TEDMED 2015 Recap: Breaking Through

While we’re all still sorting through what all the perspectives and stories truly mean to us over the rest of our lifetimes, here are a few themes that emerged from the few days we were lucky enough to spend together in Palm Springs. We hope that these thoughts inspire you to publish your own.

Do Not Accept The Problem You’re Presented

Regardless of who was speaking or what their background was, every single breakthrough rested on this simple premise.

Doug Rauch is solving for food deserts in the US by using one problem to solve another one. Peter Janicki, is tackling the seemingly unsolvable issue of sewage in underdeveloped nations by making the problem even bigger: developing machinery that turns waste into drinkable water and sustainable energy.

Pamela Wible related the tragic stories from medical student suicides, arguably a problem developed because neither the architects of the med school system nor the victims are able to effectively reframe the problems of a culture that has laid waste our youngest, brightest, and most compassionate.

Ann Wojcicki learned from one family tragedy of medical care to drive her interest in creating health information for people that helps people take care of themselves instead of trusting a system that has it’s own success as a larger priority than any individual’s health. Annie Young delivered stories from the front lines of nursing, where nurses are adapting the very instruments they’re handed in ways that significantly improve the health outcomes of patients.

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Thinking Matters to Healthier Lives

Yes, there was a whole set devoted to Mind Matters, but the notion that mental health and introspection was evident in every corner of La Quinta. Parneet Pal lead morning mindfulness training sessions that had one reporter thinking completely differently about the way she works, and prompted a creative executive to the brink of tears.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy took mindfulness from the exercise room to the stage of TEDMED, featuring a story of a school sick with violence and low test scores as two major symptoms. Of all the techniques tried to solve this dynamic problem, it was mindfulness that made the biggest difference to the health of the students, and the health of their community.

Mindsets about race affect the levels and kinds of care patients receive, even the approval of the FDA, as the community learned from New York Health Commissioner Mary Bassett,  as well as University of Pennsylvania Scholar Dorothy Roberts. Harvard’s Thomas Lee continued this thread to say, “You can’t have truly excellent care without empathy at the core.”

Creative Expression Creates Healthy Outcomes

People with creative expression as a regular part of their life are the most successful at living long, healthy lives. Melissa Walker, who helps solders come to terms with the horrors of war through art therapy, including masks, brought this idea into stark relief. “The concrete image of the mask unleashes words. It reintegrates left and right hemisphere.”

Two perspectives on art continued this direct connection between the history of art and the ability of doctors, and patients, to achieve better health through having created or simply experienced the art. Christine McNab curated the Art of Saving A Life collection along with the Gates Foundation at the event. Vanessa Ruiz’s curated collection of anatomical art, along with the stunning discoveries from Jay Walker’s own library, threaded the need for people to artistically express anatomy through art throughout history.

Finally, Carla Pugh—host and former Speaker—put it well on the TEDMED Tumblr, “A resistance to accepting the status quo, and this amazing willingness to make personal life changes, and career changes, to go out and pursue new areas of research and science.”