Jul 3, 2002 (CIDRAP News) Confirming earlier unofficial reports, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson today named infectious disease expert Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, as the new permanent director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She becomes the first woman to lead the agency.
Gerberding, 46, who assumes her new job immediately, has been serving as part of a four-person CDC interim leadership team, where her duties included leading the CDC's bioterrorism-related efforts. She also has had the titles of CDC acting deputy director for science and public health and acting deputy director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases (NCID).
Thompson announced Gerberding's appointment at an afternoon press conference at the CDC in Atlanta. In an HHS news release, he said, "Dr. Gerberding knows public health, she knows infectious diseases, and she knows bioterrorism preparedness. She brings the right mix of professional experience and leadership skills to ensure the CDC continues to meet the nation's public health needs."
The interim leadership team has been in place since former director Jeffrey P. Koplan, MD, left the agency Mar 31. Other members of the team were David Fleming, MD, James Hughes, MD, and Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH, director of the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), operator of this Web site.
Osterholm, an internationally known bioterrorism expert, served as Thompson's personal representative at the CDC, a part-time position, during the transition period. He said today that he will continue to serve as Thompson's representative and, in that capacity, as a personal adviser to Gerberding.
Fleming, who was acting CDC director during the interim, now continues his regular position as deputy director, according to Osterholm. He said Hughes will continue in his regular job as director of the NCID.
Gerberding played a major role in leading the CDC's response to the anthrax attacks in 2001, the HHS announcement noted. Federal officials said her work during the anthrax attacks made her the leading candidate for the top CDC job, according to newspaper reports. Those reports also said public health organizations lobbied for her appointment. As director, her major challenges will include coordinating the efforts to prepare for the threat of bioterrorism as the Bush administration and Congress consider transferring some CDC biodefense functions to the proposed Department of Homeland Security.
In the news release, Gerberding stated, "The events of last fall made clear to all of us that this cannot be a time of business as usual. In a time of rapid change and growing responsibilities, CDC will ensure excellence in public health science, excellence in service to our public health partners, and a sound organizational system to ensure that we fulfill our mission."
The new director is a South Dakota native who was an expert in hospital infection control in her pre-CDC career. She completed high school in Brookings, S.D., and attended college and medical school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. She trained in internal medicine, infectious diseases, and clinical pharmacology at San Francisco General Hospital and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Along the way she earned a master's degree in public health from the University of California, Berkeley.
Gerberding went on to practice and teach in infectious diseases at San Franciso General and UCSF. From 1990 to 1998 she served as director of the Epidemiology and Prevention Interventions Center at San Francisco General. HHS officials described this as a service, teaching, and research center that focused on preventing infections in patients and healthcare workers. Gerberding is credited with doing pioneering studies on HIV infections in healthcare workers, and she helped write guidelines to prevent such infections.
She joined the CDC in 1998 as director of the Hospital Infections Program, now known as the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. In that post, "she developed CDC's patient safety initiatives and other programs to prevent infections, antimicrobial resistance and medical errors in healthcare settings," the HHS announcement said.
In his announcement, Thompson praised the interim CDC leadership team. "During these months, the CDC remained focused on its essential missions, including an unprecedented rapid review of state bioterrorism preparedness plans required in issuing some $1.1 billion in grants to states," he said. "David Fleming and the other members of the team deserve credit for making the transition a smooth one."
HHS news release