Julie Gerberding, M.D. Profile

The first female director of the CDC, Dr. Julie Gerberding is highly respected for her solid track record in curtailing public health crises. She continues her mission to improve quality of life for millions of people through her role as executive vice president for strategic communications, global public policy, and population health at Merck.

Gerberding came into the public spotlight due to her effective leadership in managing the 2001 anthrax attacks – the like of which the CDC had never handled before. As the director of the CDC from 2002–2009, she collaborated with various organizations to deal with more than 40 emergency responses to public health crises, including an outbreak of the SARS virus, avian influenza, and natural disasters. She is also credited with modernizing and reorganizing the CDC, equipping it to “confront the challenges of 21st-century health threats.” Most notably, she led its efforts to prepare for and counter terrorism, an unprecedented threat.

Later, Gerberding served as the president of Merck, where her leadership proved instrumental to making the company’s vaccines more affordable and accessible.
In her current position there, she is responsible for Merck’s global public policy, corporate responsibility, and communications functions, in addition to the Merck Foundation and the Merck for Mothers program. She has been one of Time magazine’s “Top 100 Innovators of the Year” as well as one of Forbes’ “100 Most Powerful Women.”

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      • In her six years as the first woman director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Julie Louise Gerberding, M.D., M.P.H. guided the nation’s leading health protection agency through an era of rapid growth, globalization and innovative transformation.

    The AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s placed Gerberding on the front lines of HIV care at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), leading her to pioneer research in preventing occupational HIV transmission. She joined CDC in 1998 as director of the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion where she led patient safety programs and national efforts to combat infections and antimicrobial resistance in healthcare settings. It was her timely and commanding response to the anthrax bioterrorism events in 2001, however, that led to her appointment as CDC Director in July 2002.

    From then until January 2009, Gerberding oversaw a $10 billion budget that supported a workforce of 15,000 people in more than 45 countries during a dramatic expansion of CDC’s portfolio to encompass preparedness and response to bioterrorism, pandemics and other emerging global health threats. In addition, she led a strategic restructuring of CDC to develop new national scientific centers for research in health marketing, public health informatics and zoonotic diseases and implemented a $1.6 billion capital improvement program. Together with state and local public health and private sector partners, Gerberding helped launch the “Alliance to Make US Healthiest,” a grass roots social movement to expand health system reform efforts to emphasize health promotion and prevention.

    After graduating magna cum laude in chemistry and biology and then earning her M.D. degree at Case Western Reserve University, Gerberding completed her residency in Internal Medicine at UCSF. She served as chief medical resident before completing her fellowship in Clinical Pharmacology and Infectious Diseases there and then went on to obtain her M.P.H. degree at the University of California, Berkeley. She is currently an associate professor of Medicine at UCSF and a clinical professor of Medicine at Emory University and continues to provide care for patients at San Francisco General Hospital.

    Gerberding’s accomplishments as a public health scientist, innovator and communicator have earned her numerous leadership awards and accolades. She is an elected member of both the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Public Administration. In 2005, TIME magazine named her as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World for her leadership in modernizing CDC in the face of unprecedented health threats like bioterrorism and SARS. Forbes magazine listed her among the 100 Most Powerful Women in the World each year from 2005 to 2008, a testament to her leadership of CDC’s global expansion. Gerberding also received the Surgeon General’s Medallion, the highest honor bestowed by the United States Public Health Service, for actions of exceptional achievement for the cause of public health and medicine. She currently serves as President, Merck Global Vaccines.

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Julie Gerberding, M.D.'s Speech Descriptions

Few speakers are as knowledgeable about advancing public health as Dr. Julie Gerberding. The former CDC director lays out what we can do on a micro and macro level to build healthier communities and prevent global pandemics. Drawing from her field work in containing the post 9-11 anthrax attacks, SARs, and avian flu, among other high profile threats, Gerberding delivers an easy-to-follow analysis of the risks and opportunities we face at home and abroad, along with her valuable insights on how public and private sector organizations can partner to foster a world where we don’t just survive, but thrive.

    Health System Transformation: Becoming the Healthiest Nation

    Americans spend more on health care than other nation, but we are far from the healthiest. Unless we take effective action, our children will be the first generation to have shorter expected life spans than their parents. We have invested far too little on protecting our health. As a result, families, governments, and businesses are paying the high price of the epidemic of chronic illnesses that require expensive treatments and add to our economic crises. As the director of CDC, the nation’s frontline of health protection, Dr. Gerberding championed private-public partnerships that can help business leaders translate prevention science into best practices to improve health and productivity, lower health care costs, and contribute to sustainable health among employees, their families and communities in which they live. Dr. Gerberding shares her insights and experience with successful partnerships, the state-of-the-science for health protection and disease prevention in the private sector, and health protection successes culled from a variety of businesses. She also provides compelling arguments for why business leaders should join other stakeholders to put health, not just health care, at the center of the policy debate on health system transformation, and help America become the healthiest nation.

    Small World Health Protection: Risks and Resilience

    In her 7 years as a senior leader at CDC, Dr. Gerberding was at the helm of the public health response to more than 40 domestic or international emergencies. Beginning with the terrorist and anthrax attacks in 2001, her tenure encompassed complex outbreaks and crises (including SARS, monkey pox, avian influenza, staphylococcal infections, and numerous food safety issues) as well as natural disasters (like the Asian tsunami, hurricanes, floods, power outages, and similar threats to health). Each of these events had far-reaching social, health, economic, and sometimes national security consequences. Dr. Gerberding makes a strong case that now is not the time for complacency; changing climate, global financial crises, and the expanded population of vulnerable groups predispose people everywhere to ongoing global threats. Smart organization will prioritize steps to ensure their resilience and prepare for natural disasters, global infectious disease outbreaks, and other emergencies. Dr. Gerberding shares her assessment of current risks, the key lessons learned from previous emergency responses, and a short list of health protection priorities to help government agencies, business leaders, non-profit organizations, and families everywhere remain a resilient as possible, whatever new threat emerges.

    Women and Water

    Dr. Gerberding spent more than 6 years as a global health diplomat, traveling to 32 countries to promote health, encourage prevention of disease, and motivate preparedness for new threats. These travels introduced her to remarkable women in some of the most challenging regions of the world. Their stories often begin with a description of the countless hours spent, day after day, locating water, hauling water, cooking with water, and washing in water. The never-ending quest for water, and the lack of basic sanitation, keeps these women on a treadmill of poverty and threatens their children’s survival. Nevertheless, in villages across the world, many are creating innovative solutions for themselves and hope for their children. The stories of their struggles to overcome thirst, poor hygiene, and lack of access to education not only incite outrage at their circumstances, but also inspire awe of their determination to survive and thrive. Dr. Gerberding uses these stories to inform the audience about two of the most challenging root causes of extreme poverty – lack of water and the profound socio-economic suppression of women. She also inspires a hopeful view of how our nation’s health development investments can better support sustainable solutions. These perspectives are timely, as the United States debates “smart power,” and the role of development and health diplomacy in our national strategy.

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