Skip to main content

Stephanie Sweitzer, MD, MSPH, a third-year infectious disease fellow, is passionate about bridging clinical expertise with global health impact. Between working with leaders like Dr. Michael Herce to conducting impactful research in Lesotho, she’s committed to improving lives worldwide. Beyond medicine, you’ll find Dr. Sweitzer and her husband hiking North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea trail!

Why UNC ID for fellowship?

When I was applying to ID fellowship, I wanted to find a program that would give me strong clinical training in the management of a broad spectrum of infectious diseases–especially HIV and associated opportunistic infections—and one that would enable me to work at a public institution where I could take care of patients from underserved communities. I was also looking for a program that would support my research training with experienced mentors and diverse research opportunities, with a strong track record in global health research. I found all of that and more at UNC! When I interviewed here, I was struck by how approachable and collegial the faculty were, and how excited they were to support my clinical and research training. Even before I started fellowship, I was connected with Dr. Michael Herce, a leader in implementation science, and Dr. Arlene Sena, a globally renowned syphilis researcher. During my fellowship, Dr. Herce has been an outstanding mentor: he has helped me build my knowledge base in implementation science, linked me to research projects, given me constructive feedback on papers and research proposals, and has been enormously supportive of my career development. I’m very excited to be working with him on implementation science research in Zambia in the coming years, and very fortunate to be at an institution with so much support for global health research through the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Sena has also been an incredible mentor, and has supported my learning around syphilis diagnostics as well as my work on syphilis screening in pregnancy. I’ve been very grateful for the opportunity to work with and learn from world leaders in infectious diseases, and looking forward to continued collaboration in my research career!

What’s the most unexpected or exciting thing you have learned?

I knew that UNC had a strong track record in HIV research before I came here, but I didn’t realize just how impactful that work was. In fact, the HPTN 052 trial—which established the concept that HIV could not be transmitted if a person living with HIV is on antiretroviral therapy with an undetectable viral load—was led by researchers from the UNC Division of Infectious Diseases (Dr. Myron Cohen, Dr. Mina Hosseinipour, Dr. Joseph Eron, and Irving Hoffman). This work led to some of the dominant paradigms in HIV care, including U=U, or undetectable equals untransmittable, and treatment as prevention, or the idea that treating people who are living with HIV with antiretroviral therapy can prevent onward transmission of HIV.

Tell us about your future career goals?

I’m hoping to build a career as an academic infectious disease physician, implementation scientist, and NIH-funded researcher. More specifically, I’m interested in using implementation science frameworks to contribute to the development of evidence around HIV/STI programming in low resource settings to improve health outcomes for people with or at risk for HIV and STIs. I also really enjoy direct patient care, and plan to continue my clinical work taking care of patients from underserved populations throughout my career.

Best advice you have ever received?

Dr. Herce has given me a lot of good advice, but the best has been to develop a thick skin and be persistent in pursuing my research and career goals. Seeing research projects through to completion can be challenging, with the potential for setbacks at every step along the way, from achieving grant funding to getting results published. It takes determination to complete research projects and build a career in academic medicine. However, it is reassuring to know that everyone working in this field has faced rejection and other obstacles at various points in their careers, and that encourages me to see setbacks as opportunities to recalibrate and improve upon my work.

What is a passion of yours outside of medicine?

My husband, Danny, and I love to go hiking with our dachshund, Maisy! North Carolina has phenomenal hiking spots, and we’ve enjoyed exploring trails from around the Triangle to the mountains of western North Carolina. We’re currently trying to complete the Mountains-to-Sea trail, which covers 1175 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks (we still have a long way to go, though!).

Do you have a fun/unique fact you would like to share?

I lived in Lesotho, a landlocked and mountainous country that is completely surrounded by South Africa, for nearly two years. I moved there to work on a research project focused on characterizing HIV prevalence, risk factors, and healthcare needs among members of key populations in that setting, and was originally supposed to stay for 6 months, but loved it so much I ended up staying for almost two years. While I was there, the country was roiled by an attempted coup! I opted not to evacuate, and was able to wrap up data collection on my research project after the political situation stabilized.