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. Rich 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, Rich 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 his role, Rich is a leading voice on the importance of health equity, advocating for racial justice, full inclusion of people with disabilities, and a COVID-19 response and recovery that prioritizes those most impacted.

In Rich'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.

While at ABC News, Rich 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.

Before joining ABC News in 2009, Rich 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.

Rich'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.

The author or co-author of hundreds of presentations, abstracts, chapters, editorials and publications, Rich has earned many awards for his work in public health and for his volunteer service. 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. 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. In 2017 and 2018, he received an Emmy award for “Outstanding Morning Program” as part of the Good Morning America team. 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.

Rich 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 continues to practice as a volunteer pediatrician at the Henry J. Austin Health Center in Trenton, N.J. He and his wife Jeanne, a food writer, have two sons, Alex and Jack.

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Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is committed to maintaining an equitable workplace and creating inclusive environments where all individuals are encouraged to share their perspectives and experiences.

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The COVID-19 Effect

The pandemic has demonstrated that disability inclusion in philanthropy is more crucial than ever. Read more from Richard Besser in Stanford Social Innovation Review.

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Latest Op-Eds

The Debate Over the Covid-19 Public Health Emergency is Failing America

With the Public Health Emergency in place through at least mid-July, we should use this critical window to plan for an orderly and equitable transition guided by data and readiness, not politics. It should ensure that millions of people continue to receive affordable healthcare. Richard Besser writes in The Hill that we should preserve and build on, rather than discard, specific provisions that should be here to stay. This could include extending the highly effective premium tax credits for healthcare plans offered under the Affordable Care Act; providing coverage to people with low incomes who fall into the “Medicaid coverage gap” in twelve states; and making a year of postpartum coverage mandatory for all pregnant women on Medicaid.

The work toward equity that awaits a pandemic-weary nation: ANALYSIS

We have all earned the right to breathe easier in this pandemic, as the worst of the devastating Omicron wave is thankfully behind us. Even so, our work is not done, writes Richard Besser in a piece for ABC News. COVID-19 or not—every day is a public health emergency for far too many people. The policy response to the pandemic has provided a blueprint for what is needed to finally fix our nation's broken systems. The foundation for a better future has been laid and tested. Now it's time to ensure that everyone living in America can earn a decent living, receive proper health care, put food on the table, and provide for their children. This must be our nation’s calling.