Dr. Michael Saag with one of his patients, 2013.(Courtesy of UAB Media Relations)

Back in the early 1980s, two populations found their lives upended by the AIDS epidemic in America. There were, of course, those infected by the virus, along with everyone who cared for them. And then there were the medical professionals—researchers, doctors—desperately scrambling to figure out where the virus came from and how to interrupt its terrible progression. In 1981, Dr. Michael Saag unexpectedly found himself at the center of the latter group. At the time, Saag was just beginning a residency in internal medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. By the following year, he had helped open the 1917 Clinic, a comprehensive AIDS treatment and research center at UAB.

In a new memoir called Positive: One Doctor’s Personal Encounters With Death, Life, and the U.S. Healthcare System, Saag looks back on those years—the successes, failures, and remarkable people he met along the way. He also offers a scathing critique of the U.S. healthcare system, which he sees as posing an equal or greater challenge than HIV did for those concerned with taking care of the most vulnerable people in our society. On today’s podcast, he talks with Tablet Magazine Editor Wayne Hoffman about his experiences, the lessons he learned, and the Jewish values he brought to the work.