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Meet the Chief: Dr. Richard M. Novak

Richard M. Novak Chief, Division of Infectious Disease

As a young man, Dr. Novak traveled the world extensively, but mostly throughout Latin America, where he developed an interest in tropical biology and cultures. Once in medical school, he was drawn to tropical diseases, which were primarily infectious in nature. He thus began a career in infectious diseases in 1986. When he began his training however, it became clear that a new, deadly disease had emerged, dubbed AIDS, and initially affecting marginalized members of society: gay men and injection drug users (later, minorities and those living in poverty). It was already known to be caused by a virus, but no treatment was available. It was spreading rapidly, and patients were referred to infectious diseases doctors for help. In fact, very few health care providers were willing to see patients with AIDS, out of fear or discrimination.

Inspired by a book entitled, “ Away with all pests” by Joshua Horn, a memoir of a British physician providing rural health care in China, he sought funding to establish a few neighborhood HIV clinics in the worst afflicted neighborhoods in Chicago in collaboration with the school of public health in 1991. Due to the lack of committed doctors, he enlisted two nurses to provide the daily visits in the field sites, and served as the physician of record with frequent phone consultations and weekly meetings to review the patients.

He has been actively involved in HIV clinical care now for 30 years and serves as the Director of what has grown into the UIC Community Clinic Network (UCCN), and is largely supported by the Ryan White Care Act. The UCCN is a network of seven HIV community-based clinical and research sites located throughout Chicago, serving about 1200 active patients.

He has been engaged in HIV treatment and prevention research throughout his career, much of it sponsored by the NIAID or CDC. He has written and co-authored over 100 original research papers, reviews and book chapters in the medical literature.

His other interests include a love of music (he plays electric blues guitar and is a life long Grateful Dead fan) and the Cubs.

Goals & Vision

The areas we focus on currently in the Division of Infectious Diseases include:

• HIV medicine: prevention and treatment
• Infection control
• Transplant infectious diseases
• Urban and Global health: this encompasses a number of projects in several international venues, which include HIV, parasitology, arboviral diseases, Ebola and public health.
• Telemedicine

I hope to continue expanding our global mission as long as the faculty remains committed to this. My goal as division chief is to support and facilitate the faculty and fellows to realize their own personal career interests, whatever that might be, and to welcome and inspire the next generation of infectious diseases practitioners.