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Dr. Julie Louise Gerberding

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1955

Medical School

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine



Career Path

Public health
Dr. Julie Louise Gerberding


Dr. Julia Louise Gerberding is the first woman to be appointed director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia.


I grew up loving every aspect of natural science—started collecting rocks and insects before kindergarten, developed a laboratory in my basement complete with a microscope and chemistry set, and rescued every wounded or sick animal I saw. I just simply knew I wanted to become a physician when I was 4 years old, and this became an organizing principle for the rest of my childhood and educational decisions.


Dr. Julia L. Gerberding began her career in medicine as the first cases of AIDS were appearing in the United States. Concerned that patients were not receiving the care they needed because of the fears of medical professionals about contracting HIV, Dr. Gerberding investigated the circumstances of transmission to contribute to the medical response to the epidemic. She was a leader in the country's response to contagious diseases as the first woman to be appointed president of the Centers for Disease Control.

Julie Louise Gerberding was born in Estelline, South Dakota in 1955. She attended Case Western Reserve University as an undergraduate, where she stayed on to earn her M.D. degree, graduating in 1981. That year she also received the university's Alice Paige Cleveland Award as an outstanding medical graduate. Dr. Gerberding completed her internship and residency in internal medicine at San Francisco General Hospital, working there in the early 1980s when the first cases of AIDS appeared. Because some medical workers were worried about contracting HIV when treating affected patients, some patients were not receiving the care they needed. Dr. Gerberding says, once she realized this was happening, "I took on the challenge of investigating this risk with the hope that it would help patients get better and more compassionate care." Dr. Gerberding was Chief Medical Resident in 1985 and then completed a fellowship in clinical pharmacology and infectious diseases at the University of California, San Francisco.

Dr. Gerberding has found that this pattern is a recurring theme in her career, as she has chosen research based directly on the problems experienced by her patients. With this in mind, her move into public health seemed the natural way for her to help larger groups. In 1990, she received her master's in public health from the University of California, Berkeley, continuing her research at San Francisco General Hospital from 1984 to 1998.

In 1998 she joined the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, as director of the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. In this post she developed a number of programs to improve patient safety and prevent infections, antimicrobial resistance and medical errors in health care centers. In 2001, as acting director for science, she was at the forefront of the medical response to anthrax bioterrorism, testifying at congressional hearings and giving televised presentations explaining how infection with the anthrax bacterium occurs and how to prevent it. In July, 2002, Dr. Gerberding was named director of the CDC. She is the first woman to serve as director of the agency.

Dr. Gerberding is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI), the American College of Physicians, and is a fellow in the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA). She has also served as chair and co-chair of the IDSA Committee on Professional Development and Diversity. Dr. Gerberding has served as Academic Counselor on the board of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America for three years and is their president for 2003. She has also served as consultant to the National Institutes of Health, the American Medical Association, the National AIDS Commission, and the World Health Organization. She has served on the editorial board of the Annals of Internal Medicine and as associate editor of the American Journal of Medicine. She has authored or co-authored over 120 published papers or chapters and has advised on HIV prevention policies for numerous agencies.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

I never really think in terms of obstacles but rather in terms of challenges. One big challenge was sustaining the confidence that I could achieve a successful career in academic medicine and still all the other pursuits that are important to me.

How do I make a difference?

Medicine combines the discipline of scientific inquiry with the art and wonder of human relationships. I especially value those moments in my role as physician when I knew that an extra moment of compassionate listening truly helped someone heal or at least cope.

Almost everything I have done in my career has its base in the patients I cared for at San Francisco General Hospital. AIDS emerged at the same time I began my residency. I knew that I wasn't going to be the person to find the cure or the vaccine, but I did want to contribute something. In those early days, fears of occupational infection with HIV were making it difficult for some patients to get care. I took on the challenge of investigating this risk with the hope that it would help patients get better and more compassionate care. This pattern, of looking at the problems my own patients were experiencing, and then asking "how could this be prevented or improved?" really set my applied research agenda. The transition to public health and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was a logical expansion of this same approach—science-based interventions that can be directly applied to promoting better health for patients and populations.

Now that I am the Director of the leading public health agency in the country, making a difference takes on a whole new dimension—I know my decisions could potentially impact millions of people. The incredibly skilled and dedicated people at CDC and throughout our public health agencies really are the ones who make the difference on the front lines.

Who was my mentor?

I am fortunate to have had a series of wonderful mentors, a family that valued education and made sacrifices so that I could attend the best schools, and friends who supported me every step of the way. They instilled in me the belief that I had a responsibility to achieve things of value, and that I could accomplish anything if I set my mind to it. The most important mentor of all was my grandmother—an extraordinary woman who taught me to love all of creation. I spent most summers with her, working as a Girl Scount counselor under her direction at camps across South Dakota. She taught me to lead by respecting the value that every person brings to the table, to find creative solutions when things go awry, and most importantly, to find humor in every situation, no matter how trying.