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Volunteer Spotlight: John Mazzullo, MD

Dr. John Mazzullo’s prolific medical career is a winding journey through different specialties, research, and public health roles, unified by a common theme – the desire to help those who need it most.

Now a semi-retired internist at Tufts Medical Center, Dr. Mazzullo serves as a physician volunteer for The MAVEN Project.

After graduating from Columbia Program at Harlem Hospital Center, Dr. Mazzullo completed his internship and residency at Harlem Hospital Center.

“It was really an awakening for me to work there,” he says. “People were so, so sick, it was like working in a war zone.”

The high levels of poverty and stressful demands of caring for so many disadvantaged patients were as he describes, overwhelming, but eye-opening.

After his residency, Dr. Mazzullo chose to specialize in pharmacology at the University of Rochester, and later took a yearlong position at Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston, working in geriatrics.

In 1981, shortly after he accepted a job at Tufts, the HIV/AIDS epidemic hit the eastern United States. Dr. Mazzullo describes this time as the “major, galvanizing event in my life, particularly as a gay man.”

While his career thus far had spanned several medical fields, Dr. Mazzullo chalks it up to good fortune that each of his career and academic pursuits made him uniquely prepared to join the medical efforts against the HIV/AIDS crisis. He had seen marginalized patients similar to the demographics affected by HIV in Harlem, studied pharmacology in his fellowship, and treated older patients in hospice and home care – unfortunately, the last stage for many AIDS patients at that time – during his stint in geriatrics.

“Because I was gay I didn’t really think I fit in medicine very well, but when HIV came it was clear I was going to,” he says. “Not only was I going to help my community, I had found something I was really passionate about.”

While he was still a clinic doctor, Dr. Mazzullo was appointed to the mayor’s (later the state’s) AIDS task force, where he worked on outreach and education efforts, ensuring HIV/AIDS patients retained access to public services, and improving safety and medical confidentiality standards.

Though his work with The MAVEN Project has not involved treating HIV or AIDS, Dr. Mazzullo, like many other retired physicians, says he loves the opportunity to share his wealth of knowledge with younger clinicians.

“Once they get to know you and know you’re not a two-headed monster,” he jokes, “they feel really comfortable asking you for help.”

Currently Dr. Mazzullo mentors a young nurse practitioner named Rachel, who works in a clinic in western Massachusetts. In community health centers, there is not much time to teach a first-year provider how to do things right, he says. Especially with providers fresh out of school, Dr. Mazzullo stresses that working in a clinic environment, often without supervision, can be very difficult.

“MAVEN fills that hole beautifully,” he says.

In his twice-monthly consultation meetings, Dr. Mazzullo helps his mentee with difficult cases, and interpreting lab data, as well more nuanced skills associated with being a medical provider – working within the system to get a patient the necessary consultations and learning to be supportive of patients in what they’re going through.

“She’s very talented and eager to learn. The whole experience has been very rewarding,” he says. “Extremely satisfying.”

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