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.