(Photographer: Shealah Craighead)

Photographer: Shealah Craighead

Who is Dr. Deborah Birx?

The Story Behind America's Woman Fighting Coronavirus

POSTED May 18, 2020

We all know her. She’s on our TVs all the time these days. Who is she? Where did she come from? How can we trust her? Ladies and gentlemen, meet Dr. Deborah Birx, Coronavirus Response Coordinator at the White House. Smart, spunky, and stylish, some say she is the “mother-in-chief”. 


Deborah was born in Pennsylvania in 1956 to Donald and Adele Sparks Birx. Her father was a mathematician and electrical engineer, and her mother was a nursing instructor. As a child, Deborah won many science fairs, including the Lancaster City-County Science Fair. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from Houghton College, and an MD from Penn State in 1980.

Image Courtesy Flicker


Early Career

Birx started her career as an active duty reserve officer in the United States Army (1980-1994). Then, from 1994 to 2008, she served in the active duty regular Army, reaching the rank of Colonel. For nine years, Birx worked at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center; four of which she was the assistant chief of the Walter Reed Allergy/Immunology Service. Much of her career she spent researching HIV/AIDS vaccines, which led her to jobs like the National Institute of Health in cellular immunology (1986-1989), the Director of the United States Military HIV Research Program (1996-2005), and Director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Global HIV/AIDS (2005-2014).


Under Barack Obama

Deborah was nominated by Obama in 2014 to be the Ambassador at Large and U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator. This was part of Obama’s PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief) program. Her goal was to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, and to research global health issues with HIV/AIDS.


Under President Donald Trump

Birx was appointed by Mike Pence on February 27, 2020 to be the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, where she reports back to the Vice President, and often makes appearances presenting data during the Coronavirus Task force Press Briefings.

Photographer: Shealah Craighead


Fun Facts:

  • Birx is often referred to as “Dr.Scarf” because of her notable fashion statement of wearing various colors and patterns of scarves tied around her shoulders.
  • Vice President Mike Pence refers to her as his “right arm.”
  • There have been several Instagram accounts dedicated to Deborah’s various scarves.
  • Birx has worked with Dr. Anthony Fauci before; she completed two fellowships in clinical immunology from 1983-1986, where she worked in Fauci’s lab.
  • She is the mother of two children.
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