On first glance, the most startling thing about Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention was its propriety: Brenda Fitzgerald is a trained obstetrician-gynecologist who worked for three decades in private practice before becoming Georgia’s public health commissioner in 2011. In her time in the post, Fitzgerald won the respect of her peers in other states, and they recently elected her president of the nonprofit group that represents America’s state and territorial public-health agencies. Her appointment was praised by Barack Obama’s former CDC director Tom Frieden.
Fizgerald is a staunch believer in the mission of her agency, and has said that the private sector is incapable of performing its core functions. While she has longstanding ties to the Republican Party — having twice run unsuccessfully for Congress — she has proven willing to subordinate conservative orthodoxy to her convictions as a medical professional: In her first House run, Fitzgerald argued that decisions about abortion should be left to women and their doctors.
Finally, as the first female OB/GYN ever tapped to run the CDC, Fitzgerald brings a unique (and historically marginalized) perspective with her to the federal government.
All this makes her a bizarre addition to the Trump cabinet. Thus far, the president has evinced a deep commitment to stocking his administration’s domestic agencies with appointees who are either comically unqualified for their assignments (Ben Carson), hostile to the very purpose of the department they’re meant to direct (Scott Pruitt, Betsy DeVos), or rich, white men who bring ethical baggage and/or flagrant conflicts of interest to their posts (Tom Price, Rex Tillerson, Wilbur Ross, Gary Cohn, etc.).
But fear not — the fundamental laws of our political universe have not been rewritten. Once you read this dispatch from Forbes’s Rita Rubin, everything will fall back into place:
Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, appointed Friday as director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist who saw patients for 30 years in private practice.
Unlike any OB/GYN I know, Fitzgerald treated men as well as women. That’s because besides being board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology, she is a fellow in “anti-aging medicine.”
… Among her credentials listed on [her gynecological practice’s] website: board certification in “Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine” by the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. However, the American Board of Medical Specialties, made up of the specialty boards that certify physicians, doesn’t recognize the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M), which promotes the use of “intravenous nutritional therapy,” “bioidentical hormone replacement therapy” (BHRT) and “pellet therapy,” in which tiny pellets that contain hormones are placed under the skin.
… “[B]ioridiculous” is how Dr. Nanette Santoro, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, described the use of bio-identical hormones in a recent guest post on the North American Menopause Society’s “MenoPause” blog. Santoro described a patient whose hair had fallen out because she had been rubbing testosterone cream into her skin every day and overdosed. Another patient, age 52, had estrogen levels higher than when she was pregnant, due to estrogen pellets that had been inserted under her skin months earlier.
Now she seems like a more obvious fit for the Trump cabinet. The president and secretary of Housing and Urban Development have both dabbled in peddling scientifically dubious supplements, while the secretary of Education owes her fortune to one of the most successful pyramid schemes in world history.
Further, her private practice’s old homepage included the following “frequently asked questions.”
What is anti-aging medicine?
“It is a new specialty of medicine that studies the changes that occur in all of us as we age. It is dedicated to treating the cause of problems, not just the symptoms.”
How do I know I am taking the right supplements?
“We can now measure the vitamins, antioxidants, necessary fats and proteins in your cells with a simple blood test. If you like the supplements you are taking (Juice Plus, for example), we can tell you what you need to add.”
Can you treat my husband?
“I have taken additional training in male hormones so that I may treat male hormone deficiencies as well as female deficiencies.”
Why did you become interested in anti-aging medicine?
“I got older! The life expectancy for women in 1900 was 48. The majority of women never reached the hormone depleted state of menopause just 100 years ago. Now most of us can expect to live half of our lives without natural optimal hormone production.”
The Food and Drug Administration has warned that it has no evidence that the “bio-identical hormones” central to “anti-aging medicine” are “safer or more effective than other hormone products.”
All that said, Fitzgerald is still among the most defensible appointments Trump has made in that she does have a significant body of experience in managing public health. So at least we aren’t relying on Ben Carson to coordinate the federal government’s response to the next pandemic.
More concerning than Trump’s appointment of Fitzgerald is his administration’s proposal to cut the CDC’s budget by $1.2 billion.
Here’s hoping that bubonic plague doesn’t emerge from melting Siberian ice anytime soon.
Update: The American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine offers the following comment in response to this story:
In her haste to make Dr. Fitzgerald appear as a controversial figure, Forbes contributor Rita Rubin tries to convince readers that anti-aging medicine is something suspicious. As a writer who primarily focuses on the sphere of health and wellness, Rubin should know better.
There is nothing controversial about anti-aging medicine. It is a branch of medicine that is both researched and taught at leading medical schools, and has been associated with renowned universities in the United States for many years. This includes hormone therapies, and all other protocols and practices that Rita Rubin derides.
There is nothing sinister regarding the fact that Dr. Fitzgerald paid for and completed rigorous courses in the subject, and received her board certification from A4M. We offer Continuing Medical Education based on peer-reviewed clinical research to our 26,000 members around the world. In our 25 years, A4M has never been sued, subject to any judgement, nor the target of any regulatory proceeding.
There is nothing unusual about OB-GYNs treating male patients. Since 2013, The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) has permitted this practice, as the health problems of women are often linked to those of men: infectious disease transmission, reproduction, sexual health, and transgender issues, to name a few. OB-GYNs are among the legions of primary care doctors in America.
Dr. Fitzgerald may be a controversial appointment for other reasons, but not because of her membership in A4M.