Member of the Month:
Emily Levy Kamugisha, MD
Early-career family physician advocates for HIV harm reduction strategies
By Kate Alfano
Emily Levy Kamugisha, MD, AAHIVS, is an assistant professor and one of the associate program directors in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at UT Southwestern (UTSW) Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. She earned her medical degree at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine and completed a residency in family medicine at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. She has completed additional training in HIV primary care and received certification as an HIV primary care specialist through the American Academy of HIV Medicine. She has also completed the Graduate Certificate in Academic Medicine training program through the University of North Texas Health Science Center.
She joined the faculty at UTSW in 2018. As faculty, she provides direct patient care and supervision of residents in both the outpatient and inpatient setting. She is also one of the curriculum leads for the inpatient curriculum as well as the director for the gender affirming care curriculum for the residency. Her research and advocacy focus mostly on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV prevention and reducing health disparities.
Who or what inspired you to become a physician?
I grew up in a multicultural environment with a passion for community service, travel and advocacy. I began to personally reflect on health disparities when spending a summer building a health clinic in a rural village in Costa Rica at the age of 15. My interests led to quite a few service-oriented (including medical mission trips) to sub-Saharan Africa where I participated in HIV/AIDS peer education, research, and community service. There are no physicians in my family and I didn’t realize I wanted to become a physician until my mid-20s. I spent a few years after college working in clinical research and discovering that I could, and should, do more for patients. A career in academic family medicine allowed me to combine my interests in science, social justice, teaching, public health, advocacy, inquiry, and patient care.
Can you briefly describe your career path?
Entering family medicine residency at John Peter Smith Hospital, I was convinced I would graduate and live abroad, providing broad-spectrum family medicine to underserved populations. My training was robust and I soon discovered my love for all things family medicine — including inpatient medicine and critical care, which came as a surprise to me. I had the absolute privilege of training in a refugee clinic and an HIV clinic, gaining a better understanding that “global health” can very much be done locally and is needed locally. I like to think of my journey as a resident as somewhat of a “midlife crisis,” because my perceived career trajectory turned on end. Through mentorship and guidance, I realized that academic medicine would not only allow me to continue to practice broad-spectrum medicine while serving the underserved, but would also allow me to teach the next generation of physicians to bring about a positive and impactful change on the community and health at large. I am passionate about reducing health disparities to marginalized groups of individuals and in particular, gender and sexually diverse persons. Additionally, I am a huge advocate for HIV harm reduction strategies, including Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). I joined the UT Southwestern (UTSW) Family Medicine Residency program as faculty straight out of residency and am now one of the associate program directors for the residency.
What unique challenges are represented in your patient community?
We have the absolute privilege of providing care to a diverse community as part of multiple health systems in the Dallas Metroplex, including Parkland Health & Hospital System, which is one of the largest public hospital systems in the country. Patients in our community face food insecurity, housing shortages, immigration-related trauma, and poor health outcomes often related to their undocumented status and complicated by health literacy and access to care. In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, care is expanding but remains limited to gender and sexually diverse patients for a multitude of reasons — one of which is a shortage of physicians comfortable and knowledgeable in affirming care. Additionally, many physicians remain uncomfortable prescribing PrEP for HIV prevention. To address these barriers and challenges, I have started a gender affirming care curriculum for the Family Medicine residents at UTSW and I provide education on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis to not only my home institution but also to physicians at large in the state of Texas. If any readers are interested in learning more about PrEP or would like a lecture at their clinic or institution, I would be happy to provide the education!
What has surprised you most about starting practice?
When I joined academic medicine, I had no doubts that I loved to learn, provide comprehensive patient care, and teach. What surprised me most about joining the faculty at UTSW was the joy and thrill I experience when watching the growth and development of residents over the years. It is truly remarkable witnessing the transformation of a learner throughout their residency and to know that I had a very small part in their medical repertoire and practice of medicine gives meaning to my work that I did not anticipate.
How do you anticipate your work changing over the years?
I anticipate I will continue to expand my skills and practice of gender affirming care, and to build on my research on PrEP, HIV prevention, and reducing health disparities. I don’t see myself leaving academic medicine, but rather growing in my role as an academic physician — improving my role as a clinician educator both for patients and learners alike. I hope to expand my panel of patients to include more gender and sexually diverse people and work to better collaborate with the community to improve access to care. I look forward to meeting and working with more advocates to expand access to care, improve education and add to the medical literature.
What do you enjoy doing outside of medicine?
Outside of medicine, I spend a lot of time with my husband and young son (age 2). We have a wonderful extended family who we see as often as we can and we hope to travel back to Uganda to see more of my husband’s family later this year (if the COVID-19 pandemic allows). I love to travel, listen to music and lay outside in the hammock. I enjoy baking like I belong on the “Great British Baking Show” but really belong more on “Nailed It!” I have dreams of learning how to garden but find it very intimidating so I have started pulling weeds — or what I think are weeds — and hope to expand from there!
TAFP’s Member of the Month program highlights Texas family physicians in TAFP News Now and on the TAFP website. We feature a biography and a Q&A with a different TAFP member each month and his or her unique approach to family medicine. If you know an outstanding family physician colleague who you think should be featured as a Member of the Month or if you’d like to tell your own story, nominate yourself or your colleague by contacting TAFP by email at email@example.com or by phone at (512) 329-8666. View past Members of the Month here.