Giri Viswanathan, Senior Photographer

Mandy Cohen MED ’05 returned to her alma mater in New Haven this past weekend — but now as the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also known as the CDC.

In a trip jointly organized by Cohen’s CDC staff and Howard Forman — a professor of radiology and biomedical imaging who also teaches classes in health, economics and management at Yale — visited the Yale Schools of Medicine and Public Health, along with an undergraduate class and a Fair Haven community health facility on Friday.

Cohen spoke with both undergraduate and graduate students about her unique career path in healthcare, offering advice to those interested in medicine, public health and health policy. 

“Advice I would give is to be uncomfortable,” Cohen said. “Make sure you’re stretching yourself and putting yourself in opportunities where you can build new skill sets that might be outside your comfort zone.”

Cohen’s visit to Yale had been planned since April while she was still working as the chief executive officer of Aledade Care Solutions, Forman explained in an email to the News. Even after her appointment to the role of CDC director, Cohen still expressed interest in visiting the University. Forman then continued coordinating with her staff at the CDC in late July.

While the recent near-shutdown of the government temporarily put the trip in jeopardy, Forman noted, he and others involved, including his former student and current CEO of Fair Haven Community Health Center, Sue Lagarde, continued working to plan a vaccine awareness event at the center. He said that only “by a stroke of luck” did this event, Cohen’s visit to Yale and Fair Haven breaking ground on their new building fall on the same day.

“The Fair Haven events were incredibly well-attended, including by numerous Yale faculty and alums, as well as President Salovey and Marta Moret,” Forman said. 

Visits to Yale are not a novel concept for Cohen. The director and YSM alumnus noted that she tries to come back almost every year to meet with current students and advise them on their career paths. She lauded Yale for giving its students the space to explore different academic fields and potential careers.

While a student at Yale, Cohen explained, she got the chance to spend time in South Africa, learning about global health, and in Washington, D.C., engaging in advocacy. The intersection between policy and practice did not stop there. During her time as a student at YSM, Cohen also obtained a master’s in public health at Harvard University. Opportunities like these, she emphasized, are what allowed her to expand her thinking.

“It was really when I came to Yale that they allowed me to explore different parts of what it meant to be a physician and be a leader in healthcare,” Cohen said. “The fact that Yale makes it so flexible to allow us to do that, again, [it’s a] really supportive environment.”

Besides providing advice to students interested in medical and governmental healthcare careers, Cohen also sought to create transparency around the inner workings of the CDC, from data and guidance to the decision-making process, Forman noted. 

For Forman, Cohen’s visit reflects her steady commitment to promoting public awareness of the need for vaccinations as respiratory virus season begins, improving population health and addressing the challenges of the social determinants of health.

“You need to understand how policy gets made, how decisions about money get made and how we communicate with the public sector,” Cohen said to the News following her morning press conference. “No matter what you’re thinking about, whether it’s public health, healthcare, business, spend some time, at least a couple of years in public service, to make sure you’re understanding how that’s happening.”

Cohen’s advice was well-received by students who attended her talks. Rachel Diaz SPH ’24, a public health student studying social and behavioral sciences, was supposed to work with Cohen this past summer before she was appointed to the CDC. 

She said that it was inspiring to hear Cohen’s life story in person and to see the CDC director interacting with the public.

“I love that [the event] was open to the public,” Diaz said. “When there is such a big change in administration, showing up in person, in these spaces, makes her feel more approachable and in touch with the people she is serving.” 

Diaz also said that it was important to see Cohen highlight issues she is currently studying, such as sharing public health data and whole person health, a medical practice that seeks to treat the entire patient rather than merely a specific disease. 

Students in Forman’s health economics class praised Cohen’s continued openness and honesty in her new role as director of the CDC. In a message to the News, Coby Wagonfeld ’26 noted how Cohen’s visit helped him understand “what the CDC does and how important they are,” along with the integral role they play in protecting the country.

Abhinav Karthikeyan ’25, another student in Forman’s health economics class, also praised her continued openness in her new role as director of the CDC.

“[I] honestly was very surprised by her candor given she’s a public official,” Karthikeyan said. “My impression of her as a whole was that I was extremely impressed.”

Forman also expressed appreciation for Cohen’s openness to dialogue and engagement with the students present at her lectures on Friday.

As someone who never backs away from a challenge, Forman said, Cohen can be described as not just an inspirational figure, but a born leader who has devoted her career and time to improving the health of those around her in multiple positions.

“I am confident that many of our undergraduate and graduate students came away with a greater understanding of public service, of the levers that our government has to enact positive change and how kindness is not incompatible with successful leadership,” Forman said.

Cohen stepped into the role of CDC director on July 10

William Zhang and Giri Viswanathan contributed reporting.


Alexandra Martinez-Garcia covers Community Health and Policy and the Yale-New Haven Health System for the SciTech desk. Originally from Gales Ferry, CT, she is a sophomore in Silliman College majoring in Neuroscience.


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