A Giant Among Mentors

Mention the name John Bartlett, MD to the legions of doctors he mentored during his long and storied ID career and prepare to hear the type of gushing praise usually reserved for rock stars and royalty.

“I don’t think there’s anybody in the field who doesn’t respect him enormously,” said Paul E. Sax, MD, who met his mentor when Dr. Bartlett was a visiting professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Between his clinical work and his teaching, he’s just a remarkable person.”

Dr. Bartlett is a rock star of sorts in the field of ID, and certainly to his mentees, serving as a visionary at the forefront of bio-terrorism, anaerobic infections and antibiotic resistance among many other ID concerns. His lasting legacy would surely be in the care and treatment of HIV patients in the early to mid-80s, a time when many hospitals and clinics turned their backs on this emerging epidemic. He was instrumental in establishing an outpatient AIDS clinic and inpatient AIDS ward at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, fearlessly embracing the disease and in the process, setting an example of compassion and kindness for his many mentees.

“His passion for these patients was unsurpassed,” said Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, also a former mentee of Dr. Bartlett while at Johns Hopkins. “When I first met him, having seen his name on so many book binders, it felt like I was rounding with greatness. Watching him work was awe-inspiring.”

For Dr. Walensky, the biggest piece of mentorship wisdom she gleaned from Dr. Bartlett was watching him in action, particularly when it came to his interactions with HIV patients and what it really meant to be an ID doctor.

“Every Christmas, he came in a Santa suit to visit with the HIV patients and everyone was treated incredibly humanely,” she said. “Watching him, I realized that’s what the field of ID required. It wasn’t just the intellect. What he did socially and emotionally was profound.”

Though it’s been many years since Dr.’s Walensky and Sax days as Dr. Bartlett’s mentees, his influence has left an indelible stamp.

“What struck me about him then and continued to strike me is the sheer enthusiasm with which he approached ID,” said Dr. Sax. “I could talk to him about emerging research and no matter the topic, he would always get this light in his eyes and say, ‘That’s fascinating!’ John was always so excited about the field. His elation was infectious. I’ve never met anyone like him.”

 

Paul E. Sax, MD, is Clinical Director of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the HIV Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, is the Chief of Infectious Diseases and Co-Director of the Medical Practice Evaluation Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. 

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