Seth Baum, MD on How I Practice Now: How Looking Back at the AIDS Epidemic Can Help Get Us Through the Current Pandemic

In this video, Cardiology Consultant Advisory Board Member Seth Baum, MD, suggests that standing "shoulder-to-shoulder" with your colleagues and thinking positively are key parts of successfully managing COVID-19. It is how he and his colleagues were able to overcome the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

Additional Resource:

COVID-19 Care360.

Seth Baum, MD, is a preventive cardiologist and the immediate past president of the American Society for Preventive Cardiology.


Seth Baum: I’m a preventive cardiologist and the immediate past president of the American Society for Preventive Cardiology. I'm happy to be here speaking to you today, to be able to share my thoughts and feelings about COVID-19. I'm unhappy that that I have to be here because we have COVID-19, but I still think it's worthwhile for us all to dig deep and share some feelings and emotions—and some pragmatic issues, as well—with one another.

I do mostly—I would say 95% of my time—clinical research, and then [I] also do some cardiology consulting in complex lipids and prevention. So that part of my practice—the actual clinical part—has come to really a complete halt for now. I'm not going into the office to see patients. The research is continuing, and the research brings up some interesting issues about how to proceed, whether we should proceed. And I would say it's complex, and it's worth another podcast. So that's a teaser; I’d like to speak to you about that at another time.

For today, I want to reflect on some feelings I've had about how COVID-19 reminds me of another situation in my medical life and that is the AIDS epidemic in the in the 1980s. I did my medical residency at NYU Medical Center in New York City Bellevue Hospital and University Hospital and, back then, that was the epicenter of AIDS. And I would say 35% to 40% of my patients had AIDS, and uniformly they died—100%. Nobody survived. They survived the hospitalization to come back to die—that did happen. But it was bleak and horrific and it was a basically a war, and we were all fighting in a war.

Now, having said that, it may appear that it was just a miserable time in my life, but it really wasn't because it was a challenge. And it was really an honor to be able to be in that battle. And my fellow residents and I and the attendings felt as though we were shoulder to shoulder in a terrible battle. And we were collegial, and we related to one another and got along, and in some ways in a much better way than ever before. So there were some positive aspects. 

We had our tremendous challenges. We ran out of gloves for a short period of time—imagine that, during the AIDS epidemic, having no gloves to do procedures with. We put catheters in gloveless, and we were all terrified of contracting AIDS. And some of the doctors did get AIDS, but it was not nearly as transmissible as COVID-19, so I think that today's virus represents a greater challenge in that regard. But we didn't know that back then. 

So I want to commend those people on the front line. I'm not really on the front line. Now I'm older; I have my own medical issues, and I've been strongly advised by my doctors and my family to stay safe. And it bothers me at times, and I speak about going back to the front lines. But one daughter-in-law said that I would just be taking up an ICU bed that somebody else could use. So I'm not doing that. 

But I think the best thing we could do with regard to the terrible event that we're going through—the life-shaping event—is to try to be as connected in a positive way as we can. The country has been divisive. I've seen things written about the handling of the event that are entirely negative and one-sided. There are positive things that have been done by our administration. I don't care which side of the aisle you're on; we have to recognize some positive things have occurred. And I think it would be better if we focused on the positive and recognize that during any challenge. It's difficult; people and governments will make mistakes, and those mistakes have real consequences. So that's not to ignore the mistakes, but it is to understand that any human in any government will do that. We just need to be up to the challenge and stick together and hopefully get through this all together, stay close, and stay well. 

So on that note, I will say thank you very much for tuning in. I hope to be able to come back and discuss some other issues such as the clinical research and perhaps other social issues with regard to COVID-19. Wishing you well. Again, I'm Seth Baum, signing off.