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Episode Info:

Dr. Richard Besser is the president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, former acting director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and former chief health and medical editor at ABC News. At the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Dr. Besser leads the largest private Foundation in the country devoted solely to improving the nation’s health. The Foundation’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. 

In this episode, Dr. Besser shares his career path, some takeaways from his CDC leadership experience, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s vision for building a culture of health. 

For more information and full episode transcription go to Contagious Conversations (

Key Takeaways: 

[1:27] What led Dr. Richard Besser to this point of his career. 

[2:16] Key influences in Dr. Besser’s career.  

[5:40] Joining the Epidemic Intelligence Service. 

[6:20] Dr. Besser’s favorite aspect of being a pediatrician. 

[7:42] Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s approach to building a culture of health. 

[9:26] Health equity. 

[10:14] When parents know what their kids need but may not have access to a safe environment. 

[11:47] Key takeaways from Dr. Besser’s leadership experience that shaped his views about health. 

[14:05] The H1N1 response at CDC. 

[14:28] Public health’s identity challenge. 

[15:57] Defining moments of Dr. Besser’s tenure at CDC. 

[18:05] The most interesting person Dr. Besser interviewed at ABC News: President Obama. 

[20:15] 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa. 

[21:20] Partnerships and philanthropy. 

[23:45] Your zip code and your life expectancy are linked. 

[24:55] 500 Cities Project. 

[25:50] The one key initiative that Dr. Besser would like to accomplish at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 

[27:19] Investing in leaders. 

[28:32] Career advice for future public health leaders in America: Work to change the world. 


Mentioned in This Episode: 

CDC Foundation 

Answer this episode’s question: What does public health mean to you? Email your answer to to win some CDC Foundation merchandise. 

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