She credits her experiences working in inner-city Baltimore to helping her become the leader she is today. As a student, Walensky said she did not have rising to the helm of nation’s top public health agency on her radar. However, she credits her experiences as an infectious disease physician, her ability to pivot and her passion for people for helping elevate her to the position.

Walensky will be the featured guest on the December episode of Morehouse School of Medicine’s Danforth Dialogues podcast, hosted by the institution’s president and chief executive officer, Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice.

The series is recorded in the Danforth Chapel on Morehouse College’s campus, and features leaders talking with Montgomery Rice about lessons learned during the pandemic, while also reflecting on their broader leadership experiences.

ExploreLISTEN: Danforth Dialogues podcasts with Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice

Walensky began her tenure at the CDC in January of 2021, at the height of the pandemic. She said she recognized early on the need to foster relationships in places were mutual trust was pivotal.

“What I really needed to do and have continued to do is fostering those places where I have had less of those connections,” she noted.

In a paper she co-authored before heading the CDC, Walensky asserted that any COVID-19 vaccine’s efficacy would depend on people’s willingness to take it. Public health officials recognized this obstacle and centered vaccination campaigns around getting communities of color and other underserved populations access to vaccines.

Walensky explained how many infectious diseases first affect people who travel internationally on airplanes and cruise ships, and then the diseases spill over into minority communities, many of whom have jobs as frontline workers.

She also reflected on progress made around mpox, the disease formerly known as monkeypox, that surged within the LGBT community this summer. Monkeypox vaccination rates for Black and Latino communities, those most affected, still lag behind cases within these populations, something Walensky says the CDC is continuing to work to change.

Walensky gave advice to leaders and students, encouraging them to follow their passions, listen more than they talk and to help foster the next generation.

“You are our future. We need you,” she said. “There is so much brightness and so much potential ahead.”

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