Ep 05: A Long-Term National Strategy

with Julie Gerberding, M.D., M.P.H.

April 15, 2021

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Julie Gerberding, M.D., M.P.H.
EVP & Chief Patient Officer, Merck

Julie L. Gerberding, M.D. is Chief Patient Officer and Executive Vice President at Merck, where she is responsible for a broad portfolio focused on patient engagement, strategic communications, global public policy, population health and corporate responsibility. She joined the company in 2010 as president of Merck Vaccines.

Previously, Julie was director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where she led the agency through 40+ emergency responses to public health crises. She has received more than 50 awards and honors, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) distinguished service award for her leadership in responses to anthrax bioterrorism and the September 11, 2001 attacks. She was named to the TIME 100 list of most influential people in 2004 and the Healthcare Businesswomen Association’s Woman of the Year in 2018.

 

Development means you never get so confident in what you're doing that you forget you have a lot to learn, no matter what position you're in, and that you need to stay in that learning mode and be open to candid criticism.

Julie Gerberding, M.D., M.P.H. Tweet

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Gary Bisbee  0:06  

Healthcare leadership is hard work, but what if you could learn from the most brilliant and influential minds in healthcare and beyond? What would you ask them? Would you ask about politics, policy, or maybe leadership? On The Gary Bisbee Show I’ll do just that. You’ll hear from healthcare’s most successful leaders and those experts who they listen to, as together we’ll explore how the healthcare economy is transforming. 

 

Why does a four-year-old who wanted to be a general practitioner become an internationally recognized infectious disease expert? Dr. Julie Gerberding holds a faculty position at UCSF, is well published, lead the CDC, is a senior executive at Merck, and sits on the board of a major health data-oriented company. We’ll uncover what has led to Julie’s success during our conversation. Julie responded to many crises while at the CDC, and she became known to the world for her daily briefings during the anthrax crisis of the early 2000s. What were the decision criteria she used as she made her career moves and what leadership lessons has she learned along the way? Julie is a vaccine expert, given her infectious disease background and having been the president of Merck vaccines. Her take on the speed of development of COVID vaccines, the distribution, administration, and the effects of vaccine hesitancy will be interesting topics that we will pursue. Julie received her undergraduate and medical degrees from Case Western Reserve University, MPH from the University of California, Berkeley, and did her residency at UCSF.

 

Good afternoon, Julie, and welcome.

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  2:01  

Thank you, Gary. It’s good to see you again.

 

Gary Bisbee  2:03  

We’re pleased to have you at the microphone. Why don’t we kick off with your fascinating background? What was it like growing up as Julie Gerberding?

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  2:17  

I grew up in a very small town in South Dakota. At the time, there were about 821 other people in the community. It was wonderful because it was a very safe and secure village with lots of freedom to use my imagination. I had parents that encouraged all kinds of books. I had a little chemistry lab in the basement, collected lots of bugs. I kind of had endless freedom and the ability to pursue whatever creative activity I thought was fun and important at the time. Of course, when you grow up in a little village, you also learn how interdependent you are. It was the kind of place where we didn’t call FEMA if we had a blizzard or a snowstorm. We managed to take care of it ourselves, so there was a little bit of fierce independence mixed in with that community.

 

Gary Bisbee  3:05  

When did you decide to become a doctor?

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  3:09  

At Christmas, age four. Someone gave me a doctor kit and that was it. From that point forward I knew my dream and it was absolutely consistent throughout my entire childhood and all the way until I finally had my dream come true at Case Western Reserve. It was part of my soul and it still is. My favorite job title, of course, is Chief Patient Officer at Merck. It is something that is part of my core purpose, but it also matters to have people who can approach the healthcare industry from a patient’s perspective, from a clinical perspective, and make sure that—at the end of the day—we never lose sight that patients are our purpose.

 

Gary Bisbee  3:56  

In the early days of the dream, did you imagine you’d be an internationally recognized infectious disease expert?

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  4:04  

Absolutely not. I imagined I would be a practicing family doctor in a small community hospital, emulating my own pediatrician, Dr. Tracy, who was a kind and gentle man. If I behaved myself, I would usually get a little piece of chewing gum at the end of the visit. I imagined I would bestow all kinds of good care and kindness upon the people who are my patients. That was the extent of my imagination at that point in time.

 

Gary Bisbee  4:33  

You’ve been so successful at whatever job you’ve been in: academia, CDC, government leadership, and Merck. You’ve played the public-private side of this beautifully, but what drove you to be so successful through these various jobs you’ve been in?

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  4:54  

Again, purpose is very important to me. I had a grandmother, who was the matriarch, of course, but she also had very simple perspectives on what your purpose on earth is. I  won’t paraphrase her advice to me in its entirety, but basically, you’re here to do good. You’re here to respect people. You’re here to bring whatever tools you have, whatever capabilities you have, and put them to good use. It’s the combination of a work ethic and a moral principle that defines a successful life, a life well lived as one that accomplishes as much as the gifts God gave you that you can contribute.

 

Gary Bisbee  5:41  

I’d like to go right to the CDC if I could, and skip over medical school and residency and faculty appointment at UCSF. What was the story behind your appointment at the CDC?

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  5:56  

Initially, I was invited to lead a small division at CDC that was responsible for healthcare-associated infections and antimicrobial resistance. It wasn’t a particularly big job, but it was a job that followed nicely on my role at the university in infectious disease, where I was the hospital epidemiologist and had responsibility for those issues in my home base at San Francisco General. I had tenure at the time at the university. I had a lot of grant support and lots of fellows, so leaving the academic womb was a hard choice. I was reluctant to cut that umbilical cord, so I asked if I could have a five-year leave of absence to go and serve my country. I went to the dean and the chair with the top 10 reasons why I thought that was a good idea and they should support it. Looking back on it, I can’t imagine I had the nerve to do something like that but at the time I guess I was a little too arrogant. At any rate, one of my reasons was that they had allowed Dr. Varmus to do the same thing, to go and lead the NIH, and the dean carefully reminded me, “Well, Julie, Dr. Varmus is a Nobel Prize winner. You are not.” At the end of the day, however, they gave me the leave of absence, so that allowed me to make that transition. Once I was at CDC, I loved it. One thing led to another in the post 911 situation, the post anthrax attacks and I found myself as the director of CDC, to my surprise.

 

Gary Bisbee  7:35  

You became internationally known through your anthrax briefings that went on and on. What did that feel like? You must have been communicating with people around the world about all of that.

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  7:48  

I was working for my then boss, Dr. Jim Hughes, who was the director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases. Jim and I were working 24/7. When 911 happened, the world changed for those of us in the United States. When the anthrax attacks occurred after that, we couldn’t help but string those two phenomena together, so the prospectiscope at that time was very ominous. Every time we turned around, there was a new powder somewhere or a post office with a spore or—God forbid—another person with anthrax. It was a nightmare, and it was much more complicated than most people realize. Of course, CDC also had some of the responsibility for understanding the contaminated buildings, managing the fears and concerns of the Postal Service. Trying to figure out how to decontaminate the Senate Hart Building was no easy task for the broad team of people involved in that, and we had an important role to play there. It was unprecedented, of course, but also frightening and exhausting. As that evolved and merged into my new role as the director of CDC, we went from that crisis to the West Nile situation as it marched further and further across the United States causing great disruption and death in some cases. Then we had SARS, then we had Avian Influenza, so my whole tenure at CDC was characterized by a series of public health crises that never completely resolved for me. By the time I finished my role there, I had a pretty good case of PTSD because I had constantly been on for my tenure and never realized what a toll that had taken on me personally. Of course, there was also an incredible sense of service and complexity and learning and the privilege of working with some of the best scientists in the world at CDC. That to me is the greatest gift I’ve ever been given.

 

Gary Bisbee  10:02  

What advice did you give to Dr. Wollensky, who seems like she’s off on a crisis footing, much like you were?

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  10:10  

I was a little humble about giving her advice because she’s an extremely competent and expert woman and has been doing a lot in the world of Coronavirus in Boston with great success. I also respect and appreciate her track record in the world of HIV, which is the other end of my career, the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. I did suggest that listening was important, and to not just listen inside of CDC but to get out to the front line at the local level and the state level where public health really happens. It’s easy to stay ensconced in the Humphrey Building with the department or in Atlanta at CDC headquarters, but if we want to be the leader of the public health system—and we desperately needed that—it was important to understand what the true needs at the community level are. That’s where things get fixed. That’s where you get the best feedback and the best reality check of what you’re doing well and what you need to be doing better. 

 

Gary Bisbee  11:12  

If you were to write a case study on the last several years of the CDC— Most people aren’t aware of the CDC unless there is a crisis, of course, and we got off on a wrong footing with the testing situation. Most people probably think about the current crisis in terms of the CDC. What lessons did you take away from what you saw happening there in the last year, year and a half?

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  11:40  

Initially, I was perplexed because the people who are responsible for the CDC response to this pandemic are almost the same people I worked closely with during my tenure and that Tom Frieden had worked closely with during his tenure. We know the caliber of the scientists and we know what they’re capable of. I had enormous confidence in their ability to be a strong pillar of response in the coronavirus pandemic, but that didn’t happen. If you know it’s not the people, then you have to ask, what’s changed? The surround sound is what changed in this situation. The CDC was undermined, advice was overridden, and the politics overlaid the good science that the agency was intending to promulgate. That was very hard to see. There are three categories of issues. One is that there were some very specific performance issues, the testing is one of them. I still don’t have a full picture of what happened there, but that’s one that needs remediation now before the next problem occurs. There is a second issue that relates to politics and the suppression of science or the ignoring science, replacing it with politics in many cases. Then a third issue is the one I am trying to contribute to the resolution of right now. That relates to the chronic underinvestment in the CDC and the public health system. Number one, the agency is basically operating with the same real dollars it was operating on 10 years ago or before. Number two, there’s no flexibility in the budget, and number three, the crisis funding that does come is reactive and is only one-time funding. If you can’t hire people or build long-term preparedness capability on bolus funding, you need sustained investment over long arcs of time. I co-chair the CSIS Commission on Global Health Security and that is one of our critical findings, this sort of crisis to complacency. We rev up when there’s a crisis, and then when the acuity resolves, the funding goes away and everybody lapses into a false sense of security, and that characterizes the CDC budget as much as anything else in our government.

 

Gary Bisbee  14:15  

What can we do as a country about that? You’re obviously a former director, you get it, but what can we do? It’s clear that the country is counting on the CDC as the trusted source in this sort of crisis yet, without the proper funding— I did a quick back-of-the-envelope study a little bit along the lines you’re talking about where I mapped out the growth in the population with the budget of the CDC. It was embarrassing.

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  14:46  

First of all, is to build awareness and engage people outside of the choir. We’ve been having this conversation for many, many years, but we’re mainly influencing the public health community, sometimes the global health community, and that does not really change the situation from an appropriations perspective. Crisis does result in attention, but the cycle of prices lapses too quickly into complacency. Part of the structural reason for that is that this is what is known as discretionary funding. It gets counted in the congressional budget process as falling under budget caps. If you give the CDC more money, you have to take money away from somewhere else in the budget, as opposed to a situation that we use for our national defense and defense security where the budget is exempt from those kinds of budget caps so that you can create a long arc of expectation and you can fund what is necessary to get the job done right without having to do all the horse-trading that is implicit in the approach to the CDC. At least for the biosecurity component of public health, we’re going to need to look at a different structure of the budget. There are several good ideas out there. One is to create a system that looks something like the Federal Reserve, where there’s a board. If you remember, the Federal Reserve was created in 1913 in part to avoid the politicization of our central banking system, but also, it creates a mechanism for relative independence about financial decisions. Something like that might be a model that we need to take a good look at.

 

Gary Bisbee  16:36  

It feels like a critical need at this point. On to vaccines. With your infectious disease background and being the president of Merck Vaccine, you are an expert in this space. How did the speed that came about with these companies developing vaccines? I think most people thought it would be a seven-year slog and it seemed like it happened in about a year. How did that speed happen?

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  17:05  

It exceeded expectations,—even for those of us who are close in and can see the opportunities for doing things in parallel as opposed to series—but part of the reason that we could go as fast as we could is that the platforms and some of the technologies were in play before the Coronavirus pandemic. mRNA vaccine work had commenced, mRNA work on MERS and other Coronavirus infections were underway, etc, so there was the background work in a variety of small companies and large companies. The groundwork was prepared and that was one really big part of the story that probably doesn’t get enough attention. Having said that, we didn’t have a vaccine for this virus because we didn’t know about this virus, so starting in January, when the sequences were first available, it was a race to develop candidate antigens. The biggest time saving was to do so much of the work simultaneously as opposed to what we would normally do as a step, process it, have conversations, many meetings, do the next part of the study, and so forth. All of that processing takes a lot of time. Taking a look at it and asking the question from the safety and good quality perspective, what can we do fast to identify if the vaccine is effective, demonstrate that it’s safe, and accelerate all of the in-between steps that generally are time-consuming? We got a great deal of help from regulatory agencies, particularly the FDA, to identify exactly what would be necessary to approve a vaccine, so that simplified the planning greatly. Then the harmonization of that effort across different jurisdictions so that we didn’t have to do things many different ways. We could stick to a single approach going forward, so there were many dimensions to that. Most recently, the last really big piece is the collaboration across the various small and large companies in terms of progressing the manufacturing bulk vaccine and then also participating in the transition of that into vials and syringes.

 

Gary Bisbee  19:30  

It seemed like this was a good case for public-private partnerships. In a way, there was federal money, the agencies stepped in, the companies accelerated their effort. Are there lessons to be learned from that whole relationship between the public sector and the private sector that will influence development going forward?

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  19:51  

I don’t know exactly how this will unfold, but if I had to place a bet, I would suspect that we’re going to be seeing a transition of our government’s investment into looking something much more like defense contracting, meaning that there will be agreements about what we need in our strategic countermeasure platform along the lines of what BARDA does now but taking that to a different scale and a different depth of countermeasures of vaccines, antivirals, and immunologic therapies, and feeling out a broader platform approach to that. No manufacturer or R&D company can take that on without having deep risks. First of all, you might fail. Second, you hopefully may never need those products, in which case all of the hundreds of millions of dollars you would have to invest would bring no return whatsoever. When you have a hard problem like that to stop, often the government provides the investment or shares in the investment so that the portfolio is depressed and you can proceed knowing you’re not going to lose money trying to help contribute to the solution of a problem. We have our toe in the water with this kind of approach, but the scale and the depth of what needs to happen, I predict, will be significantly enhanced as we benefit from learning this lesson, and that’s not just limited to innovations in the countermeasures. It would also apply to diagnostics and perhaps even innovations in environmental detection systems and ultimately data modernization systems that would allow us in the future to perhaps even predict where the hotspots for emergence will occur or predict where we need to focus our surveillance in early detection methodologies.

 

Gary Bisbee  21:53  

Going back to the antiviral, I know Merck has a couple of promising products in that space. Can you share a bit of that with us? 

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  22:03  

We have two antivirals that we’re working on. Both involve partnerships with other companies. The products were initially developed by other companies and one partnership and one acquisition has allowed us to work hard to try to accelerate our understanding of the value of these products. Molnupiravir is the furthest along in our pipeline right now. This is an antiviral drug that has a unique mechanism of action. We’re already manufacturing millions of doses of it. It’s an oral treatment, which gives it some incredible advantages for community use, but also potentially international use. I can’t say what its efficacy is other than just very preliminary data from a couple 100 patients demonstrating that, at least in one study, it had a significant impact on the amount of virus-infected people. More data on that will be coming in the near future. We need these antivirals because people will not all be protected from a vaccine. Variants may emerge and make vaccines less efficacious, especially for vulnerable people. Having something that could potentially convert what could be a deadly infection into something that’s mild or even warded off through prophylactic treatment is a good idea. I don’t know if our drugs are going to fall into that category, but we certainly need to pursue good antivirals for coronaviruses. By now we should know that they’re a threat. We’ve had SARS, we had MERS and now we have SARS-CoV-2. Who knows what the next Coronavirus infection will be, but we’d better think broadly about Coronavirus antivirals.

 

Gary Bisbee  23:52  

That’s for sure. As a layman, I’ll give you a thumbs up on that. The Merck J&J agreement is interesting. How did that come about?

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  24:02  

Merck had two vaccine candidates that we put through early studies, hoping we would find a target vaccine profile that was suitable for global use (meaning single dose, didn’t require a complicated cold chain). In the formulation that we utilized for our early studies, however, our two virus candidates weren’t as efficacious as they needed to be helpful, so we abandoned those vaccines. That left us with some manufacturing capability that we had tried to preserve and protect in case they were successful and we needed to scale manufacturing very quickly. At the end of the year, when we realized we weren’t going to move those vaccines forward, we started looking around to see who we could help because we have enormous expertise in vaccine manufacturing. It turned out that the J&J vaccine met the same sort of vaccine profile we were interested in supporting: one dose, less complex, cold chain, etc. They were in need of some additional manufacturing capabilities, so the two CEOs were able to have conversations. Our government last year and then the new administration this year was very involved in trying to match up the need for more manufacturing capacity and capacity that various companies might have. For all parties, this seemed like a really good match. Quite quickly, it came together recently into a formalized agreement. We were also benefited by the administration’s decision to invoke the defense production act to help us come to the front of the line, and procure some of the equipment and machinery that we needed to accelerate our ability to make this conversion of our manufacturing capacity. The government helped broker these conversations and, at the end of the day, these are two large pharmaceutical companies that have enjoyed a long tradition of very ethical approaches to contributing to public health issues, so it’s really perfect to have J&J and Merck. When the announcement was made in the White House last week, I felt so proud to be part of making this kind of contribution because it brings the best of our industry, our innovation, our commitment, our ability to collaborate, our ability to do things at scale and do them fast. It was a very special moment in the history of vaccines.

 

Gary Bisbee  26:44  

From the outside, there were a lot of people cheering, that’s for sure. What’s the tenure of the agreement between Merck and J&J?

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  26:52  

Without getting into the details of the agreement, basically, it’s an agreement to manufacture doses. Initially, we will be converting the already made vaccine into syringes and vials. That can be done fairly quickly, which speeds up the availability of those doses. Over the rest of this year, we will also be manufacturing the bulk vaccine from scratch, so to speak, so that adds to the total volume of vaccine that will ultimately be available. We have agreements on how many doses there will be and, of course, those agreements can be evolved and extended if the need is ongoing. Once you’ve made the investment in the manufacturing capacity, it’s in everybody’s best interest that you make the best use out of it that you can.

 

Gary Bisbee  27:40  

You recently published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that was a classic, kind of a 50-year history of vaccines with a graphic that was outstanding. What were your findings from that study?

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  27:53  

What we looked at was the appearance of vaccines for the last 50 years. We chose 50 years because the National Academy of Medicine was celebrating its 50th anniversary, the reason for the article’s invitation actually. We summarized by year which vaccine innovations appeared and how that evolved over time, moving from the very traditional approaches to vaccinology (the kill virus or measles prototype) all the way to the highly recombinant reverse engineering sorts of vaccines that have emerged more recently and everything in between. When you step back and look at it, it is an amazing history of public health. The number of lives saved, combining all of that innovation, reflects the best and the brightest of our whole biopharmaceutical engagement, and I include in that the academic part, the public health part, the biotechnology part, the big pharma part, and certainly the support the governments have given in terms of getting that technology transferred into the arms of the people who need protection.

 

Gary Bisbee  29:02  

Is what we call “vaccine hesitancy” today something new that’s more recent, or has that been with us throughout the 50-year history of vaccines?

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  29:15  

When Jenner utilized the first vaccine for smallpox, there was an enormous hue and cry in the community about safety. The cartoons suggested that people would turn into cows if they received the cowpox vaccine, etc. This has been part of the history of vaccinology for a long period of time. Some of it is just difficult to understand the theory and principles of vaccines. Many of the diseases we utilize vaccines for don’t exist or are rare, so people don’t remember how terrible polio was or how many people on a global basis die of measles. If you don’t see the disease, then any real or imagined threat from the vaccine looms large. Most of the people who are in the category of vaccine-hesitant are people like us. They’re parents who care deeply about their kids. They’re hearing all kinds of things and they’re just worried. They need a little bit of information and a little bit of factual recommendation from their pediatrician or their family clinician to put things in perspective. Ultimately, most children get vaccinated. Some people reject the whole concept of vaccines and feel like they’re harmful and probably will not be persuaded otherwise, no matter how compelling the information or the sciences. Then there’s another group of people who, unfortunately, have a profit motive from the standpoint of liability, litigation, etc. Sometimes they prey on parents and others in the vaccine-hesitant category. Fast forward to COVID, we have a very unique situation in this domain where we almost have divided our vaccine acceptors from our vaccine-hesitant people based on political party, which is absolutely ridiculous. This virus does not know if you’re red or blue or purple. It’s an equal opportunity infector. To think that there’s any reason why we should politicize decisions about a health matter shocks me as a doctor who understands and believes in the importance of immunologic solutions, so I’m befuddled by this.

 

Gary Bisbee  31:43  

It’s a twofer situation: it’s good for you, it’s good for the community. That’s reason enough to get one. Let’s hope that more people decide that is the right thing to do. Moving on to public health for a second, what we learned during this pandemic is that our public health infrastructure isn’t what we would want it to be. Those of us relatively close to it know that public health has been underfunded for years. What do you think is the outcome of this? Do you think we will allocate more resources to public health infrastructure?

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  32:20  

I think that’s happened already with the pandemic investment that Congress just made where there’s a substantial investment to shore up the front line of public health, vaccine confidence, and some of the crisis interventions we need. I don’t know that we’re prepared yet to take a look at what is necessary to modernize our public health system. I always start with the front line and work backward, so to me there will be many important conversations to have. The middle of a pandemic is probably not the best time to reform the public health system, but we can certainly learn and observe and do a careful assessment of what we were good at and what we failed at in the current context. There are a couple of principles. One is that it’s got to be people-focused with deep respect for communities and the complexity of our social strata. The public health system needs to reach particularly the people who have the biggest risk of health disparities and social determinants of health not supporting their health and well-being. The second principle is that we need a national strategy that is long-term, and not based on the fiscal year or the whims of a particular administration or a CDC director. We need something that has broad and strategic relevance, multi sector engagement in that horizontal planning process. Then we need to sit down and decide what success looks like. We can’t be everything and do everything, so what are the critical things that our public health system needs to assure? Then make sure our investments are going there and that we’re measuring the results that we achieve. It seems like strategic planning 101, but it’s incredibly hard to do because it is public and therefore political. That makes it very difficult to pull through. Overlaying all of that is we need strong leadership and collaboration. Candidly, I think we need the private sector. If the private sector hasn’t figured out in this context how important public health is to their business, security, and success it never will. We’ve seen devastation across numerous sectors. Employers everywhere have been profoundly impacted by this, so it’s time for us to recognize that the interface between public health and economic success is intimately intertwined and we need to be thinking much more broadly about what biosecurity really means. It means economic security as well as defense security.

 

Gary Bisbee  35:10  

On that point, the large health systems have been active in testing and treating patients and the administration of vaccines in chatting with several CEOs of the large health systems. One positive outcome of all this is they are a lot closer now to the public health agencies. They better understand what the public health agencies are doing, and the agencies understand better what the large health systems are doing, so I think that will help us going forward. This has been a terrific interview,—as expected, by the way,—but I’d like to pursue a leadership topic for a moment to wrap up. Since you’ve been in a public sector, you’ve been in the private sector, you are in the private sector, but you’ve seen leadership from a number of different vantage points, what common leadership trait works at every different level in every different sector that you’ve been in?

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  36:13  

First, destination, meaning, you need to know what result you’re driving for and be absolutely crystal clear about that, transparent about that, focused on that, and not let the good get in the way. The important must win. That’s the first thing. Discipline is the second D. You really need to discipline yourself to maintain that focus over long arcs of time and not get distracted. To go along with that is development. To me, development means you never get so confident in what you’re doing that you forget you have a lot to learn, no matter what position you’re in, and that you need to stay in that learning mode and be open to candid criticism. Even if you think you don’t deserve it, you probably do. Use that as an opportunity to reach out and connect and take in what you can do to be a better leader and what your team needs to be better supported and better lead. That’s not a simple set of challenges, but it’s part of the framework I try to keep in my mind. As I always say, at the end of the day, leadership is a privilege. It is a responsibility, but it’s also a huge privilege to work with such incredible people. That’s been the joy of my professional life in all of the roles I’ve had. Wonderful teams and incredible colleagues.

 

Gary Bisbee  37:49  

Well said. You’ve been very active in women leadership and we appreciate you sitting on the advisory council of Her Story and being a host of Her Story. What kind of advice do you give for young, up-and-coming women leaders?

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  38:05  

It’s hard to put it into a soundbite, but probably the most common thing I say to people is “get as many tools in your toolbox as you can.” What I mean by that is, especially when people are starting their careers, they are thinking, “In my world, should I do an infectious disease fellowship? Should I go to the CDC? Should I get my master’s in public health?” My answer is yes, you should do those things because those experiences will put tools and experiences and knowledge and networks at your disposal. You might not know how you’re going to use those tools, but you will discover over the lifetime of your career that you’ll have a need to reach into your toolbox and pull that tool out, sometimes when you least expect it. It’s an important concept because, in the world that we work in today, the people who are the most valuable in organizations are the people who are the most versatile. Of course, we always need great scientific depth and deep experience, so I’m not diminishing that, but it’s also important that people recognize that you can move from one career path to another. For me, probably the best example of a tool in the toolbox that surprised me the most was spending time in the lab. I did a training grant in clinical pharmacology and infectious disease, so I’d spend time working in the lab on Staph aureus. I was not cut out for that, but I’m so glad I had that lab experience because now I understand how science works in the lab, the language, the grant writing, the processes, the thinking, the camaraderie, and the incredibly hard work. When I went to CDC, I could understand what our lab scientists were experiencing. Or when I’m at Merck, I can appreciate what our discovery scientists are contributing and what their world is like, so it turned out to be an incredibly valuable tool even though I didn’t win a Nobel Prize for my bench work.

 

Gary Bisbee  40:08  

There’s still time, Julie. Thank you so much. This has been a really engaging interview. I’m so glad you spent time with us today.

 

Dr. Julie Gerberding  40:19  

Thanks, Gary. I always appreciate the opportunity to chat with you and I look forward to seeing you soon.

 

Gary Bisbee  40:27  

New episodes will debut every Thursday. Join me in conversations to gain advice and wisdom from CEOs, presidents, and healthcare experts. Health care leadership is hard work, but it becomes more manageable as we learn from the remarkable lives and careers of our guests. I’ll see you there.

 

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