When Thomas Monson, MD, ’67, started his journey at the University of Minnesota Medical School, he was unaware of the long and distinguished career in infectious disease/infection control that awaited him beyond the land of 10,000 lakes. “You never know in medical school where you’re going to go; the journey is just beginning,” he said, reflecting on his studies at the Medical School in the late 1960s. 

At the time, the distinguished infectious disease control expert was living at home—oblivious to how influential he, himself, would become. After graduating from the Medical School, Dr. Monson discovered his calling as an infectious disease/infection control specialist through the mentoring of Dr. Emmanuel Wolinsky at the Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital. Shortly thereafter, he completed his infectious disease fellowship at The University of Wisconsin, Madison Campus with Dr. Calvin Kumin. Dr. Monson then moved to the VA Hospital in Little Rock, Ark., and shared in the experience of the unfolding HIV pandemic. His HIV clinic has followed patients for over 30 years, providing him “unending satisfaction as our understanding and therapeutic options evolved; teaching patients has always been as important as teaching students and house staff,” he said.  

Now, after spending years fighting HIV, the recently retired physician recognizes the similarities between the COVID-19 pandemic and the HIV pandemic. He said, “There are many parallels between HIV and COVID-19, most impressive of which are the sudden widespread appearance of these unique viruses, our incredible ignorance, the initial failure of our governments to recognize the problem and the incredible educational effort needed to help our society to understand and accept the problem.”

Since retiring, Dr. Monson has found ways to keep his passion for infectious disease alive, in part, by following the voluminous infectious disease literature, supporting his colleagues and continuing to follow clinic patients as a volunteer physician.

In facing the need for restoring our society’s educational needs, he points to several current high-profile specialists—such as the U of M’s Dr. Michael Osterholm—as key leaders in this new, difficult era. Dr. Monson said, “Read what Dr. Osterholm has put together. There is no one size fits all. Teaching must meet the needs of students, families, teachers and support staff.”

For new and future medical students, Dr. Monson offers this advice, “The quality of the education is largely a function of the student and your ability to utilize the resources provided.”