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

Why it's impossible for some people to follow Covid-19 guidelines

Public health recommendations represent the best scientific advice we have, but this guidance is meaningless if people cannot do what's necessary to protect themselves or their families. Case in point: CDC COVID-19 protocols assume that anyone can easily and quickly get tested, and that people can stay home while awaiting results. RWJF President and CEO Richard Besser recently experienced firsthand the deep frustrations of the current testing environment, and his CNN op-ed lays out how testing failures are a symptom of vast and enduring health inequities in the United States that must be addressed. He lays out the long list of needs—healthcare coverage, paid leave, childcare, housing supports, among others—that will persist well beyond the pandemic.

America must lead the world to defeat COVID. Here are five ways to win

The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 800,000 people in the United States, and although we’ve come far in our fight, the toll each day—more than 100,000 new cases, and over 1,000 deaths—is still sobering. RWJF President and CEO Richard Besser and Executive Vice President Julie Morita argue that the United States must summon the full weight of its scientific prowess and economic power to ensure that everyone has what they need to stay safe and healthy—no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they make. Their five strategic priorities to defeat COVID-19 once and for all begins, but does not end, with vaccination—and the nation’s role in helping to end the pandemic does not cease at our borders.