New Faces: Billie Swiggard, Staff Physician

New Faces: Billie Swiggard, Staff Physician

Medicine is literally a second career for Billie Swiggard. This self-described guitar player, folk singer, entertainer and “Broadway Gypsy” was first on the stage, dropping out of college at age 19 to join the production of “Hair,” followed by two other Broadway shows and four national tours.

I think about Mazzoni Center’s tagline, ‘We Are You,’ every day, every hour as I see our patients.

Then the 80s arrived, bringing with it HIV/AIDS. “In the early 1980s my beautiful, young, talented friends began dying horrifically. One friend in particular, someone I was as close to as one could be to another without being lovers, contracted HIV. He developed severe wasting, went blind from CMV retinitis; he had the purple lesions of Kaposi’s Sarcoma; and he died at 28. There was nothing anyone could do. I stood at his grave and realized I was tired of being an unemployed actor. I decided I was going to go back to school and learn how to fight AIDS.”

At age 31, Billie went on to attend George Mason University, as a chemistry major, and took on a part-time job at the National Institutes of Health as a lab technician. From there, Billie enrolled in a 9-year MD/PhD program, earning her medical degree at Cornell Medical College and a PhD in immunology at Rockefeller University.

“I always knew I’d specialize in infectious diseases. Remember, I was gonna fight HIV.”

Next came a medical residency at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and an infectious disease fellowship at Penn. From there Billie became a junior faculty member on the tenure track but found herself depressed despite her professional successes. “I realized I was more excited by the human drama of medicine than by test tubes.”

A move to Massachusetts to work at Colley Dickinson Hospital as an infectious disease specialist helped. But it was part time work at Holyoke Health Center in an economically disadvantaged Latinx community that fulfilled Billie. “That was the job I loved the most. It was my happy place.”

Once again, it was time to make a change. “Not least of which, I was transitioning—it’s a process that is never completed—but I need a fresh start.” Billie looked to Philadelphia, where her son lives and where she grew up.

Mazzoni Center was a revelation she says. “It was my happy place but not a half-day once a week. It is Full time and offers patients a full spectrum of care including a food bank. I was instantly welcomed by people like me. This makes working at Mazzoni Center a selfish act, but it is also an unselfish one because I am honored to take care of our patients, my community. I think about Mazzoni Center’s tagline, ‘We Are You,’ every day, every hour as I see our patients.