Skip to Content

Association of American Medical Colleges Tomorrow's Doctors, Tomorrow's Cures®

TEDMED Inspires Change in Medicine; TEDMEDLive Expands Impact at Medical Schools, Teaching Hospitals

AAMC Reporter: May 2012

—By Sarah Mann

Medicine and science, technology, innovation, and the performing arts collided for three days at TEDMED2012, held April 10–13 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. Nearly 1,800 delegates met for the event, an offshoot of the popular TED talks. As a co-sponsor of TEDMEDLive, the AAMC, along with TEDMED, made the event available via a live simulcast to AAMC-member medical schools and teaching hospitals. More than 160 AAMC members linked to the simulcast, a first for TEDMED and the AAMC.

Catherine Spina, an M.D./Ph.D. candidate at Boston University School of Medicine, attended the conference in person and said the experience was “incredible.”

“One thing I took away is the thought that I am unbelievably lucky to be doing what I’m doing,” said Spina, who attended as the student member of the AAMC Board of Directors. “There is a community of people who are completely dedicated to health and wellness. It’s a complete luxury to be part of that.”

Conference speakers ranging from National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., to physicians, patient advocates, and performers challenged the audience to embrace new thinking about health.

“The feeling of the conference is one where people from different sectors and disciplines emphasize that innovation is bred through diversity,” said Javeed Sukhera, M.D., a member of the AAMC’s board and a psychiatry resident at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “As a learner, a lot of people tell you to narrow it down, whereas TEDMED emphasized that… there’s a value to multiple perspectives.”

Collins described the huge expense and time involved in drug development and discussed how NIH’s new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences will accelerate the process by bridging the gap between new discoveries and their translation into new treatments.

“We are at a remarkable moment. …There has never been a time where there is more excitement about the potential that lies in front of us. We have made all these discoveries pouring out of laboratories across the world,” Collins said, adding that partnerships among academia, industry, and government will help the research community capitalize on those discoveries.

TEDMED speakers also included medical school faculty. For speakers, the primary goal was to inspire, said Marc Triola, M.D., associate dean for educational informatics at New York University School of Medicine (NYU). TEDMED staff invited Triola to speak after the New York Times profiled a 3-D virtual human that Triola and NYU colleagues created with the medical technology firm BioDigital Systems, LLC. NYU uses the technology in anatomy classes, and Triola and his team plan to expand its use beyond medical education to students in kindergarten through 12th grade. For Triola, TEDMED was a shift from his typical scientific presentation.

“TEDMED is about the opportunity not just to educate people or to inform them, but to inspire them,” he said. “They kept reiterating to us that our talk was not about the technology; it was about the transformation [in education].” Back at NYU, several faculty and students gathered to watch the simulcast of Triola’s presentation.

Across the country, other medical schools and teaching hospitals leveraged the simulcast in a variety of ways. Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) invited community members to view the simulcast. As part of the event, OHSU hosted its own series of TEDMED-style talks, featuring three faculty members.

Kent Thornburg, Ph.D., an OHSU professor of medicine and the interim director of the institution’s Moore Institute for Nutrition and Wellness, spoke about the need to address chronic disease. He shared Triola’s challenge in presenting complex scientific information in a way that would motivate the audience.

“I wanted it to be a provocative idea that would lead people in the medical community to start thinking about the problem of chronic disease, and how they can all be involved in making a difference,” Thornburg said.

At the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Health System, the TEDMED themes of driving innovation by breaking down silos, preventing illness, and engaging with community partners stood out for Melissa Mancini, UAB director of strategy and business development. Mancini is part of a UAB team that plans to repackage TEDMED content for audiences across UAB and the community.

“The way we will really make a difference is by connecting the content to something tangible and making it relevant for us,” she said.

In addition to launching the simulcast, another major goal of this year’s TEDMED conference was to give more medical students and residents the opportunity to attend in person. More than 100 medical students and residents attended the conference through Front-Line Scholarships made possible by TEDMED and the AAMC’s sponsorship. Brent King, a first-year student at the University of Florida College of Medicine and a member of the AAMC’s Organization of Student Representatives, jumped at the chance to attend.

“There is so much discussion about the future of medicine and health care that it’s absolutely important for students to see what’s going on,” King said. “I think it’s good for students to not only be exposed to that but to also have a voice and be part of the discussion.”

During the conference, as part of TEDMED’s Great Challenges Program, delegates and simulcast participants voted on their 20 top issues from a list of 50 problems in health and medicine, including the impact of poverty on health, hospital-acquired infections, and childhood obesity. For each topic, a Challenge Advocate promoted the need for change.

Russell G. Robertson, M.D., dean and vice president of medical affairs at Rosalind Franklin University Chicago Medical School, advocated for the doctor and nurse shortage. The shortage did not rank among the top 20 challenges, but Robertson, who spoke to several delegates, hopes there was an impact.

“It was a different place to talk about an issue that may not have ranked as high on the hierarchy for many of the folks, but I hope I did something to move the conversation along,” Robertson said. “If this wasn’t something [delegates] were experiencing, I like to think that they understand it is a critical issue and that there are 40 to 50 million Americans who don’t have reasonable access to health care.”

TEDMED will explore the top 20 challenges over the next year on its Web site. TEDMED2013 is scheduled for next April in Washington.

May 2012 Home


Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., plays guitar with Jill Sobule

NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., performs with TEDMED music director, Jill Sobule, before his talk. Credit: Sandy Huffaker and Jerod Harris.


Related Resources