America’s Epidemic Point Person: An Exclusive Interview With Dr. Anthony Fauci and an Overview of His Career

Having worked for the NIH and White House for almost four decades with numerous accomplishments, Dr. Anthony Fauci retired from his position as the Director of NIAID and Chief Medical Advisor for the President of the United States in December 2022.


NIAID, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Throughout the years, Dr. Fauci has earned many awards such as the National Medal of Science in 2005 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008. Currently, Dr. Fauci is ranked as the 44th most-cited living researcher on Google Analytics, with over 231,402 citations.

On June 22nd, 2020, the U.S. death toll for the COVID-19 pandemic passed 120,000. The next day, former-President Donald Trump said, “Cases are going up in the U.S. because we are testing far more than any other country, and ever-expanding. With smaller testing, we would show fewer cases!” 

Then, a month later on July 28th, 2020, the U.S death toll for COVID-19 passed 150,000. That same day, President Trump said, “He’s [Dr. Anthony Fauci] got this high approval rating. So why don’t I have a high approval rating with respect – and the administration with respect to the virus?” 

As thousands of Americans were dying every day, Donald Trump was busy denying the severity of the pandemic and trying to undermine the words of professionals. As time passed, this conflict between President Trump and Dr. Fauci only continued to grow. 

As the President’s Chief Medical Advisor, Dr. Fauci was tasked with handling the U.S. COVID-19 crisis. 

“Dr. Fauci was a constant during the peak of the pandemic. He helped ease people’s minds during a time where politicians were busier with their prestige and authority rather than saving the millions of people being affected by COVID-19,” said Bronx Science student Marina Gallo ’24 when asked about her opinions on Dr. Fauci. 

Throughout the 38 years of his tenure, Dr. Fauci has been given the title of “America’s Doctor” by the public, reflecting his dedication and invaluable contributions to public health. But how does one become America’s Doctor? 

Early Life

Dr. Fauci was born on December 24th, 1940, in Brooklyn, New York. 

His father was a pharmacist, and Dr. Fauci often helped deliver medicine for their family business. He grew up surrounded by medicine with his father running his own pharmacy, but Dr. Fauci’s main goal when entering medicine was not to make scientific discoveries. 

He went on to attend Regis High School, a Jesuit school on the Upper East Side, where he found himself engrossed in the humanities. He studied classics such as Greek, Latin, and Romance languages such as French. Dr. Fauci continued to study the humanities at the College of the Holy Cross, with a sub-major in Pre-Med, balancing both humanities and science courses simultaneously. 

Dr. Fauci graciously consented to be interviewed over Zoom by me. Below are excerpts from our conversation. 

“[What] I really wanted to do was to be a physician and take care of patients. And I took an interesting pathway because I was also interested in the humanities-classics like Greek, Latin, the Romance languages… I wanted to mix science and human context. So I took as many courses in Greek, Latin, and philosophy as I did in physics, biology, and chemistry, with the purpose of going to medical school,” said Dr. Fauci.

Following his graduation from The College of Holy Cross, Dr. Fauci began medical school at Weill Cornell in Manhattan. Despite being known for his career as a scientist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), as well as being one of the top cited scientists, Dr. Fauci’s goal was not to go into scientific research. Instead, he initially wanted to become a practicing physician.

During Dr. Fauci’s time as a doctor, he helped develop therapies for diseases such as granulomatosis with polyangiitis, polyarteritis nodosa and lymphomatoid granulomatosis, and he discovered how to re-dose cancer drugs more effectively. (NIAID, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)

“My research experience at NIH was the turning point in my career, because I had otherwise planned to finish my fellowship at the NIH, go back to New York City, and practice medicine at the New York Hospital Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan,” said Dr. Fauci. “But I didn’t do that. I went back to New York City for a year as Chief Resident of Medicine, and ever since then, I have been here at NIH doing basic and clinical research.” 

Dr. Fauci began working at the NIH as a fellow in training in Infectious Diseases and Clinical Immunology  in 1968 and rose through the ranks as the Director of the NIAID in 1980. In addition to his role at the NIAID, Dr. Fauci was appointed as the Chief Medical Advisor for the President in 2020. 

HIV/AIDS Epidemic 

Dr. Fauci has worked in immunology research for nearly six decades. His research includes diagnosing and treating human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), respiratory infections, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases. His groundbreaking discoveries have saved millions of lives. 

Fauci’s research on HIV/AIDS helped scientists not only better understand the pathogenic mechanisms of the disease but also helped advance treatments. HIV is an infection that attacks a person’s immune system and suppresses their ability to fight infections by destroying CD4 cells (cells that help fight infection). When the CD4 cell count falls below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood, the person is diagnosed with AIDS. 

Throughout the AIDS epidemic, the disease was stigmatized because it disproportionately affected the LGBTQ+ community. Despite the growing mortality rate, the Reagan administration ignored the demands of the LGBTQ+ activists. It wasn’t until 1983 that Congress finally passed a bill to fund research for AIDS. 

While overseeing treatments and clinical trials for drugs like zidovudine, or AZT, the  LGBTQ+ community criticized Dr. Fauci for the slow progress. Although AZT helped treat HIV/AIDS to a limited extent, the drug lacked effectiveness and had many side effects such as liver problems and low blood cell count. 

However, Dr. Fauci was eventually seen as a key ally due to his ability to listen to criticism from activists and improve upon his methods. Dr. Fauci helped expand the clinical trials for ATZ and other treatments, giving more people access to potentially life-saving drugs. 

In 2003, he also went on to work with President George W. Bush and created the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The plan entails looking at data points to determine regions with high HIV/AIDS burden in order to maximize the impact of HIV treatment and prevention services. With over $100 billion dollars in investments over 20 years, PEPFAR has saved over 20 million lives and has expanded testing services for over 60 million people. 

The White House and COVID-19

In 1984, during the Reagan administration, Dr. Fauci began working as a key advisor for the White House. 

Since then, Dr. Fauci has served seven presidents and has become the United States’ point person when facing epidemics. He has advised through multiple crises such as Ebola in 2014, Zika in 2016, and COVID-19 in 2020. 

“I made myself a promise: You should never be afraid to tell the President exactly what the truth is based on evidence, data, and science, even when the truth can sometimes be something the president doesn’t want to hear because it might be uncomfortable,” Dr. Fauci said. “And virtually almost every president listened to my advice and was very accepting of the advice that I gave them based on the data. I think that worked really well for the benefit of the people.”

In 2020, despite the rise in COVID-19 cases, many right-wing politicians, including President Trump, downplayed the risks of the virus. 

Dr. Fauci was often accused of fear-mongering or exaggerating the risks of the virus. Republican Senator Ron Johnson and Senator Rand Paul have even accused Dr. Fauci of lying about the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine. Senator Paul also claims vaccines are ineffective and unnecessary for those who have already been infected by COVID-19. Not only do COVID-19 vaccines such as the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines show about 95% efficacy, but health professionals also emphasize the need for booster shots due to the mutable nature of the virus.

When asked about how politicians have contributed to people’s perception of science, Dr. Fauci said, “Well sometimes it’s been productive and positive, and sometimes unfortunately it’s been negative and detracting from our goal. It’s gravely unfortunate that some members of Congress have been egregiously incorrect in their comments about science, which is unacceptable to come from an elected member of the Senate or the House. It’s their job to represent and support their constituencies and not deny the truth.”

The New York Times reports that during his final White House briefing, Dr. Fauci said, “My message and my final message — maybe the final message I give you from this podium — is that, please, for your own safety, for that of your family, get your updated Covid-19 shot as soon as you’re eligible,” emphasizing the need for getting vaccinated for COVID-19.

Dr. Fauci told me that he believes that younger generations can play a pivotal role in resolving these issues. 

“You counter misinformation and disinformation by being very active in spreading correct information. People like myself and my colleagues are out there using social media to spread the truth based on facts, rather than yielding social media for people,” he continued.

Younger generations tend to be more active on social media, and therefore better equipped for countering misinformation regarding science and health. 

What’s next?

Dr. Fauci resigned from both of his positions, as the Chief Medical Advisor for the President and Director of the NIAID, in December of 2022. 

I want to use what I have learned as NIAID Director to continue to advance science and public health and to inspire and mentor the next generation of scientific leaders as they help prepare the world to face future infectious disease threats,” Dr. Fauci said in his retirement statement.

Dr. Fauci described his unique career as having to wear three hats: the hat of a scientist, where he can conduct scientific research; the hat of the Director of NIAID, where he began overseeing different kinds of research and working with industrial partners; and the hat as the Chief Advisor for the President, which has enabled him to create programs that benefit people. Here, I am pictured during my Zoom interview with Dr. Fauci.
(Ayshi Sen)

He sees this unfolding in numerous ways, such as writing, mentoring, and teaching young students interested in public health and science.

Dr. Fauci’s advice for students interested in science is, “First of all getting experience. The beauty of science and public health is that it has so many different pathways within the broad umbrella. Within that framework, you need to pick out what makes you passionate about what you are doing. When you find out the area of science and public health that really turns you on, it doesn’t become work, it becomes really easy.” 

“I always say, ‘Listen to your gut. When it feels right in your gut, it must be right,’ especially when you’re looking to enter a career in science.” 

“I made myself a promise: You should never be afraid to tell the President exactly what the truth is based on evidence, data, and science, even when the truth can sometimes be something the president doesn’t want to hear because it might be uncomfortable.” Dr. Fauci said. “And virtually almost every president listened to my advice and was very accepting of the advice that I gave them based on the data. I think that worked really well for the benefit of the people.”