50 Years of Clinical and Educational Excellence
In the late 1960s, Dr. Sol Sherry joined Temple University’s medical school as Chair of the Department of Medicine. One of his early hires was Dr. Robert Swenson, a rising infectious disease specialist who had trained under one of the nation’s leading experts in infectious diseases, Dr. Jay Sanford.
Dr. Swenson was Temple’s first true infectious disease specialist and, upon his hiring, became the founding Chief – and sole faculty member – of the school’s fledgling Section of Infectious Diseases. From that humble beginning in 1969 has sprung a Section with a 50-year history marked by excellent clinical care, superb teaching and notable research.
It wasn’t long after the Section’s founding that Dr. Swenson added a second faculty member, Dr. Thomas Michaelson. In 1971, Dr. Bennett Lorber completed his medicine residency at Temple and joined the Infectious Diseases Section as its first fellow. Dr. Lorber was hired as a faculty member upon completing that fellowship, and he would go on to enjoy a distinguished, 45-year career at Temple that included 23 years as Section Chief.
More faculty members followed, including Drs. Byungse Suh, Thomas Fekete (current Chair of Medicine), Peter Axelrod (current Chair of Infection Control Committee), Rafik Samuel (current Section Chief), Robert Bettiker and Heather Clauss (current Fellowship Director and Senior Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs). Notably, almost every faculty member who joined the Section over the decades never left. This has produced a highly collaborative and deeply experienced team.
In its early days, the Section only covered Temple University Hospital and the consult totals were modest – perhaps 25 to 30 a month. Today, monthly consults surpass 175 and the Section’s faculty members cover Fox Chase Cancer Center and various campuses of Temple University Hospital.
The Section’s fellowship program also quickly grew into a sought-after position, eventually expanding to six fellows. Graduates have gone on to prestigious academic appointments and distinguished themselves as top-notch clinicians and educators. Each year, up to 80 former fellows gather in Philadelphia with current faculty members for a summer picnic that celebrates that year’s graduating fellows.
From day one, Temple’s Section of Infectious Diseases prioritized teaching and education. The goal was a highly structured program with rigorous standards but one in which students, residents and fellows would thrive. For years, the Infectious Disease elective has been very popular and highly rated among medical students.
Infectious Diseases’ faculty members have always been hailed as among the best teachers at Temple. The proof is in the awards they have garnered over the decades: five different faculty members have won 18 Golden Apple Teaching Awards; three faculty members have won the Temple University Great Teacher Award (Lorber, Fekete, Axelrod); and four have won Lindback Awards for Distinguished Teaching (Lorber, Fekete, Axelrod, Bettiker).
The Section’s commitment to education extends beyond Temple. For decades, its faculty members have been involved in local, regional and national professional organizations. Both Drs. Lorber and Fekete have served as President of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and for years Dr. Lorber delivered the Infectious Diseases update at the American College of Physicians’ annual meeting. Dr. Fekete is also Chair of the Board of the Foundation of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
Clinical and Research Expertise
Infectious disease specialists are often called the detectives of medicine. This is true at Temple, where faculty members in the Section of Infectious Diseases have long been lauded for their clinical skills and dogged pursuit of answers.
In the early days of the Section, antibiotic stewardship was an increasingly debated topic in the field of medicine. Faculty members from the Section took the lead in creating a restricted antibiotic policy at Temple in the 1970s, limiting the use of these medications as a way of preventing antibiotic resistance. This was well before this course of action was common nationally.
Section faculty members also assumed responsibility for the hospital’s Infection Control Committee in the 1990s. At the time, the committee met infrequently and largely existed to track infections rather than proactively prevent them, as was common at most hospitals at the time. Temple’s Infection Control Committee now plays a major role in infection prevention at the hospital. In addition, Temple has long had an Antibiotic Stewardship Program, including a robust Stewardship Subcommittee to monitor and maintain high standards of antibiotic usage in the hospital.
In the 1980s and 90s, the Section was at the forefront of two evolving trends at Temple: the rise in patients presenting with HIV/AIDS and the increasing number of organ transplantations being performed at the hospital. For three years running (2017 – 2019), Temple has had the largest lung transplant program in the U.S., and this program has relied on support from Infectious Diseases in the evaluation and management of these patients. Both trends created an expanded need for specialized infectious disease expertise. More recently, faculty members have become involved in treating patients with infections related to substance use disorder and harm reduction in this area.
On the research front, the Section has produced a steady stream of scholarly work over its 50-year history. Faculty members have published a large number of original papers and written for all of the major infectious diseases’ textbooks. In the 1970s, Dr. Swenson was a pioneer in investigating the role of anaerobic bacteria in human infection. Dr. Lorber was also the international authority on listeriosis bacterial infections. Additionally, Dr. Fekete is a national expert on urinary tract infections.
Today, as it marks its 50th anniversary and looks to the future, Temple’s Section of Infectious Diseases is still growing, still evolving and still innovating. Additional faculty members have been hired in recent years, infusing new perspectives and new ideas into the Section. What hasn’t changed is the commitment the Section upholds to its students, trainees and patients.