Dr. Phil Lederer is Assistant Professor at Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center. He is an infectious diseases physician, musician, community-engaged scholar, and public health leader. He focuses on health and healing in an age when technology often overshadows the human side of medicine.
He was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1980, the only child of Albert Lederer, a university professor, and Ann Lederer, a nurse and poet. He grew up loving his backyard apple tree, the Ohio State Buckeyes, and the violin. As a child he moved around several times, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, then Rochester Hills, Michigan, then Lexington, Kentucky, where he attended public schools.
After high school graduation, he moved to the east coast to attend Brown University. During college he started a music in hospitals program at Rhode Island Hospital and an old-time fiddle string band. He also led community service/ experiential learning trips to rural West Virginia and the Mississippi Delta through the Swearer Center for Public Service. Working with Mr. Peter Hocking at the Swearer Center, he learned about arts pedagogy and university-community partnerships.
He graduated magna cum laude from Brown in 2003, then stayed in Providence for a year to work as an Americorps community health volunteer. He considers that year as pivotal, the beginning of his medical training. The poverty of inner city Providence was to leave a significant mark on his life and work.
He entered medical school at the University of Pennsylvania in 2004. During medical school he helped establish a global health collaboration in rural Guatemala, and worked in the Dominican Republic and Botswana.
After medical school graduation, he left for a medical residency in San Diego, California, and, like many young doctors, struggled. But he also enjoyed his residency, and one of his favorite experiences was crossing the border into Mexico to volunteer in a clinic for the poor, in Tijuana. His focus was on integrating community-learning with academic study.
In 2011 he moved to Mozambique, where he worked for a year to help transform the internal medicine residency program at the largest hospital in the country. It was there that his lifelong commitment to help people living with tuberculosis and HIV, and to medical education as social change, was cemented. Caring for young patients and bearing witness to premature and painful deaths taught him the importance of prevention.
After Mozambique, his life took the turn towards public health. He spent two years working as a disease detective (Epidemic Intelligence Service officer) at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That experience helped broaden his perspective, including an emphasis on root causes of suffering and upstream factors.
He then decided to return to clinical medicine. With his wife, he moved to Boston, and trained in infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
The Doctor-Patient Relationship
After a year as an instructor at Harvard Medical School, he joined the faculty as an assistant professor at Boston University School of Medicine.
His empathy for patient suffering honed by his experiences has informed his work in the medical humanities. In the summer of 2018, he suffered a bout of decreased sleep and elevated mood, along with sucidal ideation, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. That experience helped him “imagine the patient’s experience,” and taught him about empathy, stigma, and patient autonomy. The suicides of two friends drove him to speak out about mental health.
He sees 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 from NYU, 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 confirm this. Too bad the public does not know. If they did, single payer– squeezing the money out of the machines, no profit, no lying– would be here already.”
Dr. Lederer is battling against burnout, fear, and mental illness, but argues that empathy alone is insufficient. Structural factors must be addressed as well, and that’s where cultural strategy and community organizing come into play.
He enjoys teaching medical students the physical exam, history taking, and helping them discover the importance of the physician-patient relationship. But he also teaches that students should examine the society in which they live, and “rebuild the world” through hope and action. In short, he is interested in leadership education and social entrepreneurship for medical trainees.
Music and Advocacy
He trained in classical violin, singing, and trumpet. He played and sang in large auditoriums when he was younger, but was always drawn to performance in the public space. He has pursued that throughout his childhood and adult life, through music and writing.
His recent community-scholarship has focused on poverty, racism, and the banning of nuclear weapons. He sings as a member of the choir of the Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival and also the Longwood Chorus. His interest is the public engagement of artists and documentary practice, and the joining of forces between practitioner, impacted person, and academic in civic problem solving.
He believes strongly in the importance of multilingualism. He speaks English, Spanish, and Portuguese, and is studying French and Korean. He focuses on music in the language-learning process. He is also interested in how the doctor-patient relationship can change if physicians know the language their patients speak.
Clinical Ethics and Practice
His approach to health care encompasses body, mind, and spirit, and he is interested in ways to live a healthy lifestyle and experience healthy aging. He is a student of nutrition, natural healing, and integrative medicine, and specializes in preventing and reversing disease. He sees a direct relationship between medicine, ecology, sustainable systems, and self-healing.
He is grateful that you spent time visiting his website and hopes you will get in touch soon.