Richard E. Besser, MD, is president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a position he assumed in April 2017. Dr. Besser is the former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ABC News’ former Chief Health and Medical Editor and is now on the Multi-State Council to Get People Back to Work and Restore the Economy and the New Jersey Governor’s Restart and Recovery Commission.
At RWJF, Dr. Besser leads the largest private foundation in the country devoted solely to improving the nation’s health. RWJF’s work is focused on building a comprehensive Culture of Health that provides everyone in America with a fair and just opportunity to live the healthiest life possible. Access to healthy food, clean air and water, safe housing, secure employment at a living wage, transportation, education, and the elimination of barriers from discrimination are all important contributors to health and well-being.
In Dr. Besser’s role at ABC News, he worked to shape how viewers think about health here and around the globe. His weekly health chats on social media reached millions.
Before joining ABC News in 2009, Dr. Besser worked as Director of the Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response at the CDC. In that role he was responsible for all the CDC's public health emergency preparedness and emergency response activities. He also served as acting director of the CDC from January to June 2009, during which time he led the CDC's response to the H1N1 influenza pandemic.
Dr. Besser’s tenure at the CDC began in 1991 working on the epidemiology of food-borne illness. He then served for five years on the faculty of the University of California, San Diego as the pediatric residency director, while also conducting research and working for the county health department on the control of pediatric tuberculosis. He returned to the CDC in 1998 as an infectious disease epidemiologist working on pneumonia, antibiotic resistance and the control of antibiotic overuse.
Dr. Besser received his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Williams College and medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He completed a residency and chief residency in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. He is a member of the National Academy of Medicine. He received the Surgeon General's Medallion for his leadership during the H1N1 response, and in 2011 he accepted the Dean's Medal for his contributions to public health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.