Featured Physician: Claire Farel, MD, MPH

Claire Farel, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Disease. She's also the Medical Director of the UNC Infectious Diseases Clinic.

Featured Physician: Claire Farel, MD, MPH click to enlarge Claire Farel, MD, MPH

What brought you to UNC Medical Center?

This is home to me. I grew up here, attended medical school at UNC, and feel a connection to UNC and its missions of education and service. I was lucky to have some fantastic mentors and role models in my early years here. Returning to UNC after completing my medical training was a dream come true.

Did you always want to be a doctor?

I have always been interested in the intersection of behavior, science, and health. I was an anthropology major and was fascinated by the ripple effects of policy on the health of populations. A biology minor helped me see how this works on an individual level. It took great mentors to show me how this translated into a career in medicine!

How did you choose your specialty?

I have always been interested in social justice, so an interest in HIV and the compelling social issues surrounding the epidemic was a natural fit for me as a young person. I was incredibly lucky to have a tireless mentor in Dr. Charlie van der Horst and got a job in our UNC AIDS Clinical Trials Unit (now the Global HIV Prevention and Treatment Clinical Trials Unit) where I was lucky to have other invaluable mentors I get to call colleagues today. Those years helped me see how infectious diseases as a specialty can encompass all layers of influence on a person’s health and the critical role we play in offering hope, keeping them healthy, and maintaining public health. 

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

People. I work with wonderful colleagues, get to teach smart and motivated trainees, and enjoy my patients immensely.

What are some of the new developments in your field of specialty?

This is a really hopeful time in infectious diseases. We have effective medicine to treat and prevent HIV, a cure for hepatitis C, and other medications that can help people live the healthy and happy lives they deserve either by control or cure. We just have to make sure everyone can access the care they need.

Is there a particular achievement (professional or personal) that has been most gratifying to you?

We recently found out that 89% of the patients with HIV who receive care in our clinic have an undetectable viral load. This means that the level of virus in their blood is kept so low by medication that the lab can’t see it. Most importantly, it means that they can stay healthy for their entire lives and are unlikely to transmit HIV to anyone else. This represents the incredible multidisciplinary collaboration that happens in our clinic and a lot of trust on the part of our patients.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

During my first year of medical school Dr. Marco Alemán reminded our Introduction to Clinical Medicine group that we should always think about what the patient is going through in addition to the presenting complaint. Is the patient cold? Frightened? In pain? Worried about something else? He modeled empathy in the way he taught us to interview patients and to wait for their answers. That has stayed with me through the years and I try to teach our trainees the same things. 

If you weren’t a physician, what would you like to be doing?

I love drawing, painting, and printmaking but can’t imagine my life without deep involvement in medicine and public health. 

What hobbies do you enjoy?

Spending time with my family, art, running, and trying not to kill my garden.

Do you have a favorite quote or motto?

In medical school, Dr. David Weber imparted on our class: “If it’s wet and it’s not yours, don’t touch it!” Still a great life motto. 

View Dr. Farel's profile and learn about the UNC Institute for Global Health & Infectious Disease.