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Eph Medicine Round-Up

Given that health care is dominating the national conversation, I thought it would be a good time for a round-up of recent (and not so recent) news about a few prominent Ephs in medicine:

  • Be sure to check out this incredible video showing Richard Besser ’81 stepping away from his reporting duties to help a woman give birth in Haiti.  In addition to appearing on camera, Dr. Besser also writes a weekly column.
  • Eminent Johns Hopkins pediatrician and geneticist Barton Childs ’38 recently passed away, after an incredibly accomplished and influential life.
  • Last year, Craig R. Smith ’70 was appointed chairman of the Department of Surgery at Columbia, and he will ascend to President of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery in 2011.  (He is not, however, smarter than Dr. Richard Kimble).
  • Edward Wing ’67 has been, since 2008, the Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences at Brown.   He is currently overseeing the construction of a new Medical School facility.
  • In a long and interesting interview, Toby Cosgrove ’62 recently shared his thoughts on health care reform.  Cosgrove was mired in controversy last fall after some remarks he made about obesity.
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Besser ’81 Joins ABC

Dr. Richard Besser ’81…

… a 13-year veteran of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, joins chief medical editor Dr. Timothy Johnson at ABC News as the senior health and medical editor.

The medical team’s newest member weighs in on swine flu concerns.
Before joining ABC, Besser served as acting director of the CDC and was the former head of the CDC’s Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response.

Here is a bit of video from the ABC site. It starts with a nice bio of Besser and then segues into swine flu precautions.

(Ronit, feel free to embed the video. I tried with no luck. Unless, like “more” it does not show in preview?)

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Gold Star

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I continue to wonder why Richard Besser ’81 was not named Director of the Center for Disease Control given the almost universal praise that he received during the Swine Flu panic.

This week’s “attaboy” goes to Dr. Richard Besser, the acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who stands as the best example to date of the capabilities and professionalism of the nation’s career federal employees.

As we reported earlier this week, President Obama has filled only five of 20 nominated positions at the Department of Health and Human Services, including Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who was confirmed earlier this week.

Ask any rank-and-file federal employee and they’ll likely say that while an agency can operate without political appointees, they need appointed political leadership to clearly define the mission, settle disagreements, coordinate efforts with other agencies and deliver a clear message to the public.

But Besser has served as a voice of calm reassurance from the moment the federal government elevated his efforts. He made important network morning show appearances on Monday, confidently answering questions as Americans began the new work week. He has spoken at daily press briefings, handled dozens of other interviews and generally acted as the public face of an agency still without a permanent leader.

So, why not appoint him to head CDC? An anonymous comment to that Washington Post story may provide a clue.
Read more

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Besser ’81 to ABC

Via Larry George, this news and picture from Media Bistro:

Besser_7.30ABC News announced it has hired Dr. Richard Besser as Senior Health and Medical Editor and at the same time has promoted 30-year ABC News health veteran Dr. Tim Johnson to Chief Medical Editor.

Dr. Besser came to ABC’s attention during coverage of the swine flu outbreak. He was the public face of the CDC’s response to H1N1. “He is an incredibly talented physician, and I look forward to him joining our team,” said Dr. Johnson in a press release. Dr. Besser currently serves as director of the Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response at the CDC. He’ll join ABC in September.

Comments:

1) Congratulations to Besser!

2) This is probably a win for EphBlog since it will provide a useful handle for discussing health news.

3) Recall my previous analysis about how media-savvy Besser is.

First, this story could only have come from Besser himself. How else would reporter Gardiner Harris know what CDC officials were “unhappy” about almost 20 years ago? Second, the story makes Besser out to be the hero, bravely ignoring bureaucratic concerns about “cost” to get to the bottom of a critical medical mystery. No amount of money is too much to spend on the investigation of (not the treatment for!) an outbreak that results in no fatalities. A less sympathetic reporter would have spun this as CDC officials pissed that Besser was taking so long on an investigation so that he could spend time with his new girlfriend.

Not that there is anything wrong with that!

4) Anyone have good DC gossip about how/why Besser was passed over for the top job at CDC? I wondered in April:

Not sure why President Obama named Besser acting head rather than giving him the job permanently. Is there something about his politics that makes him unacceptable to Democrats? Is the CDC job usually awarded to a dilettante, sort of like Ambassador to France?

Obama named New York City Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden as Director of the CDC in May.

UPDATE: The Washington Post story mentions that:

Acting CDC Director Richard E. Besser, who has steered the Atlanta-based agency through the current global swine flu outbreak, will return to his role as head of the CDC’s emergency response unit. Two sources with knowledge of the process said Frieden was on a shortlist of prospects long before Besser made a name for himself by his handling of the swine flu crisis.

Hmmm. Sounds like someone is getting spun, but I can’t tell the direction. What sources would provide this info to reporters Debbi Wilgoren and Michael D. Shear, and why would they provide it? My guess: Friedan was always the top choice of some insiders (who?) and they wanted to stop any discussion along the lines of “Why not Besser?” They try to do this by pretending/mentioning that Friedan already had the job locked up, more or less, months ago. The reporters want to protect/sweeten the sources so they don’t ask/report the obvious follow-ups: Was Besser on the short list? Was he ever considered? Why not?

The article ends with:

Some had expected Obama to name Besser as permanent head of the CDC. In his role as acting director, he has gotten high marks for his effective briefings at the height of the swine flu scare. In an e-mail to colleagues yesterday, Besser praised his successor.

“Dr. Frieden is a consummate innovator. He’s had dramatic success in New York City,” Besser wrote. “I know CDC will be in great hands with Dr. Frieden.”

Who are these mysterious “Some?” They sound pretty sensible to me!

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Calmly Reassuring

New York Times article on Richard Besser ’81, acting head of the Center for Disease Control.

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Dr. Richard E. Besser, one of the nation’s top public health officials, has won raves for his televised swine flu updates. His parents said he had been calmly reassuring since childhood, but Dr. Besser said weekly stints in the 1990s as a television health reporter in San Diego helped. “It made me comfortable being around cameras,” Dr. Besser said in an interview.

Lesson for current students interested in high profile jobs in the public sector? Get comfortable around cameras! Willinet, the local public-access television network, is a great place to start.

After 13 years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Besser, 49, was plucked from relative obscurity in January to become the agency’s acting director. He has become the government’s chief health spokesman during the swine flu outbreak because the Obama administration’s top health positions largely remain unfilled, although Kathleen Sebelius was confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday as health and human services secretary.

He has been reassuring. He has explained complicated issues simply. He has even acknowledged not knowing many answers.

Read the whole thing. Comments:

1) Besser certainly deserves a Bicentennial Medal.

2) Note that there is a little bit of source-greasing going on here. (Not that there is anything wrong with that! Recall the nice things that I was saying about soon-to-be-interim president Bill Wagner 5 (!) years ago.) Did you catch this anecdote?

Trained at Johns Hopkins as a pediatrician, Dr. Richard Besser joined the Epidemic Intelligence Service in 1991 and was sent to Boston to investigate the E. coli infections that had left six children seriously ill.

After months of painstaking work that involved collecting deer droppings from apple orchards, he pinpointed apple cider as the source.

Officials were unhappy with the cost of his lengthy investigation, but Dr. Besser gained more than an answer to a medical mystery in Boston.

First, this story could only have come from Besser himself. How else would reporter Gardiner Harris know what CDC officials were “unhappy” about almost 20 years ago? Second, the story makes Besser out to be the hero, bravely ignoring bureaucratic concerns about “cost” to get to the bottom of a critical medical mystery. No amount of money is too much to spend on the investigation of (not the treatment for!) an outbreak that results in no fatalities. A less sympathetic reporter would have spun this as CDC officials pissed that Besser was taking so long on an investigation so that he could spend time with his new girlfriend.

3) I have been somewhat surprised at the number of Oh No! comments and links in our previous thread. It is over 99% likely that everyone (great example here) is overreacting, mainly because many of the key players have every incentive to overreact. Follow the money, as always.

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Flu News

besserA Williams staffer notes that Richard Besser ’81, acting director of the Center for Disease Control, is in the news, and not necessarily in a good way. Regular readers are probably looking forward to a thousand word screed on why Swine Flu is the faulty of Anchor Housing or the lack of Ideological Diversity or Lectures. Alas, no time today! Background on Besser here and here. Not sure why President Obama named Besser acting head rather than giving him the job permanently. Is there something about his politics that makes him unacceptable to Democrats? Is the CDC job usually awarded to a dilettante, sort of like Ambassador to France?

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