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HL20: Douglas Dieterich, MD—Winning a Grudge Match With Hepatitis C

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media, December 13, 2012

In our annual HealthLeaders 20, we profile individuals who are changing healthcare for the better. Some are longtime industry fixtures; others would clearly be considered outsiders. Some are revered; others would not win many popularity contests. All of them are playing a crucial role in making the healthcare industry better. This is the story of Douglas Dieterich, MD.

This profile was published in the December, 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

 "It was a time of great uncertainty about [hepatitis C] and how it was spread and many were refusing to take care of people with this or HIV, which I really thought was unethical."

Ask why Douglas Dieterich, MD, decided he wanted to become a doctor, and he searches for answers.

"It's hard to know," says the professor of medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. "I've never really figured it out. I've always wanted to do this, even though no one in my family is a doctor."

Asked why he picked his specialty (gastroenterology) after contracting a then-fatal disease from an accidental needlestick, and the answers come much more easily.

"Even though I could have gone into something much more lucrative, this became a grudge match in trying to go into the field to do battle with this thing," he says.

The "thing" Dieterich mentions is hepatitis C, about which he is not only a victim but is a nationally recognized expert—thanks not only to his own determination, but also to an accidental needlestick he experienced as a resident in 1977, which left him with the then-incurable form of hepatitis. Until then, he had nearly decided that he was headed toward becoming an ophthalmologist. In fact, he had already gotten a second job in an ophthalmology lab during his medical education, and had secured his residency to begin studying in his chosen specialty.

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