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President & CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to be 2023 Penn Nursing Commencement Speaker

Dr. Richard Besser, President and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the nation’s largest health philanthropy, will serve as the 2023 Penn Nursing commencement speaker. The event will take place at 3:00 PM EST on Monday, May 15, 2023, at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.

“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,” said Penn Nursing Dean Antonia M. Villarruel. “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.”

Under Besser’s leadership, the RWJF works to help build a national Culture of Health rooted in equity; a culture that provides every individual with a fair and just opportunity to thrive, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they have. RWJF is focused on identifying, illuminating, and addressing the barriers to health caused by structural racism and other forms of discrimination, including sexism, ableism and prejudice based on sexual orientation. Besser has been a leader in the national call for equitable COVID-19 response and recovery efforts and is co-chair of the Presidents’ Council on Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy.

Before joining the Foundation, Besser served for eight years as Chief Health and Medical Editor for ABC News, and as a leader at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he worked for 13 years. He served as Acting Director of the CDC during the initial response to the H1N1 influenza pandemic. Besser recently retired from pediatric practice after more than 30 years of volunteering in community clinics and he currently sits on the Howard University Board of Trustees. He is a member of the National Academy of Medicine.

Besser received his undergraduate degree in economics from Williams College and his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He completed a residency and chief residency in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore.