Richard E. Besser

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Richard Besser
Richard Besser.jpg
Acting Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
In office
January 22, 2009 – June 8, 2009
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byJulie Gerberding
Succeeded byTom Frieden
Personal details
Born (1959-08-29) August 29, 1959 (age 61)
EducationWilliams College (BA)
University of Pennsylvania (MD)

Richard E. Besser (born August 29, 1959) is an American doctor and executive who has served as President and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation since April 2017. Besser served as the acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) from January to June 2009. He was ABC News' former chief health and medical editor.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Besser grew up in Princeton, New Jersey and graduated from Princeton High School in 1977.[2]

Besser received his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Williams College and his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1986.[3] After graduation, Besser completed a residency and a chief residency in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University Hospital.[4]

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.[5]

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.[5]

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.[5]

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".[6][7][8]

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."[7]

In Besser’s role at ABC News,[9] he provided medical analysis and reports for all ABC News programs and platforms. His weekly health chats on social media reached millions.

In April 2015, Besser delivered the Provost's Lecture at Oregon State University.[10][11]

In April 2017, Besser replaced[12] Risa Lavizzo-Mourey and was named the President and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation[13] in Princeton, N.J.


  1. ^ "Dr. Richard Besser of the CDC joins ABC"; accessed October 22, 2014.
  2. ^ Gilbert, Ellen. "Gold Key Recipients Hear Richard Besser Talk About Meeting Life's Challenges", Town Topics (newspaper), June 8, 2011. Accessed December 10, 2018. "ABC News Chief Health and Medical Director Richard Besser, who graduated from Princeton High School (PHS) in 1977, returned last week to deliver the keynote address at the Gold Key Award Ceremony."
  3. ^ "".
  4. ^ Profile,; accessed October 22, 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Harris, Gardiner (2009-05-04). "Agency Official Draws on TV Skills for Flu Updates". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-04.
  6. ^ Rice, Chelsea. "Ebola Today". Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  7. ^ a b "Fight fear of ebola with the facts". Washington Post. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  8. ^ Kingkade, Tyloe. "Colleges Isolate, Disinvite People Out Of An 'Abundance Of Caution' Over Ebola". Huffington Post. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  9. ^ "Dr. Richard Besser". ABC News. 2015-02-10. Retrieved 2018-03-01.
  10. ^ "Doctor-newsman Besser to speak at OSU". Corvallis Gazette-Times. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  11. ^ "OSU Provost's Lecture Series: Richard Besser". Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  12. ^ Japsen, Bruce. "ABC News Doctor To Head $10B Robert Wood Johnson Foundation". Forbes. Retrieved 2018-03-01.
  13. ^ "Richard Besser, MD, Named New President, CEO of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation". RWJF. Retrieved 13 February 2017.

External links[edit]

  • Biography Robert Wood Johnson Foundation website; accessed October 19, 2017
  • Profile Center for BioSecurity website; accessed October 22, 2014.