The School of Public Health and Health Profession's 21st J. Warren Perry speaker was Richard E. Besser, MD, senior health and medical editor at ABC News. Prior to joining ABC in September 2009, Besser served in various capacities at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most recently as its acting director, during which time he led the CDC’s response to the H1N1 influenza outbreak.
Besser began his more than a decade career at the CDC in the Epidemic Intelligence Service working on the epidemiology of foodborne diseases. He has served as epidemiology section chief in the Respiratory Disease Branch, acting chief of the Meningitis and Special Pathogens Branch in the National Center for Infectious Disease, and as the medical director of the CDC’s national campaign to promote appropriate antibiotic use in the community. No stranger to challenging health issues, in 2005 Besser became head of CDC’s Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response (COTPER) just before Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast. COTPER is responsible for all of the CDC’s public health emergency preparedness and emergency response activities.
A pediatrician by training, Besser is a graduate of Williams College and received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. His residency and chief residency in pediatrics were at John Hopkins University Hospital. He worked for five years as the pediatric residency director at the University of California where he conducted studies on the epidemiology of pediatric tuberculosis. His career in public health began in Bangladesh working at the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research on a study of polio vaccine.
Besser has an impressive list of presentations, abstracts, chapters, editorials and refereed publications. He has received many awards for his work in public health and volunteer services including the Surgeon General’s Medallion, the third highest award of the Public Health Service and the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, for his leadership during the H1N1 response.