Global Practices

TEDMED: Great Thinkers Addressing Great Needs



I went to TEDMED two weeks ago expecting to be dazzled.

I knew there would be headliner speakers and that I would be rubbing elbows with the leading thinkers in health and medicine. I expected that every speaker would turn time-worn issues on their heads and inspire me to think differently about how to approach a challenge. Surrounded by such brilliance, I would emerge from the conference bursting with new ideas.

Here’s what really happened: yes, the big-name speakers were fine (from NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins to exercise guru Richard Simmons). But it was the people I had never heard of who really stuck with me – people who are quietly doing important things because they identified the need and have the passion to recruit others to reach their goals.

These are some of the speakers whose bios I’ve dog-eared in my TEDMED program book:

  • Eli Beer, who founded United Hatzalah, a team of volunteer medics on bicycles in Israel who respond to accident (and terrorism) scenes to help save lives until official medical teams arrive.
  • Christopher J.L. Murray, who created a public database that quantifies the global burden of various diseases. Anyone can use this data to shape policy, guide research – or prove the need for all of the above.
  • Laura Deming, an MIT graduate who, at the tender age of 18, is the last person you might expect to be working passionately to find therapies that extend longevity and help us all age better.
  • Ramesh Raskar, who spends his days (and probably nights) developing technology to help people in poor, rural and/or underserved regions – devices such as a pair of glasses that allow a medical professional to see the eye’s macula (or even just identify a person’s eyeglasses prescription) without expensive equipment.
  • Dr. Zubin Damania, aka ZDoggMD, a young Las Vegas hospitalist who creates hilarious educational videos (that are hevily viewed on YouTube) on topics such as encouraging men to check themselves for signs of testicular cancer (right).

Was I dazzled? No, the effect was much deeper. These speakers reminded me that we should be paying much more attention to the visionary but largely unsung people out there who are looking for solutions to critical health problems in this world.

Our clients are often looking to partner with people who can help them reach new audiences and, in some cases, think about their challenges differently. Why not connect them with people like Ramesh, or Laura, or Dr. Zubin? We should be scouring our networks for these types of pioneers, whether it’s to form partnerships, to include them in programs or just for a little inspiration when we need it.

My post-TEDMED goal is to do exactly that.

Laura Gordon is general manager of Washington, D.C. Health.

Image by Mike Rohde.
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