By Doug Nelson, chair of the CDC Foundation’s board of directors and the retired president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Inspiring leaders are essential to the success of organizations, but they are hard to find, especially those able to run a complex organization with responsibility for the health, safety and security of all Americans. During the past eight years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been fortunate to benefit from an outstanding leader, Tom Frieden, who left the agency last week with the transition of presidential administrations.
True leaders have many attributes, with characteristics like intelligence, experience, vision, commitment and drive coming to mind. But leaders also require the courage to take difficult stands on issues and tell people news they need to have but may not want to hear. These conversations become more challenging when topics are personal, and perhaps nothing is more personal than the health of our families and friends or ourselves.
CDC is our nation’s health protection agency, and CDC’s scientists and disease detectives work in this country and around the globe to track diseases, research outbreaks and respond to emergencies of all kinds. From what they learn in this work, CDC’s team promotes health policies that strengthen America′s health and security. CDC’s pronouncements, including those of its director, carry considerable weight. Tom has fully embraced this responsibility, leading CDC with determination and conviction backed by the agency’s outstanding scientists and professionals.
I’ve had the privilege to get to know Tom personally through my involvement at the CDC Foundation, first as a board member for many years and now as board chair. It has been an honor for the CDC Foundation to work with CDC during Tom’s tenure on scores of programs aimed at extending the agency’s life-saving work to protect the health of all Americans. These efforts cover health threats as diverse as Ebola and Zika to smoking use and birth defects.
I saw firsthand the many gifts Tom brought to his role as director of CDC. The contribution I most admire has been his ability to inspire those around him, including all of us at the CDC Foundation, with his conviction and faith that public health, when executed properly, is a powerful and essential tool to ameliorate human suffering, build stronger communities and save lives. The accomplishments of CDC during the past eight years have validated Tom’s faith and belief in the critical importance of sustaining a robust public health capability in this country. Furthermore, those achievements have increased public awareness of CDC and the importance of its core mission. While Tom’s tenure at CDC has come to an end, the example of his leadership in defending the health and safety of Americans will live on beyond his time at the agency.
One of Tom’s greatest passions at CDC has been his support for activities to grow and strengthen the public health infrastructure and the next generation of its leaders. This is a critically important objective. In fact, the United States is in the midst of a public health workforce crisis. By some estimates, more than 250,000 additional public health workers are needed to maintain current capacity. The CDC programs with the most profound impact related to meeting this challenge are the Public Health Associate Program (PHAP), the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS), and the Laboratory Leadership Service (LLS) fellowship program, all of which are pipelines into the field of protecting the public’s health.
On behalf of the board of directors and staff of the CDC Foundation, we thank Tom for his leadership guiding the agency and the nation’s response to threats, and I’m pleased to announce that we will honor his work and legacy through the creation of the Tom Frieden Future Leaders Fund. This fund will raise support to extend and strengthen the PHAP, EIS and LLS programs, with donations being used to help enhance program curricula and recruitment efforts; enable involvement in emerging outbreaks for EIS teams; engage additional expert faculty; and increase partnerships to connect graduates with public health job needs.
Also, the Foundation is providing what we hope will accelerate this fund with an initial $20,000 contribution. More funds are needed, and we hope to bring in support from individuals, philanthropies and the private sector to help extend these programs.
Please join us in congratulating Dr. Tom Frieden and thanking him for his remarkable service to our nation. You can honor Tom with a donation to the fund or leave him a personal message.