As most readers of this blog site will already be aware, Dr. Peggy Hamburg has decided that the time has come to “move on” in her career as servant of the public health, and so she will be stepping down as the Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at the end of March this year.
While my opinions on this topic are near to trivial by comparison with those of others, I feel in duty bound to note that Dr. Hamburg has arguably been the most influential and “successful” Commissioner of the FDA since Dr. David Kessler in the 1990s — and her many achievements over the past 5+ years have been accomplished with a relative minimum of controversy and confrontation (considering the near to all-encompassing nature of the responsibilities). She will leave behind her a legacy that we can only hope — fervently — that her immediate successor can and will continue to build on.
I have no intention of offering yet another re-iteration of all the things that Dr. Hamburg has been able to achieve during her tenure at the FDA (let alone all the ones she would probably have liked to accomplish). An article on the RAPS web site gives a quick summary of just the most important of those accomplishments, as does a Reuters article today. What I do want to emphasize, however, is the clarity of her determination to return the FDA to its stature as one of the country’s (and arguably the world’s) most crucial public health agencies: an agency that again became focused, first and foremost, on seeking to blend its responsibilities for the minimization of health-related risks with the opening up of innovative opportunities for physicians, patients, and industry to seek and find new forms of care and bring them to market in a timely manner. She made this core objective almost palpable in an article in The New England Journal of Medicine at the time of her appointment and she acted on this intent with admirable consistency throughout her tenure.
And it is worth noting that her letter to all FDA staff confirming her resignation is yet another example of her profound ability to share her successes with all the staff at the FDA who helped to make those successes possible.
As only the second woman to hold what is considered by many to be one of the most challenging positions in the American healthcare system, Dr. Hamburg has set an example that we can all look to when we feel challenged in our own day to day responsibilities: she always made every attempt to “do the right thing” in the best interests of patients and the public as a whole; she had a profound capacity for “grace under pressure”; and even when there were serious internal disagreements within and between agency staff (let alone differences of opinion with the external community), she was able to make very clear where the priorities should lie.
Last but by no means least, Dr. Hamburg was one of the very few FDA Commissioners to state publicly in no uncertain tones, and regardless of what her political lords and masters might be thinking, that the FDA is seriously and severely underfunded. It would be nice to hope that, at some point in the near future, she will be willing to become an influential voice in continuing to advise the White House and Congress (regardless of who is actually “in charge”) that an underfunded FDA is a federal disaster waiting to happen … for a whole variety of potential reasons that you can read about regularly on the web site of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA.