Richard E. Besser

President and CEO

Richard Besser, MD, is president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), a position he assumed in April 2017. Besser is the former acting director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and ABC News’ former chief health and medical editor.

At RWJF, 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 the opportunity to live the healthiest life possible, regardless of finances, geographic location, race, ethnicity, or physical challenges. Access to healthy food, safe housing, employment, transportation, education, as well as clean air and water, are all important contributors to health and well-being.         

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

Before joining ABC News in 2009, 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.

Besser’s tenure at the CDC began in 1991, working on the epidemiology of foodborne 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.

While at ABC News, Besser traveled all over the United States and around the globe to cover major medical news stories. He walked the Ebola wards in Liberia in 2014, reporting from the center of the deadly epidemic, and continued to provide extensive coverage for months. In 2011, he led ABC's global health coverage, Be the Change: Save a Life, reporting on critical global health issues from seven different nations.

The author or co-author of hundreds of presentations, abstracts, chapters, editorials and publications, Besser has earned many awards for his work in public health and for his volunteer service. 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. His investigative reporting into umbilical cord blood banking was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2011. In 2012, he received an Overseas Press Club award as part of ABC's coverage of global maternal health issues, and two Peabody Awards as part of ABC News’ coverage of Hurricane Sandy and Robin Roberts’ health journey. His book, Tell Me the Truth, Doctor: Easy-to-Understand Answers to Your Most Confusing and Critical Health Questions, was published by Hyperion in 2013.

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.

Besser and his wife Jeanne, a food writer, have two sons, Alex and Jack.

New RWJF President Hits the Ground Learning

New RWJF President Hits the Ground Learning

Richard Besser, MD, RWJF President and CEO

New RWJF President Hits the Ground Learning

New RWJF President Hits the Ground Learning

Latest Statements from Rich

Comments from Richard Besser, MD, on Kentucky Medicaid Waiver

August 17, 2018

RWJF submitted comments in response to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services invitation to submit comments regard Kentucky’s demonstration project “Kentucky Helping to Engage and Achieve Long Term Health” (Kentucky HEALTH).

RWJF Comments on Proposed Information Collection on 2020 Census

August 6, 2018

RWJF comments in response to the June 8, 2018 notice in the Federal Register requesting comments on the 2020 Census proposed information collection.

RWJF Comments on Regulation of Flavors in Tobacco Products

July 12, 2018

Comments from Richard Besser, MD, in regard to the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the regulation of flavors in combusted and non-combusted tobacco products.

RWJF Comments on Maximum Nicotine Level for Tobacco Products

July 12, 2018

Comments from Richard Besser, MD, on the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking with respect to developing a product standard to set the maximum nicotine level for combusted tobacco products to a minimal or non-addictive level.

Richard E. Besser
Connect with Richard

2018 Annual Message

Putting Our Principles to Work

In his 2018 annual message, Richard Besser reflects on the guiding principles that drive the Foundation’s work to improve health and health care for everyone in America.

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From the Blog

Rich Besser’s Journey of Service

From his Princeton roots to his experiences as a pediatrician, public health practitioner and journalist, Rich Besser shares stories and lessons from a career dedicated to service in this Q&A.

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