When Boston began to take COVID-19 pandemic precautions last year, the Boston Lyric Opera had just opened a production of Bellini’s Norma. Artistic director Esther Nelson turned to a longtime friend of the organization to help them determine whether the season could go on.
Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, chief of the Infectious Diseases Division for Massachusetts General Hospital, has been nominated to serve as director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by President-elect Joseph Biden.
“The entire Mass General community is thrilled with Dr. Walensky’s appointment to lead the CDC,” said Peter L. Slavin, MD, Mass General president. “Her remarkable skills as a clinician, scientist, leader and communicator are ideally suited for her new role. I can’t think of a better person to convince the American people about the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Biden formally introduced Walensky during an event on Tuesday, Dec. 8 where she offered these remarks.
“Between the incredibly lovely sentiments of support, I’ve gotten about a dozen bouquets of flowers (so lovely), it’s just been incredible,” Walensky said. “In truth, among the things I’m happiest about, is that I’m blessed that my parents are alive to see it.”
Tim Ferris, MD
The CDC is the most important disease control organization in the world, and there is no better person to lead it than Dr. Walensky.
CEO, Mass General Physicians Organization
Walensky—a professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Steven and Deborah Gorlin Mass General Research Scholar—has been at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic response and has been instrumental in advising local, national and international leaders on testing methodologies and implementation strategies as it translates to developing public health policies and guidelines. She has conducted scientific modeling and research on effective vaccine delivery and strategies to reach underserved communities, and she sits on Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s COVID-19 Advisory Board and the Harvard University Coronavirus Advisory Group.
As co-director of Mass General's Medical Practice Evaluation Center, Walensky has been influential in advancing international health policy towards the promotion of HIV treatment as prevention and the adoption of other effective and efficient strategies of HIV care. As the first investigator to assess the survival benefits of AIDS treatment in the U.S., Walensky helped justify more investment in research and treatment. She is internationally recognized for motivating U.S. and global policy toward routine HIV screening.
“The CDC is the most important disease control organization in the world, and there is no better person to lead it than Dr. Walensky,” said Tim Ferris, MD, CEO of the Mass General Physicians Organization.
Walensky also serves as chair of the Office of AIDS Research Advisory Council at the National Institutes of Health and is a member of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Panel on Antiretroviral Guidelines for Adults and Adolescents. She has also been an advisor to the World Health Organization and Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.
In addition to Walensky, the President-elect’s health care team has further ties to Mass General Brigham through the nomination of Vivek Murthy, MD, a former hospitalist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who will be the next Surgeon General of the United States, a position he also held during the Obama Administration.
Reaction to Dr. Walensky's Appointment
"Dr. Walensky is a superb Infectious Diseases clinician, epidemiologist and public policy expert, who is respected here and around the country and the world. She has proven herself as a highly effective leader in many venues, able to bring together diverse opinions and options to chart the best path forward, remaining committed to excellence in all we do for our patients, our organization and the communities we serve. She excels as a communicator, role model and motivator, and is committed to the important contributions that diversity, equity and inclusion bring to any organization. I can’t think of a better leader to take the reins at the CDC at this key moment in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, on top of the challenges in our public health infrastructure and health care delivery system it has so tragically underscored.”
“Having known Rochelle since she came for her infectious diseases training, I am beyond thrilled to know that Rochelle will be at the helm at CDC. She will be sorely missed at Mass General, but will bring an unparalleled constellation of strengths to the daunting job of CDC director: inspired leadership, honesty, integrity, collaboration, dedication, investment in others, an ability to listen (but also make hard decisions), a commitment to data-driven decisions, belief in science and an ability to empower others to become more than they ever thought they could. In a word, she will be superb and the world is fortunate that she is taking this on!”
“President-elect Biden’s appointment of Dr. Walensky as director of the CDC, the world’s premier infectious disease institutions, at this time in the COVID-19 pandemic, is great news for the U.S. and the entire world. I have known Rochelle and we have been close friends since we started medical school at Johns Hopkins in 1991 and can attest to her brilliant career and contributions as a clinician, scientist and indefatigable advocate for health equity. She will bring her contagious energy and passion to the charge, and lead based on evidence and science, with the integrity that has always characterized her.”
“We are thrilled that Rochelle has accepted this post as her contributions to her field and Mass General are exemplary. The country will benefit greatly from her expertise, wisdom and leadership. She leads with grace and diplomacy, something very much needed at this time in our world. Additionally, as incident commander, I have relied on her judgment and counsel in making difficult decisions. She is extraordinary and we are so proud of her receiving this well-deserved recognition.”
“Throughout this pandemic, I have relied on Rochelle for her counsel on the very hardest of questions. Her combination of extraordinary intellect, razor-sharp analytical skills and unwavering compassion have always made her the perfect person for me, and so many others, to rely on in these very difficult times. Rochelle is the perfect person whom we need at this moment in history. She has built a career on developing data-driven health policy, is expertly familiar with so many topics essential to health and public health, is a fierce advocate for the disadvantaged and is a masterful communicator. Her departure is a loss for us locally, but a tremendous win for the nation as a whole.”
–Paul Biddinger, MD, Chief, Division of Emergency Preparedness
“The entire Mass General community (and the feeling is equally strong across the entire MGB system and the city) was thrilled to hear that President-elect Joe Biden made the inspired choice of Rochelle Walensky to lead the CDC. As stated by all her peers, Rochelle represents the best of Mass General and the highest ideals of scientific integrity and clinical excellence. Her success at the CDC will be all our success, as the pandemic has so often reminded us this year.”
–O’Neil Britton, MD, Chief Medical Officer
“The hallmark of a strong leader is the desire to surround him- or herself with highly skilled, knowledgeable people. I applaud President-elect Joe Biden’s choice of Rochelle Walensky to head the CDC. No one is more qualified to lead this agency and ensure that science drives decisions related to health and public safety. I know she will bring fairness, integrity and wisdom to the role. “
“Dr. Walensky is an exceptional leader who has a gift for translating science into common sense. Her wisdom, experience and empathy could not be more important for our country as we face the next months of this pandemic.”
“Rochelle’s leadership skills, her prior experience with HIV infections and public health issues, and her commitment to fairness and data-driven decision-making make her a major asset for the CDC and for the U.S. in these most challenging times.”
–David Hooper, MD, Chief, Infection Control Unit
“Rochelle has been a leader in infectious diseases locally, nationally and internationally, and the CDC and the nation will benefit tremendously from her leadership at the premier public health organization in the world.”
–Erica Shenoy, MD, Associate Chief, Infection Control Unit
“Every clinician can tell you about those physician-scientists they aspire to emulate—with a piercing intellect, attention to detail and the vast experience needed to excel in their practice. Most of us will also identify with an uncommonly gifted spiritual mentor who consistently places their community, their trainees and those with the least among us before all else. But you simply will not find another person who better embodies the exquisitely rare combination of these two features than Rochelle Walensky. So, while the task ahead of her is daunting, I could not be more optimistic for what her selection means for the future of public health in this country.”
“Rochelle Walensky is the full package—an empathetic clinician, a spectacular scientist and a gifted communicator. She is everything we need at the CDC. On a personal note, my heart has been full the past two days. I am so lucky to work with her and to learn and grow from her guidance. She will be a tremendous gift to the CDC.”
- Feb | 26 | 2021
Merle Adelson and Paul Freedman had planned to marry on Friday, January 22, 2021. But instead, their nuptials took place on January 11, in a Jewish ceremony inside one of Mass General’s intensive care units.
- Feb | 26 | 2021
Employees were invited to celebrate the virtual launch of Black Excellence @ Mass General Brigham. The group provides a new affirming space for Black employees to create a community of support to encourage the welcoming, success, and advancement of Black employees at Mass General Brigham.
- Feb | 4 | 2021
In January, Mass General staff had the opportunity to take part in three virtual celebrations to honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and illuminate his goals of racial equity and justice.
- Feb | 4 | 2021
David Brown, MD, chief of the Mass General Department of Emergency Medicine, first arrived at Mass General in 1989 as an intern and has remained here ever since. Soon, Brown will wear another hat, as he takes on the role of interim president and CEO of Cooley Dickinson Hospital.
- Staff Story
- Feb | 4 | 2021
Even a looming snowstorm couldn’t dampen the spirits of staff volunteering and patients lining up during the first day of the Mass General COVID-19 public vaccination clinic.