New CDC Director Appointed

Brenda Fitzgerald, MD has been named the 17th Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

Image Source: CDC

Brenda Fitzgerald, MD—board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist and former US Air Force Major—has been named the 17th Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Dr. Fitzgerald will replace Anne Schuchat, MD, who has served as acting CDC director and ATSDR administrator since January 20, 2017.

Prior to becoming the new Director of the CDC and Administrator of ATSDR, Dr. Fitzgerald served for 6 years as the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) and state health officer. According to a news release on the appointment from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “As Georgia DPH Commissioner, Dr. Fitzgerald oversaw various state public health programs and directed the state’s 18 public health districts and 159 county health departments. Prior to that, Dr. Fitzgerald held numerous leadership positions. She served on the board and as president of the Georgia OB-GYN Society and she worked as a health care policy advisor with House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senator Paul Coverdell. She has served as a Senior Fellow and Chairman of the Board for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.”

Because she is an Emory alumnus and US Air Force Major, Dr. Fitzgerald “is expected to have a lot of support from the medical community, particularly in Georgia,” according to Forbes. Support that may be needed, as some opponents of her appointment feel that she does not have the necessary scientific research experience to adequately fulfill her role as the head of an organization with research at its core.

In addition, Dr. Fitzgerald inherits the challenges of treating not only growing threats such as Zika and antibiotic resistance, but also how to fund initiatives to tackle them. Proposed funding cuts to the CDC included in the current version of the American Healthcare Act (yet to be approved) may hinder efforts at keeping these public health problems at bay. However, according to Forbes, Dr. Fitzgerald comes into her new role with a wealth of experience in managing budgets (she successfully ran the $671 million Georgia DPH), as well as politics— “Dr. Fitzgerald ran twice for Congress as a Republican; both times in the 1990s. She was also a healthcare policy advisor to House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) and Senator Paul Coverdell (R-Georgia).”

And, Dr. Fitzgerald is already receiving praise among many in the community. In fact, in an article on her appointment published in Time, Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association is quoted as saying, “From her work as a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist to her recent service as the commissioner of the Georgia DPH, Dr. Fitzgerald is more than prepared to face the health challenges of our time, including climate change, Zika, Ebola, and our growing burden of chronic disease."

Although she has a daunting task ahead of her, Dr. Fitzgerald is poised to set the agency on the right track and could possibly learn from the advice of the late Ronald Reagan who said, “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”