Dr. Anthony Fauci delivers a presentation at a podium in the Lohrfink Auditorium
Category: University News

Title: 5 Questions for Dr. Fauci on Why He Decided To Join Georgetown

Last December, Dr. Anthony Fauci stepped down from his 54-year career at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). After working 18-hour workdays during the COVID-19 pandemic, he spent the next few months deciding what he wanted to do next. 

He knew he wanted to do something different. He knew he wanted to work in medicine and public policy. And he knew he wanted to inspire and mentor the next generation of scientific leaders.

“I ask myself, now, at this stage in my life, what do I have to offer to society?” he said. “I could do more experiments in the lab and have my lab going, but given what I’ve been through, I think what I have to offer is experience and inspiration to the younger generation of students.” 

After looking at different options, Fauci realized the decision was “a no-brainer.”

Six months later, he’s about to start a new role: Distinguished University Professor at Georgetown, the university’s highest professional honor that recognizes extraordinary achievement in scholarship, teaching and service.

For Fauci, a physician, leading immunologist and infectious disease researcher and advisor to seven U.S. presidents who directed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at NIH for 38 years, coming to Georgetown was a full circle moment. 

He had grown up educated in Jesuit institutions, married his wife, Christine Grady (NHS’74, G’93), a Georgetown alumna and chair of NIH’s Department of Bioethics, in Dahlgren Chapel, had their three children at Georgetown University Hospital, and engaged with Hoyas over the years on campus and in virtual discussions.

Before he begins his new role on July 1, we sat down with him to learn why he chose Georgetown, what he hopes to accomplish here, and why he’s giving himself the same advice he gives to students on his first day. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Q: What was going through your mind in December 2022 when you decided to step down? How were you feeling at the time?

Fauci: I knew it was the right time to step down because I said to myself, I’m still quite energetic. I’m still very enthusiastic, and I’m passionate about doing something with the next several years … while I still had, as they say, a lot of gas in my tank and a lot of energy. I wanted to do something a little bit different outside the confines of the federal government. I was trying to decide what exactly that would be. 

There were several things I wanted to do. First of all, I wanted to stay in Washington, DC. But I also wanted to be involved in what would be a community — a community of academics, a community of students — in a medical center that’s well-known and respected, and have the opportunity to do both medicine and public policy. 

All of a sudden it became very clear what I wanted to do because Georgetown filled all of those criteria with the added attraction that it was physically where I have been and I’m very happy at. Then it has so many other aspects of it that you couldn’t make it up <laughs>. My wife graduated from undergraduate here. She got her Ph.D. in philosophy here. We were married in Dahlgren Chapel. Our three daughters were born at Georgetown Hospital, and I live 10 blocks away <laughs>. It was pretty easy to make that decision. Kind of a no-brainer.

Dr. Anthony Fauci and his wife, Christine Grady, visit Dahlgren Chapel where they were married in 1985.

Q. What excites you about coming to Georgetown? What do you hope to accomplish here?

Fauci: I have appointments in the Department of Medicine and the School of Public Policy. So I’m excited about putting together the overlap of medicine and public policy. And developing collaborations at various levels, particularly with students, and I mean all students – I don’t mean just medical students.

Before I stepped down, people would always ask, ‘You’ve been doing this for a half a century. You’ve been director for 38 years. Do you want to continue to do experiments in the lab or run clinical trials?’ And I said, ‘No.’ 

I ask myself, now, at this stage in my life, what do I have to offer to society? Sure, I could do more experiments in the lab and have my lab going, but given what I’ve been through, I think what I have to offer is experience and inspiration to the younger generation of students. If I accomplish that, I think I’ll make a major contribution to Georgetown.

Q: It sounds like you still feel that desire to serve others, for public service.

Fauci: Well, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing. If you’re inspiring students, you’re certainly serving others. And there may be some old fogies who want to learn something from me too, who knows <laughs>.

Q: Is there a certain message that you want to give students, particularly those who are interested in pursuing careers in health care? 

Fauci: One of the ones I always talk about, particularly at commencement addresses, is expect the unexpected. When you have training like you’ll be getting at Georgetown or have gotten at Georgetown, you already are building up the credentials to be able to do something. 

But my career, certainly — and most people’s careers — are rarely linear. There’s always twists and turns and opportunities arise that you would not have predicted. And hence expect the unexpected but be open-minded enough to maybe jump on an opportunity you didn’t actually plan. Planning is good, but more often than not, things happen that have you veer away from your plan. 

So my advice has always been to students, be they college students or medical students or professional students like law students or people involved in policy, is work hard but keep an open mind and be flexible for the appearance of unexpected opportunities. That’s really exciting and could dramatically influence your professional and your personal life.

Q. What do you think will be going through your head on your first day at Georgetown?

Fauci: A lot of excitement and anticipation of the unknown. The unknown can be frightening sometimes, but the unknown can be exciting sometimes. That question is very similar to how I felt the first time I walked into medical school or the first time I did my internship or the first time I walked into the NIH. 

When you’re walking into a new situation, there’s always that positive anticipation of what are you gonna do? What’s the first day gonna be like? What’s the first week gonna be like? What is an opportunity that you’re not even thinking about that six months from now is going to pop up and you’re going to be doing something that you didn’t expect? Because my advice to young people — expect the unexpected — goes for me too. 

So I’m gonna expect the unexpected here.