Northeastern Spotlight

Winter 2017 Volume 12 – Number 3

TB Limelight – David Cennimo, MD 

Dr. David Cennimo (photo credit - Drew University)

Dr. David Cennimo has had an unconventional journey into the world of medicine and tuberculosis (TB). Growing up in a non-medical background, his involvement with infectious diseases (ID) and TB were merely through his dedication and passion. He is an infectious disease physician and an Assistant Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics (“Med-Peds”) at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, where he plays a dynamic role in TB control and advocacy. Dr. Cennimo describes this as his dream job and enjoys the challenges of his work as he does not have a routine and his duties change every day.

The HIV epidemic in the United States was widespread at the time Dr. Cennimo was pursuing his undergraduate degree. He happened to take microbiology, immunology, and parasitology as electives in college and attended a seminar on HIV. The combination of the HIV epidemic and insights from his education shaped his interest in ID, particularly in HIV. Since TB is an opportunistic infection for people living with HIV, he slowly discovered a new area of insight.

Dr. Cennimo initially learned about TB during an elective rotation at the Lattimore Practice in Newark, New Jersey where he spent most of his time with Dr. George McSherry and became familiar with pediatrics and TB. He found that TB was slowly becoming forgotten and wanted to work with patients where he could educate and work actively towards fighting the disease. When questioned about his interest in Med-Peds, he replied, “I had an idea that ‘A doctor could treat anybody’ so Med-Peds allowed me to do that. ID is so similar between adults and children. People are often afraid of pediatrics and there’s not a lot of difference between treating an adult and a child.” He likes the fact that treating TB patients is a collaborative effort between a multidisciplinary team of field workers, nurses, and other healthcare workers. He strongly appreciates the work of the TB staff which involves spending a fair amount of time with patients and providing support and encouragement for them to take their medications and complete treatment successfully.

Dr. Cennimo feels that one of the biggest obstacles facing TB health care workers is educating the public about TB to address fear and misconceptions about the disease. It has been his experience that the presence of stigma in TB is greater than for HIV infection as most patients do not wish to know about their TB diagnosis. Taking the time to educate patients is essential in getting them to seek treatment and become an active participant in their TB care. Once they have a better understanding about TB, they are willing to take the initiative towards fighting the disease with the appropriate resources and support provided to them. With TB cases decreasing precipitously in the United States, Dr. Cennimo fears that people will forget about TB. He is also concerned about the shortage of medical students willing to work in the field, as most of them are not aware that TB is still a grave health issue worldwide. 

Dr. Cennimo’s favorite part about his job is meeting with his patients on a one-on-one basis as he feels that he is doing something that matters. He enjoys teaching and working with students (not limited to medical students); he feels it is gratifying to know when a student progresses and grows into having a career and his role in making that happen. His mentors in TB include Dr. George McSherry, Dr. James Oleske and his very own pediatrician Dr. Mariano Alonzo; he always aspires and thinks about them when he is treating difficult patients. Dr. Cennimo credits his mentors for choosing Med-Peds as his choice of medical career as it allowed him the opportunity to treat a wide range of patients. Since TB affects families, his training has been valuable in being able to impact the care of multiple generations.

Dr. Cennimo’s experience goes well beyond Newark, NJ. He has been a part of two international projects, one in South Africa at a maternal/infant fetal HIV program, and an HIV program in Guyana. He enjoyed his experiences in these two countries and would like more opportunities to work internationally and contribute to tackling TB on a global level.

When he is not working, Dr. Cennimo is a huge fan of the NJ Devils and he enjoys going to their games as a way to unwind from his daily grind. He also likes to spend time with his family and friends from non-medical professions some of whom go way back to his college days. He strongly encourages medical students to keep in touch with their friends from various walks of life as it is important to maintain other relationships and it helps you to grow as a person.

When questioned about his recommendations for students or potential Med-Peds candidates, he suggests, “You have to commit to learning from every opportunity. If you are learning about TB in adults, read about TB in children. If a patient has a disease other than TB, spend 10 minutes to learn about that disease. Medicine has changed dramatically over the years and it is important to make an effort to read and learn every day.”

It is obvious that Dr. Cennimo is a compassionate and a sincere physician and teacher and a role model for many of us involved in TB control. His education and work experiences have encapsulated his role in diagnosing and treating TB and it is gratifying to know the extent he is willing to go for the comfort of his patients. His energy and persona empower many students, residents, and physicians to actively seek ways to treat patients across various settings.

Submitted by Shwata Suresh Kumar – Health Educator