David Kessler '73

Kessler Photo David A. Kessler, M.D. is Professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).  He was Dean of the School of Medicine and the Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs at UCSF from 2003 through 2007 and Dean of the Yale University School of Medicine from 1997 until 2003.  Dr. Kessler, who served as Commissioner of the United States Food and Drug Administration from November 1990 until March 1997, was appointed by President Bush and reappointed by President Clinton. 

As Commissioner of the FDA, he acted to speed approval of new drugs and placed high priority on getting promising therapies for serious and life-threatening diseases to patients as quickly as possible.  He introduced changes in the device approval process to make it more efficient and ensure that it meets high standards.  Under his direction, the FDA announced a number of new programs, including: the regulation of the marketing and sale of tobacco products to children; nutrition labeling for food; user fees for drugs and biologics; preventive controls to improve food safety; measures to strengthen the nation’s blood supply; and the MEDWatch program for reporting adverse events and product problems.  He emphasized strong law enforcement and created an Office of Criminal Investigation within the agency.  According to The New York Times (11/27/96), David Kessler “… revitalized a beleaguered agency that had become mired in bureaucratic disarray.”  The Los Angeles Times (11/27/96) praised him for  “… restor[ing] the Food and Drug Administration to what it was meant to be--an aggressive advocate for the public’s health.”  With his departure, “[t]he American people lost one of their most effective champions…”  (New York Daily News, 11/28/96).

Dr. Kessler has a wide range of experience in research, clinical medicine, education, administration, and the law.  He is a 1973 magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Amherst College.  He received his J.D. degree from The University of Chicago Law School, where he was a member of the Law Review, in 1978, and his M.D. degree from Harvard Medical School in 1979.  He did his internship and residency in pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.  In 1986, he earned an Advanced Professional Certificate from the New York University Graduate School of Business Administration.

From 1984 until his FDA appointment, he was the medical director of the Hospital of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York, where he held teaching appointments in the Department of Pediatrics and in the Department of Epidemiology and Social Medicine.  From 1986 until 1990, Dr. Kessler also taught food and drug law at the Columbia University School of Law in New York.  He was a consultant to the United States Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee from 1981 until 1984.

Dr. Kessler’s latest book (HarperCollins, 2016), Capture: Unraveling the Mystery of Mental Suffering, was a New York Times best seller. His previous book, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite (Rodale, 2009) was an instant New York Times best seller. The Boston Globe called Dr. Kessler’s book, A Question of Intent (PublicAffairs, 2001), “… an intensely compelling account … a gripping tale of intrigue and high-stakes morality ….” In addition, Dr. Kessler has published numerous articles in The New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA, and other major medical journals.  He serves on the board of various organizations and has been an Amherst trustee.  He is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and the recipient of the 2001 National Academy of Sciences Public Welfare Medal.  His many honors have included the American Cancer Society’s Medal of Honor, the American Heart Association’s National Public Affairs Special Recognition Award, the American Federation for AIDS Research Sheldon W. Andelson Public Policy Achievement Award, the American Academy of Pediatrics Excellence in Public Service Award, the March of Dimes Franklin Delano Roosevelt Leadership Award, the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health Excellence in Women’s Health Award and the “2008 National Hero” award from the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley.