring for hiv/aids patients in philadelphia, san diego, tijuana, and mozambique, and boston, and the insights i gained from the relationships i formed and the suffering i witnessed in mozambique were transformative. but mostly it was the stories of patients and colleagues which helped develop my unique perspective focused on “story,” prevention, advocacy and nonviolent civil disobedience.
these were the experiences around which my first novel, The Beltline, is centered. my novel will be published by red sun press on october 1, 2018. it has been an extremely difficult, humbling, and fulfilling experience, to try to write a compelling narrative.
reemphasis on the physician-patient relationship after a bout with depression
my empathy for patient suffering honed by my previous experiences has informed my work in the medical humanities. in addition, in the summer of 2018, a bout of what was termed depression with psychotic features, along with sucidal ideation, after a particularly stressful patient interaction has helped me “imagine the patient’s experience,” and importance of empathetic patient care.
my focus is on bedside medicine, having medical students accompany me on bedside rounds, sharing one-on-one the value i place on the physical examination in demonstrating attentiveness to patients and their families. this is a vital key in the healing process.
i see empathy as a way to preserve the caring and sensitivity that medical students have when they are first given their white coats, but which the “culture of the health care industry” frequently suppresses. as dr. samuel shem, professor of medical humanities from nyu medical school, writes, “the machine is designed for one thing: billing. making maximum money for the health care industry. the public thinks it results in better care. studies do not cofnfirm this. too bad the public does not know. if they did, single payer– squeezing th money out of hte machines, no profit, no lying– would be here already.”
in other words, i am battling against burnout and depression, but empathy alone is insufficient. structural factors must be addressed as well, and that’s where cultural strategy and community organizing comes into play.
what about u? who are u?
maybe you live down the street from me in jamaica plain. or maybe you live in san francisco or taiwan. or maybe we played in the high school orchestra together in lexington, kentucky. i’m curious who you are.
if you’d like to stay in touch and receive my material electronically, please feel free to join more than 5,000 people and subscribe to my blog by entering your email address on the right. if you enjoyed this website please a comment below. or send me an email or tweet (those addresses are above)
a sincere “merci beaucoup” and “obrigado” and “gracias!”
with best regards,
philip albert lederer md
ps- one of my goals for the next year is to read ulysses by james joyce in a small group. if you want to read it with me, please let me know.
a few closing thoughts…
sometimes people email or write in order to tell me what they think of my ideas. i welcome such messages. but since email makes it so easy for people all over the world to contact me, I no longer have time to reply to all messages. nor am i likely to assist students, other than those from boston university, with queries arising from papers or assignments.
are you living a simple life and giving most of your income to the poor?
i indulge my own desires more than I should. particularly books, music/arts, and food. but i’m trying to live a simpler lifestyle.
to what organizations do you give?
the poor people’s campaign– a national call for a moral revival; possible health (nepal). i am also looking for a good charity that does arts/music education for children, because I think that’s what could save humankind.
what foods do you eat?
i am vegetarian and follow the approach outlined by dr. andrew weil. i enjoy culinary arts and integrative medicine. building a healthy environment is very important to me.
what about stress?
we live in a exhausting, stressful world, where the majority of folks feel they are barely keeping their heads above water with work, family, iPhones and bills. the only way people maintain their sanity in such a toxic environment is to dramatically change the way they live. see my coaching website to learn more.
some of my walks
thoreau and gandhi tried to spend hours outside walking every day, and i try to do the same.
and a few quotations
“in order to transform the world, we must transform ourselves.” — grace lee boggs
“one of the most difficult things is not to change society– but to change yourself.” — nelson mandela
“unless now the world adopts nonviolence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind.” – mahatma gandhi