Richard Besser, MD, is ready to listen and learn. As the new president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — the country’s biggest philanthropy dedicated solely to health — Besser says one of his goals is to “hurry up and listen, rather than hurry up and make change.”

In a one-on-one interview with APHA TV in November in Atlanta — site of the APHA 2017 Annual Meeting and Expo — Besser described being new to the world of philanthropy, joining the foundation last spring after years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and serving as chief health and medical editor at ABC News. While his years in governmental public health will certainly be an asset, he said his new role will still require a shift perspective.

“I really view this as a period of listening and learning,” Besser told APHA TV. “Listening to people we’ve been working with, listening within the foundation, and listening to others to really think about how can we as a philanthropy make the biggest difference. What are our levers that are different?”

Besser was one of a number of public health leaders and advocates who sat down to speak with APHA TV during the 2017 Annual Meeting, which welcomed about 12,000 public health professionals to Atlanta. The interviews covered a range of public health topics, including the meeting’s theme of climate change and health. On that topic, Besser discussed his time as director of CDC’s Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response, noting that natural disasters — which are expected to increase in frequency and intensity due to climate change — often hit the most vulnerable communities the hardest. Readiness for such events, he said, is key to protecting people’s health.

Looking forward to the 2018 Annual Meeting theme of “Creating the Healthiest Nation: Health Equity Now,” Besser noted that everything the foundation does is done with equity in mind, with the ultimate goal of ensuring everyone in the U.S. has a fair opportunity for health and well-being.

“We don’t live in that America right now,” he told APHA TV. “But we can.”

Visit APHA TV to watch Besser’s full remarks as well as all the episodes from Atlanta.

For more video from APHA 2017, register for APHA Live. APHA Live includes on-demand, online access to 13 of the top sessions from the APHA Annual Meeting and the opportunity to earn more than 16 free continuing education credits. For even more educational programming from APHA 2017, consider RAMP, which includes synced PowerPoint presentations and voice recording of scientific sessions from the Atlanta meeting.