Pediatrician and public health advocate Richard E. Besser, M.D., FAAP, known for his
medical reports and analysis on ABC News, has been named president and chief executive
officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).
He will take over in April. The RWJF, based in Princeton, N.J., is the nation’s largest
philanthropy focused solely on health and health care.
Dr. Besser said he is honored to be joining a foundation “so deeply committed to building
a culture of health in this country.
“Working to improve the health and well-being of all Americans is a high calling,”
he said in a press statement. “Doing it here, with an organization of such stature
and credibility will be a great honor and privilege.”
Dr. Besser has served as an award-winning chief health and medical editor at ABC News
since 2009, reporting on a range of topics from around the world — from Ebola to umbilical
cord blood banking to Hurricane Sandy. He has been active on social media, occasionally
joining forces with the Academy to build awareness of pediatric health issues.
Before becoming a “TV doctor,” Dr. Besser was acting director of the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) during the H1N1 pandemic, placing a priority on communications.
He received a Surgeon General’s Medallion for his efforts over that six-month period.
Dr. Besser joined the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service in 1991. From 1993- ’98
he served as pediatric residency director at University of California, San Diego,
during which time he also researched pediatric tuberculosis for the county health
department. In 1998, Dr. Besser returned to the CDC as an infectious disease epidemiologist.
When he left the agency, he was director of its Coordinating Office for Terrorism
Preparedness and Emergency Response.
The keynote speaker at last year’s AAP National Conference & Exhibition, Dr. Besser
is a member of the AAP Section on Infectious Diseases and Section on Epidemiology,
Public Health and Evidence. During his 2016 keynote, Dr. Besser described his on-air
life at ABC News and interest in social media to reach people of all ages. He encouraged
pediatricians to work with the media and use their expertise to communicate with the
public to make an impact on children’s lives.
Dr. Besser is professor of pediatrics at Columbia University; a visiting fellow at
Harvard School of Public Health; and a volunteer pediatrician with the Children’s
Aid Society in New York City. He earned his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania,
completing a residency and chief residency in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University
Hospital in Baltimore.
He will succeed Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., who has headed the RWJF for the last 14