Lynn Taylor moves hepatitis C from the sidelines to the mainstream.
At the bus stop, in the supermarket, on the playground, strangers whisper their closely held secrets to Lynn E. Taylor, MD RES’00 F’05: “My husband has hepatitis C. My sister died of it. I have it.”
These impromptu confessions do more than illustrate the stigma that still surrounds the virus. They prove that Taylor has become a powerful voice for awareness, screening, and treatment in Rhode Island. An assistant professor of medicine (infectious diseases) and director of the HIV/Viral Hepatitis Coinfection Program at The Miriam Hospital, Taylor has pushed her work into the community as director of Rhode Island Defeats Hep C. Informed by more than a decade of research and clinical care in hepatitis C, Taylor’s mission is to find, treat, and cure the virus in the thousands of people in the state who may not even know they have it, establishing for people with hep C the same kind of health care infrastructure that exists for people with HIV.
Serving the Underserved
A New Yorker from a family of organized labor leaders and teachers, Taylor was drawn to medicine because it was a means to social justice. She worked as a victims’ advocate on rape and domestic violence cases and as an occupational accident research investigator before deciding to go to medical school, where she could learn skills that would directly help people. Fiercely intelligent, Taylor pulls no punches, especially when it comes to fighting for her patients.
Those patients are the ones classified in academic parlance as “marginalized” or “disenfranchised.” But in real terms, they are the people whom few doctors want to treat. Taylor’s patients are often current or former drug addicts and most are coinfected with HIV and hepatitis C. With degrees from Harvard and Pitt and residency and fellowship training at Brown, Taylor could work anywhere. But you’ll find her at the HIV/hepatitis C primary care center, the methadone clinic, the needle exchange program.
Taylor first visited Rhode Island’s needle exchange program with Associate Professor of Medicine Josiah Rich, MD, MPH, during her residency at Brown in the late 1990s. “Jody had funding for a study where the hypothesis was that if physicians prescribe syringes to someone who injects drugs in the context of a patient-doctor relationship, you could curb the spread of bloodborne pathogens,” Taylor says. The researchers began to see a pattern: the patients tested negative for HIV, but positive for hepatitis C, which is easier to transmit via injection drug use.