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Anthony Fauci inspires Dialogues audience with insights from a storied career in public service

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04/25/24 | Anthony Fauci inspires Dialogues audience with insights from a storied career in public service

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Anthony Fauci wasn’t planning to stay at the National Institutes of Health for very long.

As a young doctor, Fauci had all intentions of returning home to New York to practice medicine following an NIH fellowship.

But then he witnessed firsthand the importance of scientific discovery and its impact, first while working to find a treatment for an often fatal condition that causes blood vessel inflammation and then when treating patients and studying HIV/AIDS in the early days of the disease.

“Career paths, at least for me, have never been linear. You can plan the trajectory of where you want to go, but it’s a zig-zag effect,” said Fauci, who would go on to serve as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases from 1984 to 2022. “Expect the unexpected, but also take use of new opportunities that fall in front of you.”

That lesson was just one of many from Fauci’s illustrious career in public service that he shared with a packed audience of Janelians and guests Tuesday night as part of the Dialogues public discussion series.

In a wide-ranging conversation with Janelia Executive Director Ron Vale that touched on public health, medicine, science, and communication, Fauci recounted how a life of public service was instilled in him at a young age, first by his parents, and then later by his Jesuit school teachers.

Fauci said his education in the humanities -- studying the classics and learning about different civilizations -- also served him well in his more than five decades at the NIH, where he was at the forefront of the fight against major infectious diseases, from HIV/AIDS to COVID-19.  

“I was much more interested in the person that had the disease than the disease the person had, and that has served me, I believe, very well as an individual physician, who has taken care of literally thousands of patients in my career,” Fauci said. “It was sort of like an interesting merging of appreciation of the plight of the patient at the same time as being extremely well versed in the medical and scientific aspects of what they had.”

Today, Fauci is a professor at Georgetown University, where he shares his observations and knowledge with students and early-career doctors and scientists. Fauci said he hopes to continue to have an impact by inspiring the next generation to pursue a life in public service – even if they don’t end up working in the federal government for more than 50 years.

“There are so many ways you can do things for other people for service of the country, to make the world a better place,” Fauci said, including being a scientist or a physician whose work benefits humanity. “If your motivation is to do something good to make the world a better place, it is really a great feeling while you are doing it, and it is a great feeling when you reflect back on what you’ve done. So, to me, that’s all the gratification that I need.”

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