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Perelman School of Medicine alumnus and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation CEO and President Richard Besser will speak at the 2023 School of Nursing commencement ceremony (Photo from National Institutes of Health | CC BY-NC 2.0).

Richard Besser, Perelman School of Medicine alumnus and executive of the nation’s largest health philanthropy, will speak at the 2023 School of Nursing commencement ceremony.

Besser has served as CEO and president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation since April 2017. He leads the foundation’s efforts to build a "Culture of Health" by dismantling structural barriers to health equity. Besser also sits on the Howard University Board of Trustees and co-chairs the Presidents’ Council on Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy

“The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been a leader in their support of nursing leadership to address health for all. Dr. Besser, in particular, has been an incredible advocate for health equity,” Penn Nursing Dean Antonia Villarruel said in the school’s announcement. “As our students look ahead to their careers in nursing, Dr. Besser will be a great inspiration, challenging them to engage and lead in meaningful efforts in health care systems and communities to ensure everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health.”

After graduating from the Perelman School of Medicine in 1986, Besser completed his residency and chief residency in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore.

Besser worked as an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 13 years, serving as the acting director during the CDC’s initial response to the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic. He then became the Chief Health and Medical Editor at ABC News, providing medical reports and analysis for all their news programs. In 2014, he reported on the Ebola crisis in West Point, a quarantined community in Liberia, to help the public understand the reality of the outbreak. 

A member of the National Academy of Medicine, Besser spent most of his career volunteering in community clinics and recently retired from pediatric practice. 

“We can’t go into communities and say we have the solution,” Besser said in a 2017 interview as he took leadership of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “We need to work together with communities in shaping solutions that address their own needs and circumstances.”

The ceremony will be held on Monday, May 15, at 3 p.m. EST, at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.