'She Is The Full Package': A Fellow Infectious Disease Specialist On MGH Expert's Appointment To CDC

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The chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital has been chosen by President-elect Joe Biden to run the Centers for Disease Control.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky (Courtesy MGH)
Dr. Rochelle Walensky has been tapped to lead the CDC. (Courtesy MGH)

Dr. Rochelle Walensky is also a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a physician at Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Dr. Robbie Goldstein, a fellow infectious disease specialist at MGH, joined WBUR's Morning Edition host Bob Oakes to talk about Walensky's appointment.

Highlights from this interview have been lightly edited for clarity.

Interview Highlights

On his reaction to Walensky's selection

Sheer excitement. This is some of the best news that I've heard in a very, very long time and certainly shines a bright light on the COVID pandemic, knowing that we're going to have help on the way.

I think she is the full package. She is a spectacular scientist, someone who understands science data and evidence better than really anyone I know. She is deeply committed to public health and improving the public health. And she is someone who truly understands the word 'equity' — understands how we're going to get out of this pandemic in an equitable manner. I think, as we have gone through this pandemic over the past now almost 10 months, she has been the North Star of our division certainly here at Mass. General. I think she's been the North Star of our response in Massachusetts, and she will soon have that role for the nation.

On Walensky's focus on health inequities

Rochelle and I have had an opportunity to work together on a number of projects. And for every time we work together, whenever we sit down, the first question that comes out of her mouth is, 'How do we make sure that this is equitable? How do we make sure that those that are most vulnerable are being centered in this conversation?'

She approaches every part of her work understanding that, to do this well, we have to think about those that are most vulnerable and those that are most marginalized in our system. Obviously ... in the COVID-19 pandemic, we've seen the inequity that has come from infection, from complications, from our inability to get therapeutics and testing out to the right people. Rochelle is the right person to take this on and to think about not just what we do for this current pandemic and how we make sure that we're more equitable, but how the Centers for Disease Control can become what it was before: the preeminent organization in our country that thinks about public health inequity.

"[T]he first question that comes out of her mouth is, 'How do we make sure that this is equitable? How do we make sure that those that are most vulnerable are being centered in this conversation?' "

On her accomplishments at Mass. General

I think we probably don't have enough time to go through all of them, but I would divide them maybe into two big categories. One is, it's a response to the HIV epidemic, which has been her work for two decades now. And she is really the person who drove changes in this country, but certainly at Mass General as well, to make sure that we are testing everyone we need to test for HIV, we're getting everyone on treatment and that we can actually bend the curve of the HIV epidemic. That has been her work for a long time, and we've seen and felt those impacts here at Mass. General.

When it comes to the pandemic, she has led this division with such amazing grace and with such clarity in her vision. She made sure that ... the Infectious Disease Division was there and ready to fight what it needed to fight in the setting of this pandemic. That while we were doing that, we were thinking about issues of equity, and we are making sure that we weren't just responding in Boston at the main campus, but we were responding in Chelsea and Revere and Everett — in cities and towns that were hit hard from the pandemic. She has a clarity of vision that has led us forward through some very dark times.

This article was originally published on December 07, 2020.

This segment aired on December 7, 2020.


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Bob Oakes Senior Correspondent
Bob Oakes was a senior correspondent in the WBUR newsroom, a role he took on in 2021 after nearly three decades hosting WBUR's Morning Edition.



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