Division of Infectious Diseases

Meet our newest blog contributor: Dr. Nicolás Cortés-Penfield

Tell us a little about yourself. I’m a native Texan recently transplanted to the Midwest. I grew up in Austin, studied microbiology at the University of Texas, then moved to Houston to complete medical school, residency in Internal Medicine, and fellowship in Infectious Diseases at the Baylor College of Medicine. During that time I spent three years in Dr. Mary Este’s lab studying rotaviruses and noroviruses, the major causes of acute gastroenteritis in children and adults. In 2019 my wife and I moved to Omaha so that I could join the ID division at UNMC.

I spent most of my childhood wanting to be a virologist – my folks were physicians and very interested in HIV in the early 1990s, so the HIV life cycle was dinner table conversation at one point and I guess I latched onto that. In college my interests turned toward epidemiology and public health, but a mentor told me that if I wanted to be taken seriously in those fields I needed to go to medical school. For the record, that’s not true at all, but I’m glad to have gotten the advice because I fell in love with medicine once I got there.

What do you do now? Most of my time spent seeing patients is on the orthopedic ID service, which is devoted to treating bone and joint infections and particularly complicated infections involving prosthetic joints, screws and plates used to repair fractures, and other orthopedic ‘hardware’. The other big hat I wear is medical director of our Outpatient Parenteral Antimicrobial Therapy (OPAT; aka home IV antibiotic) program, which involves working with my PharmD colleague to help other medical teams identify patients who need OPAT and then monitor and manage those patients while they’re receiving it. While I’m not paid for this (yet), I also serve on our hospital’s ethics committee, as medical ethics is a longstanding passion of mine. Finally, I spend a little bit of time seeing patients on the general ID service, conducting clinical research, and teaching UNMC’s medical students, residents, and fellows.

Why UNMC? I decided to join UNMC primarily because of the unique clinical opportunities. The field of infectious diseases has a number of well-established subfields – transplant ID, oncologic ID, HIV disease – but ortho ID is more of an emerging field, and with UNMC’s ortho ID service having only recently started I thought this was a great opportunity to find my own career niche. There are few good data and lots of unanswered questions in bone and joint infections, and I think that’s really exciting!

The other thing that brought me here was my future colleagues. I knew Dr. Marcelin from the ID community on social media, and we talked at length before I’d even interviewed. It was a lot easier to make the decision to move halfway across the country knowing that other faculty here shared my interests and values, and that the division would offer strong mentorship and support for both my clinical and non-clinical activities.

Tell us something about yourself that isn’t related to medicine.
I started college as a music major; as part of that I transcribed Bach’s third cello suite for the baritone saxophone, and somewhere out there is an out-of-print album where you can hear me playing Dvorák and Puccini and Saint-Saëns with the University of Texas Saxophone Ensemble.

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