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Dr. Robert Holman was exposed to the field of medicine and the
importance of helping others at an early age. His grandfather, Dr.
Edward W. Hayes, Sr., was a retired physician specializing in the
treatment of tuberculosis and dedicated his retirement to treating
underprivileged children suffering from cleft lips and palates. His
grandfather would transport children, who would otherwise not be
able to afford medical care, from Mexico to Los Angeles Children's
Hospital for corrective surgery. "I remember standing at my
grandfather's funeral and being astonished that a former child he
had helped showed up at his funeral. That had a profound impact on
Dr. Holman grew up in Monrovia, California, the son of a surgeon
and the youngest of nine children. After receiving his B.A in Latin
from the University of California, Davis, Dr. Holman attended
medical school at Georgetown University School of Medicine. "I had
a great experience at Georgetown, received a sound clinical
education and learned a great deal from the tremendous
Dr. Holman went into his third year of medical school with the
intention of going into surgery but realized what he liked best
about surgery was the process of diagnostic evaluation. "Every
night before a surgical case I would study the Atlas of Surgical
Operations. I remember studying for a particular case of a
pheochromocytoma as part of multiple endocrine neoplasia and I
found myself more interested in the pathophysiology of the disease
than of the actual bilateral adrenalectomy." He really enjoyed his
rotation in psychiatry at the end of his third year. "I always tell
my students that I started out my fourth year of medical school,
taking a few courses in internal medicine to start out a residency
in internal medicine, and maybe switching to psychiatry. I haven't
made that switch yet."
During his fourth year in medical school, the first reports
arose of the disease now known as HIV. "Throughout my residency and
internship I saw many cases of a novel illness that was uniformly
fatal among these young people. I think that experience was the
most important thing of my career. Seeing the seriousness of the
illness firsthand in HIV patients at a time when little was known
about the disease solidified my decision to specialize in
After finishing medical school, Dr. Holman completed an
internship in internal medicine at Grady Memorial Hospital, which
is affiliated with Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He
returned to Georgetown to complete his residency in internal
medicine and spent a year as chief resident. During his internship
at Grady Memorial Hospital, he gained invaluable clinical
experience treating a variety of advanced diseases within the
indigent population of Atlanta. He completed his fellowship in
infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in
While completing his fellowship in infectious diseases, Dr.
Holman soon realized that although he enjoyed research; he missed
the clinical aspect of medicine. "I distinctly remember getting a
call about a patient with a heart condition aortic regurgitation as
part of her Takayasu's arteritis who had developed acute shortness
of breath. I hung up the phone to head to the clinic. As I packed
up my research clones into an incubator, my research partners were
so focused on their work that they had not even heard the phone
ring. It was at that moment that I realized my research partners
had such a different temperament than I-much more suited to the
undisturbed concentration that a researcher craves, whereas I knew
that I was someone who could thrive with a beeper on my belt."
Dr. Holman opened a private practice in infectious diseases at
the same time he was offered the position of Residency Director at
Virginia Hospital Center, Georgetown's teaching affiliate hospital.
When he opened his practice in 1989, his clinical work was focused
on taking care of HIV-infected patients in the era before effective
antiretroviral therapy. He balanced the responsibilities of running
an outpatient practice along with a busy hospital consultant
practice and the demands of a residency director position, which he
held for 11 years.
Dr. Holman (left) with two of his nephews and their
Currently, as Associate Dean for Medical Education and Professor
of Medicine, Dr. Holman is in charge of overseeing the student
clerkships for medical students in internal medicine during their
rotations through Virginia Hospital Center. He enjoys working with
the students, teaching them at the bedside every day, and the
opportunity it affords him to advise students about their career
paths. He admits that he "has learned much more than he has taught"
and values the fresh approach that medical students carry with them
into their clinical rotations.
In addition to teaching students and running his infectious
disease practice, Dr. Holman spent 8 years developing questions for
the United States Medical Licensing Examination Step 2 as part of
the Test Material Development Committee. "It is a great experience
working with faculty members from other schools comparing and
contrasting our experiences working with medical students." He now
serves on the Step 2 committee for the National Board of Medical
Although he admits that balancing his private practice with his
administrative and teaching role at Georgetown is often
challenging, it is a career path that he has found extremely
fulfilling and rewarding. Dr. Holman recently completed the
Georgetown IronMed Triathlon, which benefits the Hoya Clinic, a
Georgetown student run clinic, which cares for the homeless
population of Washington, DC. When not training for triathlons, Dr.
Holman enjoys reading, gardening, and even finds a little time to
volunteer at the Gift of Peace, a long-term residence for homeless
and HIV-infected residents in DC, run by the Missionaries of
Back to May
2012 Issue of IMpact
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