Physician at Work: Passion for diagnosing infectious disease

AIDS clinic director wants to make a difference for patients

Lydia Barakat, MD

In 2001, Lydia Barakat, MD, was working at Griffin Hospital when an elderly woman came in complaining of abdominal pain. When she looked at the woman’s blood culture under a microscope, Dr. Barakat could hardly believe what she was seeing: it appeared to be the deadly anthrax bacteria.

It was early in her career and her section chief was away, so she was nervous about identifying the bacteria, which she had never seen before. But she turned out to be right. “In a way it was a turning point, because it gave me a perspective about being part of a bigger world where I have to do my job to perfection, because I’m part of the public health mission,” she said.

Born in Lebanon, Dr. Barakat, medical director of Yale-New Haven Hospital’s Nathan Smith Clinic for AIDS and HIV-related diseases, was inspired to become a physician at an early age by her own pediatrician, who was an important part of her family’s life. “This relationship intrigued me and made me want to have a career in medicine,” she said.

The beginning of the HIV epidemic coincided with her tenure at medical school. Learning more about the virus and how she could make a difference to her patients became a passion for her, leading to a specialty in infectious disease with a focus on HIV.

Challenge of making a diagnosis

“I always liked the investigative work that’s involved with infectious disease,” Dr. Barakat said. She enjoys putting together a patient’s history and physical examination in order to home in on the correct diagnosis and treat a critically ill patient. “The challenge of making the diagnosis on a regular basis and seeing the improvement in the health outcomes of your patients is very rewarding.”

Dr. Barakat came to the United States after medical school because she felt it offered the best training in the world. Her original intent was to return to Lebanon, but she met her husband and decided to stay.

Besides her passion for practicing medicine, she is an enthusiastic teacher who developed a program at Yale to train residents to care for HIV patients. It’s one of only a handful of such programs in the country. “We don’t have manpower to care for this population in 10 years, so this program will allow us to train elite physicians and build capacity to provide quality care for the HIV population,” she said.

Name: Lydia Barakat, MD

Title: Assistant professor of medicine, Yale School of Medicine; medical director, Nathan Smith Clinic; program director, Yale HIV Training Track

Area of expertise: Infectious disease, HIV care and quality management

Place of birth: Beirut, Lebanon

Age: 46

College: Lebanese University

Med School: Lebanese University School of Medicine

Training: Residency at Griffin Hospital; internal medicine and infectious disease fellowship at Yale University

Family: Husband Rob, principal engineer, Connecticut Department of Transportation; son Maurice, 9

What is the most important thing you’ve learned from your patients? Compassion and courage

What was the biggest challenge you ever faced as a physician? Caring for the uninsured and underinsured with limited resources.

How have your experiences with patients changed your approach to care? The HIV epidemic changed our attitude to medical care delivery and allowed us to have more sensitivity to issues related to stigma, sexual orientation and social problems. It emphasizes the importance of the multidisciplinary approach and the chronic care model, with special attention to the importance of performance measures and quality improvement initiatives.

Personal interests or pastimes? Painting, hiking, classical music

Last book read:  House of Stone by Anthony Shadid