Ira Schwartz grew up in a Jewish family in New York City. “I was one of those curious, irritable, constantly questioning kids. A city kid who likes being in nature,” he says. “My mother was a kindergarten teacher and my father was a first-generation college student. After serving in the U.S. military during World War II, he went to law school and became a lawyer. I don’t know if they understood the appeal of being a doctor, but they always supported me in wanting to be a doctor.”
Schwartz may have become a doctor, but his career also includes teaching. He has been awarded the Exemplary Teacher of the Year Award for his influence both inside and outside the classroom.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Union College in upstate New York during his Woodstock years and enjoyed reading voraciously, tinkering with ponds, and studying ecosystems in the open. When he first applied to medical school, he wasn’t accepted in the US ($150 a year!) — and improved his French.
“Life is rarely linear, and if it is, it’s boring,” says Schwartz.
When he reapplied in the United States, he was accepted into the Chicago Medical College and eventually decided to specialize in pediatrics.
“I found pediatricians to be people like me,” he says. “I enjoy caring for sick children, working with families, teaching children and parents about illness and health, and providing long-term care. I thought I could learn.”
Schwartz completed a pediatrics residency at Northwestern University Medical Center’s Children’s Memorial Hospital and then attended an infectious disease fellowship at the University of Chicago.
After reading the essay “Annals of Epidemiology” in The New Yorker, Schwartz was fascinated by work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He applied to be one of his “sick detectives” at his Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) agency, and was accepted, but not until the following summer.
During his “gap year” he began working in the neonatal ICU. After that, he saw an ad in the New York Times about the need for doctors to help refugees in Southeast Asia, and applied for the International Rescue Committee.
It became the next stop on his non-linear life journey.
“This was in the 1980s and I was in a refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border,” he says. “On the first day, I treated his 16-year-old who stepped on a landmine and broke his ankle. I knew I was no longer in Chicago.”
Around the time of his EIS training, Schwartz moved to Atlanta and spent three years working in malaria epidemiology at the CDC’s Division of Parasitic Diseases.
“I was assigned to work in Kenya, Tanzania and Congo because of drug-resistant malaria outbreaks in Africa, and I put the infectious disease fellowship to good use.”
He returned to Atlanta, married a lawyer, and took a job with the CDC in Nairobi, Kenya.
“Our daughter was born in Atlanta and our son was born in Nairobi,” he says. “We ultimately decided to make Atlanta our home. That’s how I ended up in Emory.” )
Like the rest of the world, AIDS was rampant in Atlanta, and within a few years Schwartz became “an AIDS doctor on some level.”
He spent part of each week at the Ponce Clinic at Grady Hospital in Atlanta, seeing children with HIV/AIDS. In his profound experience, he has made a real impact on health care not only by patients, but also by families and communities, and by clinicians as well as scientists, researchers, health educators, and others. I noticed that “caring politicians” were also involved.
After coming to Emory as a faculty member in 1991 and teaching at the School of Medicine and the Rollins School of Public Health, Schwartz excelled at connecting with and mentoring students.
Upon receiving the Evangeline T. Papageorge Distinguished Teaching Award in 2013, the most prestigious award given to a medical school, his student nominator wrote: Schwartz has played a key role in our evolution throughout medical school and will undoubtedly continue to be a role model for all of us, not only in our medical careers, but in our lives in general. ”
“Ira is a wonderful teacher. In the lecture room, in the small group room, or in his office,” says Bill Ealy, his longtime colleague and Emory’s senior vice dean of medical education and student affairs. .
Today, Schwartz has multiple roles on Emory. He is Associate Professor of Family and Preventive Medicine, Assistant Professor of Global Health and Behavioral Sciences and Health Education, Associate Dean of Medical Education and Student Affairs, and Dean of Admissions at Emory Medical School.
“We aim to have a student body that reflects and respects the diversity of our society. We intend to educate our students with the goal of
That goal may be why Schwartz asked thousands of students the key question during his 15-year stint as admissions officer for a medical school. “Why do you want to be a doctor?”
Still, looking back on his career path, he admits: Nothing is planned in my life story. I have the privilege of connecting and building relationships with many different people and taking advantage of special professional opportunities as they present themselves.It is a gift of the medical life. ”