Just weeks into her new role as Director of the US CDC, Dr Mandy Cohen has been busy, emphasising the importance of encouraging trust in her organisation. Through interviews, speeches, and tweets, Dr Cohen has made it clear that, among her top priorities, clear and accurate communication is critical. Here we examine a few of her messages and explore the challenges facing the Director as she settles into the job.
Who is Dr Cohen?
The CDC introduces Dr Cohen as “one of the nation’s top health leaders”, referring to experience as a leader and a health expert; she is an internal medicine physician whose “outstanding leadership” in the COVID-19 crisis has been recognised. In 2019 Modern Healthcare celebrated her among its “Top 25 Women Leaders in Healthcare”, identifying her “efforts to transform the system”, not only for patients but for employees.
Educated at Cornell University, Yale School of Medicine, and Harvard School of Public Health, Dr Cohen trained at Massachusetts General Hospital. She was appointed by President Joe Biden as the 20th Director of the CDC, and therefore also Administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, in 2023. President Biden commented on the “bipartisan praise” that her leadership has previously drawn, in its ability to “find common ground and put complex policy into action”.
“I look forward to working with Dr Cohen as she leads our nation’s finest scientists and public health experts with integrity and transparency.”
Trust, tiredness, and tools
In an interview with STAT in July 2023 Dr Cohen recognised that the CDC “lost during during an incredibly historic pandemic”. Furthermore, she acknowledged that the public was feeling fatigued in relation to disease discussions and necessary medical interventions. However, like many of her peers in the health space, she emphasised that “viruses don’t get tired”.
“We have to maintain our vigilance.”
Fortunately, Dr Cohen identifies “tools” to tackle the “currently circulating” threats that will combine and crescendo as seasons change. For example, vaccination against viruses “that we know about” is the best protection against known threats. On the other hand, there is a need for “more investment” in “being able to respond to something new”.
“There was certainly room for improvement on how things went during the pandemic. And our ability to do that the next time is going to require investments, particularly in data as well as in our workforce.”
Dr Cohen’s goals
In her interview for STAT, Dr Cohen described the work of protecting the public’s health as “team sport”, in which the CDC will be a “hugely important player” but “not the only one”. This hints at her intention to draw funding, support, and collaboration across the board. Her other tactics are clear. In an interview with NPR All Things Considered’s Sacha Pfieffer, Dr Cohen outlines “three important steps”:
- Making sure that we are being transparent. We’re having clear communications that are simple and accurate, that folks can understand, that they know that there are common sense solutions for them to protect their health.
- Making sure that we execute or have good performance in what the CDC is meant to do. And so making sure that we are doing what we say we’re going to do. Just as you trust in your own personal life, I want to make sure that you trust that we are going to do that for you.
- The third, very important, is about building relationships and partnerships. Protecting the health of this country is a team sport.
“We can’t do it alone.”
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