18:09 PM

Voices From the Front Lines: Timothy Friel, MD, Chair, Department of Medicine, Infectious Diseases


The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives, none more so than those working on the front lines of this crisis – our health care heroes. Voices From the Front Lines is a series of interviews with Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) health care providers who are working to care for patients who are ill with COVID-19, as well as those who are dedicated to helping prevent the spread of this virus.

Timothy Friel, MD, Chair, Department of Medicine, has practiced medicine at Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) for 20 years. A Lehigh Valley native, he earned his medical degree at Harvard Medical School and completed his internal medicine residency and infectious disease fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital. Friel got his initial exposure to health care from his mother, who was a nurse. His love of science and his interest in giving back to the community where he grew up led him to LVHN.

What is every day like during the COVID-19 crisis?

It’s rather surreal actually. One day feels like a week, and each week feels like a month. Every day throws a new challenge, and we’re responding in many ways we’ve never thought of before. We anticipate we will remain very busy for some time to come, especially with the state reopening.

How has this experience changed you, professionally or personally?

This challenge is unlike anything I’ve ever gone through. Although my training for infectious disease gives me a unique skill set, the COVID-19 crisis has brought experiences that gives me a different perspective than with other viral illnesses. It’s like we’re dealing with three pandemics – COVID-19, fear and misinformation. There is a lot of great information and a lot of hope and kindness out there, but there is also a lot of stuff that’s much darker. It adds a lot to the challenge we’re facing.

What’s inspired you? What is a defining moment during this?

I’ve been dazzled by the immense commitment of my colleagues, their ability to innovate and their willingness to step up to the plate at a time of uncertainty. Colleagues across all disciplines have worked together to make an impact. Our leadership has been remarkable helping us in any way possible. It’s really gratifying to see it all come together.

What have you learned about yourself or your team?

I think that would be about our entire network working as a team. This crisis presented us the opportunity to unite in a common focus, to collaborate across all of our campuses. Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Pocono and LVH–Hazleton have experienced some particular challenges, and we’ve had the chance to be there for our colleagues there and work together as one network, maybe more than ever before.

What are your rituals to keep you and your family safe?

For my wife and me, it’s been about modeling the behaviors we’ve all followed since this began – social distancing, meticulous hand-washing, masks. We’re encouraging our daughters to do the same. But it’s more than that. When I come home after another overwhelming day, I believe I’m more thankful to step off the treadmill and spend time with the people I love.

What words of advice or encouragement do you have for health care employees or the community?

People shouldn’t lose hope. We are likely to have a new normal for many months to come. But in the end we will get through this and learn some lessons about promoting public health along the way. I’m hoping we will realize how important those human connections are that we may be taking for granted. Maybe we’ll know there’s a silver lining in all this, and we shouldn’t let go of it.

Find more inspiring stories from the front lines and beyond at LVHN.org/COVIDSTRONG.