Richard E. Besser

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Richard Besser

Richard E. Besser (born 1959) is an American physician who was ABC News's Chief Health and Medical editor[1] and formerly the acting director of the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). In April 2017, Besser took over as President and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, NJ.

Life and career[edit]

Besser received his BA from Williams College and his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1986.[2] After graduation, Besser completed a residency and a chief residency in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University Hospital.[3]

In 1991, Besser joined the Epidemic Intelligence Service which is under the supervision of the CDC. He was sent to Boston to investigate a minor outbreak of E. coli there. Officials were unhappy at the length and cost of the investigation, which included collecting deer feces from apple orchards, but Besser eventually found the source of the outbreak, which was apple cider.[4]

Besser also worked as a health reporter for a local television station in San Diego, California during the 1990s. On January 22, 2009, Besser was named acting director of the CDC and ATSDR. Before the new Obama administration named a permanent director for both agencies, in April 2009, an outbreak of swine flu in North America swept the headlines. Besser began to hold daily press conferences where he explained the United States government's reaction to the outbreak, which originated in Mexico, but had since spread to over 20 countries, with the United States the most affected by the virus's spread. Besser's handling of his press conferences drew praise from prominent American medical professionals such as Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. David Satcher.[4]

In October 2014, Case Western Reserve University disinvited Besser from a speaking engagement because he'd recently returned from a trip to Liberia. His scheduled talk was to be “Pandemics, Public Health, and Political Change: The Critical Importance of Communication," a discussion of the 2009 flu pandemic "when fear was outracing the disease".[5][6][7]

Besser wrote at the time, "You cannot catch Ebola in a lecture hall hearing about the power of communication during a public health crisis. I expect universities to fight this kind of fear, not feed it. What we need to do is communicate, as strongly and as often as we can, what the real risks are and aren’t." [6]

In April 2015, Besser delivered the Provost's Lecture at Oregon State University.[8][9]

Besser's wife, Jeanne, has published five cookbooks and wrote for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.[citation needed]

In April 2017, Besser replaced Risa Lavizzo-Mourey[10] and was named the President and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation[11] in Princeton, NJ ending his run as Chief Medical Editor for ABC News.


  1. ^ "Dr. Richard Besser of the CDC joins ABC"; accessed October 22, 2014.
  2. ^ "". 
  3. ^ Profile,; accessed October 22, 2014.
  4. ^ a b Harris, Gardiner (2009-05-04). "Agency Official Draws on TV Skills for Flu Updates". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-04. 
  5. ^ Rice, Chelsea. "Ebola Today". Retrieved 18 October 2014. 
  6. ^ a b "Fight fear of ebola with the facts". Washington Post. Retrieved 18 October 2014. 
  7. ^ Kingkade, Tyloe. "Colleges Isolate, Disinvite People Out Of An 'Abundance Of Caution' Over Ebola". Huffington Post. Retrieved 18 October 2014. 
  8. ^ "Doctor-newsman Besser to speak at OSU". Corvallis Gazette-Times. Retrieved 28 September 2015. 
  9. ^ "OSU Provost's Lecture Series: Richard Besser". Retrieved 28 September 2015. 
  10. ^ "Risa Lavizzo-Mourey". RWJF. Retrieved 31 March 2017. 
  11. ^ "Richard Besser, MD, Named New President, CEO of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation". RWJF. Retrieved 13 February 2017. 

External links[edit]

  • Profile Center for BioSecurity website; accessed October 22, 2014.