Society Dean: Jason Lambrese, MD
Case Western Reserve’s newest academic society for medical students is named in honor of double alumna Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, the first woman to lead the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A South Dakota native, Gerberding earned both her bachelor’s and medical degrees from Case Western Reserve University. She did her internship and residency at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), ultimately serving as chief resident. Gerberding arrived in San Francisco the same year that the U.S. CDC first reported on the illness now known as AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). While UCSF became one of the nation’s leaders in research and treatment of HIV and AIDS, in 1981 no one even knew what caused what was then an often-fatal condition.
“It made us become better doctors,” Gerberding said of the early absence of information. “We had to listen closely to our patients to understand their broad needs and what we might be able to do to help. The experience deepened our humility—and our empathy.” It also drove Gerberding to complete a fellowship clinical pharmacology and infectious diseases after her residency, and earn tenure in the UCSF infectious diseases division. Along the way, she also earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of California at Berkeley.
In 1998, Gerberding became the CDC director of healthcare quality and promotion. Four years later, she became the first woman to lead the agency; her tenure witnessed an unprecedented number of major public health crises, among them SARS, avian influenza, monkeypox, and Hurricane Katrina. It also saw her complete the CDC’s first major restructuring in decades, an effort designed in part to enhance the agency’s ability to respond to public health threats, including infectious disease outbreaks. In 2010 Gerberding—also a CWRU trustee—joined Merck & Co., Inc. as president of the vaccines division; five years later she became a corporate Executive Vice President and the Chief Patient Officer.
As news of a novel coronavirus in China began appearing in U.S. media in January of 2020, Gerberding was among the first experts that news outlets contacted for insight. Her knowledge and perspective have continued to be in demand ever since. Check out her media mentions in Time Magazine, the New York Times, and Bloomberg. “My time at Case Western Reserve set the foundation for my entire life in medicine,” Gerberding said. “To receive this honor, from a place that gave me so much, means more than I can begin to convey.”