By Judy Monroe, MD

In a special episode of the CDC Foundation’s podcast, Contagious Conversations, I spoke with Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, the 19th director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In this interview, Dr. Walensky discusses the career path that led to her new role as CDC director, her experience working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic and her vision for the agency that works 24/7 to protect America from health, safety and security threats. This episode was released as part of National Public Health Week.

Dr. Walensky is an influential scholar whose pioneering research has helped advance the national and global response to HIV/AIDS. Prior to CDC, Dr. Walensky served as chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. She served on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic and conducted research on vaccine delivery and strategies to reach underserved communities. 

In her role leading CDC, Dr. Walensky’s perspective is so important for all of us right now during this critical time in the COVID-19 pandemic. In the interview, she shares that in a recent CDC report, in the first six months of 2020 life expectancy of all Americans dropped one year. We also discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare many health inequities. She shared that compared to white Americans, Hispanics have been 2.3 times more likely to die during this pandemic and African-Americans two times more likely to die. In the field of public health, we are all working to ensure that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible.

Dr. Walensky also shares some important advice for anyone interested in pursuing a career in public health. “We are in this pivotal time right now, where you look around and you know that you can do so much good in the world by addressing public health,” said Walensky. “You know you can take people who didn’t have resources and improve their health, and there is nothing more fulfilling than laying your head on the pillow at night and knowing that your actions of that day improve the health of somebody else or improve the health of tomorrow.”

To listen to Contagious Conversations, subscribe or download on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcasting app. For more information, visit

Judy Monroe, MD, is president and CEO of the CDC Foundation.

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