A Goal Of Service To Humankind

Anthony Fauci - Washington, District of Columbia
As heard on NPR’s All Things Considered, July 25, 2005
Anthony Fauci
Photo by Nubar Alexanian

Dr. Anthony Fauci says he was destined to help people with HIV-AIDS. His work at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is fueled by his belief in personal responsibility to humankind.

I believe I have a personal responsibility to make a positive impact on society. I’ve tried to accomplish this goal by choosing a life of public service. I am a physician and a scientist confronting the challenge of infectious diseases. I consider my job a gift. It allows me to try and help alleviate the suffering of humankind.

I have three guiding principles that anchor my life, and I think about them every day.

First, I have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Knowledge goes hand-in-hand with truth — something I learned with a bit of tough love from my Jesuit education first at Regis High School in New York City and then at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass. I consider myself a perpetual student. You seek and learn every day: from an experiment in the lab, from reading a scientific journal, from taking care of a patient. Because of this, I rarely get bored.

Second, I believe in striving for excellence. I sweat the big and the small stuff! I do not apologize for this. One of the by-products of being a perfectionist and constantly trying to improve myself are sobering feelings of low-grade anxiety and a nagging sense of inadequacy. But this is not anxiety without a purpose. No, this anxiety keeps me humble. It creates a healthy tension that serves as the catalyst that drives me to fulfill my limited potential.

This has made me a better physician and scientist. Without this tension, I wouldn’t be as focused.

I have accepted that I will never know or understand as much as I want. This is what keeps the quest for knowledge exciting! And it is one of the reasons I would do my job even if I did not get paid to come to work every day.

Third, I believe that as a physician my goal is to serve humankind.

I have spent all of my professional life in public service. Most of it involved in research, care of patients, and public health policy concerning the HIV-AIDS epidemic. When I chose to concentrate on AIDS in the 1980s, many of my colleagues thought I was misguided to be focusing all of my attention on what was then considered “just a gay man’s disease.” But I felt that this was my destiny and was perfectly matched to my training. I knew deep down that this was going to become a public health catastrophe. I am committed to confronting the enormity of this global public health catastrophe and its potential for even greater devastation.

Failure to contain it cannot be an option. I believe that to be even marginally successful in working to contain this terrible disease, I must be guided by these principles. I must continually thirst for knowledge, accept nothing short of excellence and know that the good of the global society is more important and larger than I am.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. His research focuses on HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, asthma, allergies and other conditions. He advises the White House and other government agencies on the global AIDS crisis and threats related to bioterrorism.

Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick. Edited by Ellen Silva.