The Art of Being Present: Unmasking (and Healing) Invisible Wounds

Creative Arts Therapist Melissa Walker

When Creative Arts Therapist Melissa Walker presents her patients with blank, papier-mâché masks to decorate, she is most often met with a skeptical reaction. This isn’t surprising, considering that her patients are active-duty service members who suffer from mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a result of exposure to blast-force events. These injuries are strikingly common, having afflicted hundreds of thousands of US combat personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan; symptoms include seizures, sleep disorders and cognitive difficulties.

Yet, Melissa’s unconventional approach is a remarkably effective component of a four-week treatment program at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (a program of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center), where she works. The process of making masks gives service members a “visual voice” that allows them to symbolize what’s going on internally. Often, the masks they create help tell their stories more eloquently than words ever could – and that’s only part of what makes them so powerful. By helping reveal and articulate hidden trauma, the masks offer a road to self-healing that the artists say is among the most helpful parts of their treatment.

Creative Arts Therapist Melissa Walker The mask-making program has proven a “low-cost, non-invasive and very effective treatment” for these military service members with “invisible wounds,” Melissa reports. Unfortunately, it’s also “a treatment they don’t believe they will be able to continue at or near their home bases, because of the scarcity of creative arts therapists across the military health system.” She’s hoping that Congress will allow President Obama’s request for $1.9 million in funding to expand the program to more bases to remain in the 2016 budget.

Melissa first observed the power of the art as a symbolic vehicle for communication when, in college, she worked with a special needs child. Watching him “create,” she shares that she “knew there was much more to observe about the process than the surface value of this child’s art product.” She recalls, “I watched his mind work in a unique way as he drew a city scene and spoke softly to himself about the buildings going ‘up, up, up.’ It was in that moment that I knew I wanted to work more closely with individuals than the classroom setting would allow, and began to research how to become an art therapist.”

Creative Arts Therapist Melissa Walker Melissa views mental health as a “complicated challenge.” “I have learned throughout my life and career that the line between psychological health and mental illness is a fine one,” she says, noting her belief that “the majority of our population lacks the understanding of how an individual comes to suffer psychologically, and lacks the empathy necessary to take the time to understand. Unfortunately this has created a culture of stigma that prohibits those who are in need to seek help. I am trying to break through these barriers… to help those suffering to express themselves, and to help others begin to understand their pain.”

Melissa relies on a mantra – “be present” – to help her stay focused on what matters most. “I often take a deep breath on my way into work and tell myself to be present for my patients. The greatest therapeutic outcomes I have experienced were as a result of my (and my patients’) ability to be present in the process and the artistic space. This has become more and more of a challenge as my career evolves and expands into advocacy, outreach, and research realms. But during the moments I am able to remind myself of my reason for being here – when I am fully engaged and invested in healing others – I am most alive in my work, and my patients are most active in their recovery.”

Creative Arts Therapist Melissa Walker

Creative Arts Therapist Melissa Walker Creative Arts Therapist Melissa Walker

Fostering Creativity in Science

How can we, as a society, move beyond outdated, stale perspectives on research and support innovative science? This is a question that will be addressed by two of this year’s TEDMED speakers (both featured in our Catalyzing Great Science session). Each offers out-of-the-box solutions to upend conventional thinking about innovation, and move intriguing ideas past the conceptual stage into the real world, where they can be applied to critical problems in health and medicine.

Roberta Ness

Roberta Ness, innovation expert, urges scientists to take “bold leaps into risky new idea space.”

Innovation expert and physician-researcher Roberta Ness, a former Dean of the University of Texas School of Public Health and currently the Vice President of Innovation for Health Sciences at UT Houston, urges scientists to move beyond fear and take “bold leaps into risky new idea space.” The fear of shattering convention and the anxiety about the potential cost to a nascent career is holding scientists back, she believes. To Support her claim, Roberta cites the obesity epidemic, climate change and emerging infectious diseases as examples of humankind-threatening problems that science is “painfully slow to address,” and which won’t be solved by “step-wise, incremental scientific advances.”

Author of Genius Unmasked and The Creativity Crisis, Roberta advocates training programs to nurture the creative process and teach scientists how to innovate. Asked to name the one person she’d most like to collaborate with, Roberta offers a surprising choice: Henry Ford.

Why? In transforming the way automobiles are developed and manufactured, Ford “literally changed the face of America, which is now honeycombed with highways and suburbs,” Roberta says, noting that “contrary to popular belief, his motivation was not mercenary. He yearned for every American to have access to freedom by way of inexpensive, dependable transportation. He built Model T cars to be cheap and to last forever. He believed in radical ideas and he believed that surprising invention should be in service to humanity.”

Elizabeth Iorns

Elizabeth Iorns, Founder of Science Exchange

Elizabeth Iorns, Founder of Science Exchange, also believes that scientific research is in need of a culture shift – one that places less emphasis on “breakthrough” findings that are not necessarily validated, and instead celebrates and rewards reproducible research. Drawing from her experience as a breast cancer researcher, Elizabeth points out that, in the current system, there is little incentive for replication of studies and that a substantial amount of important research findings have, in fact, never been reproduced. Such is the premise for Science Exchange, an online marketplace for outsourcing scientific research and validating results. Not only do these efforts improve reliability, but they also accelerate the pace at which innovation occurs, Elizabeth believes. Science Exchange recently launched a new initiative (called, appropriately enough, “Validation”), that aims to help researchers identify and reward high quality reproducible research via independent validation of key experimental results.

According to Elizabeth, the current view of collaboration in the scientific world is “dysfunctional.” She claims that our tendency to credit only one or perhaps a few people for scientific breakthroughs is a gross misunderstanding of how important research actually takes place. “Most historical breakthroughs are a collaboration of people and they are products of an environment with many influences,” says Elizabeth. “Over time these collaborators are forgotten and the influences missed. Many people know that Rosalind Franklin generated the key x-ray crystallography images that led to the understanding of the shape of DNA, but got little credit. How many Rosalind Franklins were there in history?”

Guiding Evidence for Gun Violence Prevention: Q&A with Daniel Webster

In his 2014 TEDMED talk, Daniel Webster, Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, examines some surprisingly hopeful possibilities that exist for a controversial public policy conundrum that seems to have no universally acceptable answer. We asked Daniel a few questions to learn more.

I don’t think that the level of gun violence we experience now is here to stay. Nor is it built into American culture or American law.  I believe that within 20 years, the United States can reduce our murder rates by 30% to 50%.

“I don’t think that the level of gun violence we experience now is here to stay. Nor is it built into American culture or American law. I believe that within 20 years, the United States can reduce our murder rates by 30% to 50%.” Daniel Webster, TEDMED 2014

What motivated you to speak at TEDMED?

I felt that I had important perspectives and research to help America address one of its most important and vexing public health problems.  Unless you know the data and have a long-term perspective, it is easy for those who desperately want to see change to think reducing gun violence in America is hopeless.

Why does this talk matter now? What impact do you hope the talk will have?

Recent political gridlock in Washington, DC on almost all issues, including guns, can prevent the vast majority who support stronger laws to keep guns from dangerous people from engaging on the issue, surrendering important policy decisions to people with the most extreme views and vested financial interests.  If people realize that there are policies that can keep guns from dangerous people and save many lives and that those policies are supported by an overwhelming majority of gun owners, things could dramatically change for the better.

What kind of meaningful or surprising connections did you make at TEDMED?

I met Leana Wen– she gave one the best talks that I heard.  Only months later, I was pleased to find that Dr. Wen had accepted the position of Health Commissioner of Baltimore, where I work. She has championed a public health program to reduce gun violence in Baltimore that is run out of the Health Department that I have been involved in evaluating. The program has helped to quell the violence that has taken over many Baltimore neighborhoods since May in the small number of neighborhoods where they are working.

What is the legacy you want to leave?

One of a scientist that has produced solid evidence to show that strong gun laws that are supported by the majority of gun owners save lives. And someone who respects gun owners and knows that that the majority of gun owners favor policies that research suggests would lead to many fewer lives lost.

Is there anything else you really wish you could have included in your talk?

I wish I could have mentioned my latest research findings that show that handgun purchaser licensing laws appear to have reduced homicides and suicides in Connecticut after it adopted such a law while increasing homicides and suicides in Missouri after the state repealed handgun purchaser licensing requirements.

What’s next for you?

I am continuing several research projects examining the effects of background check requirements and firearm restrictions for domestic violence offenders. In Baltimore, we are examining the effects of public health outreach and conflict mediation to reduce shootings, focused deterrence programs directed at those at highest risk for involvement in gun violence, and drug and gun law enforcement approaches.  I’m also deeply involved in studying policy solutions to the epidemic of overdose deaths due to prescription opioids and heroin.

A musical education: Q&A with Inspector Gadje

Not only did Inspector Gadje Balkan Brass bring big sound and soaring melodies to TEDMED 2014, they used their music to educate and inform. As Balkan music grows in popularity, the band pays homage to the often subjugated communities and cultures where it originated. We reached out to the band to learn more about their musical mission and philosophy.

Jerod Harris38151

What motivated Inspector Gadje to perform at TEDMED?

Inspector Gadje Balkan Brass was born from a collaboration with the nonprofit Voice of Roma. Both the organization and the band use culture as a tool in the struggle against racism, spreading the cause of the Roma people far and wide by introducing the music and dance from the Balkans to the modern West and beyond. Performing at TEDMED introduced Inspector Gadje’s music and mission to a new and innovative audience – one that shares our vision for a healthier planet, be it through medicine, music, and/or social activism.   

What impact do you hope your performance will have?

We hope to spark an interest and curiosity about Balkan brass band music and the vibrant culture from which it originates. We respectfully present music from the Balkans while maintaining our own voice in the songs. We hope to impact our audience from head to toe – to tug the ear and the intellect, to reach the heart, and to move the body and spirit. For some, the music will resonate aesthetically, for others it will open broader cultural avenues. We hope our performances illuminate the joy, as well as the cultural struggle of the Balkans – expressed in recent wars and ongoing discrimination against Romani people.

What is the legacy Inspector Gadje wants to leave?

Inspector Gadje Balkan Brass hopes our audience stays engaged with the cultural issues introduced by our performance. We consider ourselves part of an ongoing exchange between the Roma and their allies abroad, and we hope to do justice to the beautiful music of the Balkans, while spreading the message of friendship and respect for the Roma people.

Hive Companies Reinventing “What’s for Dinner” Share Their Recipes for Start-Up Success

The Impossible Burger

The Impossible Burger is made from … plants?

It’s a creative time in the food world – and not just in epicurean circles. With a focus on addressing injustices to our environment, to people and to animals, several of this year’s Hive companies are serving up alternative meals that are fresh, nutritious and unconventional.

One Simple Solution Addresses Three Big Problems

Daily Table

On the Menu: Excess but wholesome food that would otherwise be wasted by growers, manufacturers and retailers. This wasted food is used to cook up freshly prepared “grab-n-go” meals that are sold along with fresh produce and other grocery items at far lower-than-typical prices at Daily Table, an innovative nonprofit retail store. Daily Table’s mission is to fight hunger and obesity in America by providing truly affordable nutrition to the food insecure.

Doug Rauch, Daily Table’s founder

Doug Rauch, Daily Table’s founder

“I am #BreakingThrough traditional mindsets about nonprofits, hunger relief and food recovery while engendering dignity and building a community’s capacity for health,” says Doug Rauch, Daily Table’s founder. Explaining that the organization is “using one massive problem (wasted food) to solve another massive social issue (hunger/obesity),” Doug – formerly a president of Trader Joe’s – collaborated with “world class medical education centers and nutritionists to adopt nutritional guidelines that will ensure that every product helps our customers feel and be their best. This great tasting, nutritious food is offered in a friendly retail format ensuring that the entire process engenders dignity and a sense of agency.”

Asked how Daily Table evolved from an idea to the real-live supermarket that opened its doors in Dorchester, MA, on July 4, Doug responded that there were many “learnings.” To name a few: “When I learned that the issue of dignity was the number one reason a person didn’t apply for SNAP or use Feeding America’s services; or when I discovered that hunger in America is a shortage of nutrients, not calories; or when I wrestled with how to create a nonprofit that could generate funding (revenue) through delivery of its mission instead of for the delivery of the mission.” The word that brings it all together, he notes, is empathy. “It all flows from genuine care and empathy. It would be an empty shell without these.”

A Quest to Eliminate the Need for Animal Farming

Impossible Foods (@PatrickOBrown)

The Main Course: A delicious, nutritious, environmentally friendly alternative to meat and dairy that comes directly from plants – but tastes better than the best burger an avowed carnivore has eaten. Next year, Impossible Foods will start selling its “Impossible Burger,” the first product in a line of foods that look, smell and taste like – while also delivering the pleasurable sensory experience of – animal-derived foods (meat, cheese and milk). But amazingly, these products are are created entirely from plants.

Patrick Brown, Founder of Impossible Foods

Patrick Brown, Founder of Impossible Foods

“I am #BreakingThrough technical and cultural barriers to a sustainable, affordable and secure global food system,” says Patrick Brown, a world renowned geneticist, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, and Professor of Biochemistry at Stanford University. Founder of Lyrical Foods and maker of Kite Hill artisanal nut milk-based cheeses, Pat’s latest venture was triggered by a realization that, even as the demand for meat and dairy products continues to rise, animal farming is “absurdly destructive and completely unsustainable.” He started Impossible Foods and raised $75 million to “reinvent the entire system of transforming plants into meat and milk.”

Only a few of The Impossible Foods scientists have worked professionally with food in the past; however, they have figured out how to extract materials from plants that can convincingly replicate the feel, the flavors and the satisfying texture of foods that people really want to eat. The result is better for animals, of course, but it’s also good for those of us who will be able to enjoy a great burger without the attendant guilt that comes from consuming high-fat foods.

Breaking Through the Way We Think About Food

Aspire Food Group (@AspireFG)

Bill of Fare: Insects. They are a commonly overlooked and sustainable source of protein that, in many parts of the world, are considered a delectable delicacy. Aspire Food Group is working to advance responsible insect farming and consumption by developing culturally relevant business strategies and potential markets for these foods. They are also, simultaneously, educating rural farmers on the best practices of insect farming and helping them break into formal economies where a market for these foods already exists.

Shobhita Soor, Aspire Food Group founding member and Chief Impact Officer

Shobhita Soor, Aspire Food Group founding member and Chief Marketing Officer

Aspire is “breaking through” in many and varied ways, shares Shobhita Soor, a founding member and the firm’s Chief Marketing Officer. “We are #BreakingThrough the way we think about food and protein sources … the way we formalize an informal food economy … and the way we adapt traditional food practices on a global scale,” she tells us.

Shobhita and her partners found their inspiration as MBA students participating in the Hult Prize competition in 2013. Charged to develop a solution to address food insecurity, a member of her team “spoke to a physician who mentioned that he recently saw a patient who consumes insects in her native country, Columbia. Once we started looking into entomophagy there were several ‘aha’ moments, namely the understanding that many insects are highly nutritious and resource-efficient and that there is a real market gap in insect eating.” The realization “that insect-eating is a strong traditional practice for over 2 billion people in the world, but that they remain inaccessible in terms of cost and supply,” was when “we knew we were on to something.”

What’s most disruptive about Aspire, says Shobhita, “is that we are tapping into an extremely under-utilized resource that is familiar to 2 billion people in the world, yet virtually invisible to the rest. We are revolutionizing the way the majority of the world thinks about protein by working to make a traditional superfood more available and accessible through the improvement of its production, preparation and consumption methods.”

Bonus: You’ll have the opportunity to hear more about these innovative companies in the Food Fix session at TEDMED2015, where each of the three leaders will share more about their inspirations and hopes for feeding the world.

Experience the TEDMED Stage Program via Live Stream


Thanks to generous support from our partners, including the American Medical Association, Johnson and Johnson Innovation, Stanford Medicine and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we’re able to provide a live video stream of our entire TEDMED 2015 stage program.

The ideas and conversation at TEDMED need to be shared with everyone on the frontlines of health and medicine to have the broadest impact. That’s why – for the 3rd year in a row – the entire TEDMED program is available online, broadcast directly from the stage in Palm Springs. It’s free for all teaching hospitals, medical schools, government agencies and approved non-profits, and can be watched in high-definition video, live or on-demand to accommodate schedules around the world.

In 2014, more than 200,000 participants from 147 countries participated in TEDMED Live


We welcome all who qualify to experience a carefully curated stage program featuring inspiring and provocative stories that address some of the most pressing challenges we face in health and medicine today. (See our stage program and meet our speakers.)  By sharing our program with organizations around the world, we aim to break barriers and contribute to a multi-disciplinary, global conversation about what is new and important in health and medicine.

Whether an organization has five, 500 or 5,000 people, we invite everyone to join the discussion as part of the TEDMED community. TEDMED Live can be used to ignite new thinking in large groups gathering at college campuses – to inspire collaboration among colleagues who watch together in small lunchtime viewing parties – or enjoyed individually via personal laptops and computers.

Watch each TEDMED session live or view at your convenience, on-demand, for one month beyond the event.

  • Live Streaming is available during the event, Nov. 18-20, 2015. Click here to see the schedule for all eight sessions.
  • On-Demand Streaming Available through Dec. 18, 2015 

TEDMED Talks inform, engage, and provoke action across a broad, passionate community. So whether you are on the inside or outside of health and medicine, we encourage you to join us as we come together to shape a healthier world.

  • In the spirit of collaboration, the entire program is free for teaching hospitals, medical schools, government agencies, libraries and approved non-profits. (Click here to apply)
  • TEDMED Live is also available for organizations that don’t qualify. (Click here for pricing.) 

Special thanks to the organizations that joined us last year – we hope to have you join us again! A few include:

  • Abbott Labs
  • AcademyHealth
  • American Medical Association (AMA)
  • AstraZeneca
  • Boston Children’s Hospital
  • Brigham and Women’s Hospital
  • Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
  • European Medical Students’ Association
  • The Global Fund
  • Johnson & Johnson Innovation
  • Kangwon National University
  • McGill University
  • Melbourne Medical School, University of Melbourne
  • National Institutes of Health
  • Qatar Foundation
  • Research4Life
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
  • Rotterdam University
  • Stanford Medicine
  • Sustainable Development Solutions Network
  • University of California, San Francisco
  • University of California, Irvine
  • University of Genova
  • University of Ottago
  • University of Oxford
  • University of Valencia
  • UPfizer
  • US Department of Veterans Affairs
  • US Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED)
  • Walter Reed National Military Medical Center
  • Wellcome Trust
  • World Health Organization

Words of advice for trials & tribulations: Q&A with Stephen Goldner

At TEDMED 2014, forensic toxicologist and attorney Stephen Goldner shared the compelling story of how helping one person turned into a lifelong effort to change (and, in some cases, even save) lives. We reached out to Stephen to learn more about what drives his work.

What advice would you give to other aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs?

People’s minds are constantly changing, and innovators are so driven toward new interests, that they often have difficulty staying focused on the “grind” of daily business building. I strongly suggest finding a mentor. Someone who can provide focus and encouragement during both the good times and the bad times, and who can then make the all-important connections to people and resources at just the right time.

Stephen Goldner, TEDMED 2014.

Stephen Goldner, TEDMED 2014.

Who or what has been your main source of inspiration that drives you to innovate?

My parents, who quietly insisted that I should do something good for people through my work. Later, I found a master scientist, John Broich, who inspired many people and became my business partner and friend for life. John was a devout seeker of truth, and a data-driven scientist who could see molecular structures in the air and then bring that discovery to life in the laboratory. Another source of inspiration is Alan Kaplan, who created the Food and Drug Law Institute in Washington, DC, and became my mentor when I switched careers and became an FDA lawyer. Alan showed me how to see the many different aspects to matters of law and ethics, and the importance of considering societal consequences.

Most of all, my life-long devotion to humanism has been mentored by someone I never spoken to, and only met briefly twice. I know him from his writings, and his frequent video-talks, even though I have to rely upon translation from Japanese to English. Mr. Daisaku Ikeda, President of Soka Gakkai International has shown me how to turn my personal karma into a day-to-day, moment-to-moment appreciation for finding what needs to be done for people, figuring out what I can do, and then doing it.

Why does your talk matter now? What do you hope people learn from your talk?

Nothing is more precious than life. My talk celebrated helping people find new medicines so they could live. I hope people learn that their simple act of helping one person can turn into a huge mission and help thousands, if not millions, of people all over the world. I hope people see that I am just an “average Joe” who figured something out and then sought out others to join in that mission.

What is the legacy you want your work and/or your talk to leave?

I hope that, somehow, my story will encourage hundreds and thousands of people to endure the entrepreneur struggles and bring their humanistic ideas to fruition.

What is next for you?

Certainly we continue to implement the CureLauncher technology; we’ve done that for more than 11,000 people and multiple clinical trials so far. Things are really interesting at this point in time because I was recently asked to set up the foremost cannabis testing laboratory in the USA. The laboratory, Pinnacle Labs, is based in Michigan and will open on October 15. Once it does, the synergy will kick in. We’ll be running multiple clinical trials for people using marijuana, and collaborating with distinguished medical centers and physicians, and even law enforcement labs, that want to help bring together great science and medicine to show the value of this plant medication.

All innovations need the right time, the right people and the right circumstances to “take off and soar” – so, whatever your dream is, keep on “keeping on” and you will be amazed at all the value you can create in the world.

Indigenous economic health: Q&A with Rebecca Adamson

On the TEDMED 2014 stage, Indigenous economist Rebecca Adamson, founder of the First Nations Development Institute and First Peoples Worldwide and a globally recognized advocate for the rights of Indigenous Peoples, shares how culturally appropriate, values-driven, sustainable development based on indigenous principles contributes to a new concept of health. We caught up with her to learn more.

What motivated you to speak at TEDMED?

Understanding health as an emergent property, and seeing the individual’s health as merely a part of society’s collective health, aligns closely with the holistic approach found within Indigenous Peoples’ worldview. This understanding provided me a natural bridge to make the case that the old medical paradigm that has operated until now with a single, limited, linear worldview needed rethinking. I wanted to show how much the Indigenous worldview has been literally and figuratively handcuffed and prohibited from use. Albert Einstein once said, “You can’t solve a problem with the same conscience that created it.”  I wanted to present how culturally diverse perspectives, especially Indigenous perspectives that emphasize the health of the community rather than the health of the individual, are compelling and relevant technologies for today.

Medical science has determined that healthy individuals emerge from a healthy relationship with a healthy society in a healthy ecosystem. This means that the distribution and delivery of healthcare must meet the needs of the whole society, not merely a part of it. For me, this is a game-changer. As a Cherokee Economist, with a lifetime invested in Indigenous development, my experience with western models has been that they focus on accumulation with little attention to distribution. One of the most crucial aspects of the emergent property of health is that well-being is achieved collectively, meaning that the distribution and delivery of our healthcare actually determines the efficacy of our medical system, our individual health, and the well-being of our society. I believe the Indigenous paradigm lends a new perspective in rethinking healthcare and the medical profession.

Rebecca Adamson at TEDMED 2014

“One of the most crucial aspects of the emergent property of health is that well-being is achieved collectively, meaning that the distribution and delivery of our healthcare actually determines the efficacy of our medical system, our individual health, and the well-being of our society.” Rebecca Adamson at TEDMED 2014

Why does this talk matter now?

Indigenous Peoples are still being handcuffed, figuratively and literally. We are being arrested, shot at and killed for our natural resources. This is going on at the same time that many of our sciences (not just medical) are uncovering the interconnectivity of life – all Life. Holistic worldviews are not exclusive to Indigenous Peoples but the millennia of empirical data on how societies can organize politically, socially and economically for sustainability is being lost. Right now there is an overemphasis on the technological and financial aspects of our society. As medical practitioners, you can really see it in the healthcare system. For example, if we know that health is an emergent property then why is so little or no attention given to the distribution and delivery of healthcare for all – not merely a portion – of society? Sure, we need technology and sure, we need to pay for it – but I wanted to challenge my audience to consider a new way of thinking about healthcare and medicine, one that encompasses society as a whole. Remember the distribution of the whale hunt in an Inuit village, compared to the distribution of cash in the same village? Could you imagine our society if healthcare were to be distributed with the same sophistication as the Inuit whale harvest?  However, if we were to map the distribution of healthcare services in our society today, I fear that it would follow the pattern of hierarchical cash distribution, as opposed to holistic asset or resource distribution, where everyone is accounted for.

The efficacy of traditional medicines is just one part of what Indigenous Peoples can offer the field of medicine. Because the Indigenous worldview is holistic, Indigenous Peoples are brilliant systems thinkers. Indigenous systems leverage and account for the inter- and inner-connections between individuals, community, society and even the ecosystem. Today, we are at a critical point of opportunity where changing the distribution of healthcare is imperative for changing the health and wellbeing of our society. An Indigenous paradigm that values the interconnectedness and interdependence of society can serve as a crucial guide in shifting emphasis from financial gain to collective well-being in the medical field.

What impact do you hope the talk will have?

Our healthcare system today is riddled with problems, that I see stemming from an exaggerated focus on the individual and neglect of the collective wellbeing. I hope my talk will lead TEDMED to focus on the importance of access, distribution and healthcare delivery with the same attention that it dedicates to technology, data and finance. The answers lie in alternative ways of understanding healthcare and medicine. TEDMED has a commitment to diversity that it demonstrated in this incredible gathering of experts, both in speakers and in the audience. I challenge you all to do more. Take the mental handcuffs off. Challenge paradigms that prevent diverse voices and perspectives, as they are the only way we are going to solve the complex issues facing us today. An Indigenous way of thought accounts for the collective – an individual is just one part of a community, just as a plant is one piece of an ecosystem. In the Indigenous paradigm, the health of the individual is dependent on the health of the community. I hope my talk inspires those in medicine to begin rethinking how they approach health care, and to begin considering how our current system can reach society as a whole rather than merely a part.

Please share anything else you wish you could have included in your talk.

Ultimately, I wanted to leave the audience with this question: what do Indigenous Peoples have to share with TEDMED? Remember the distribution of the whale hunt – isn’t that, at its very best, the kind of distribution you would wish for today’s health delivery system? Can you imagine the preventative savings in a health system that reaches everyone? In a society where everyone is someone else’s mother, father, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, cousin… It is the entire society, not merely a part of it, that must survive.

What are some actions viewers can take in support of this cause?

In my talk, I challenged the audience to begin thinking about healthcare from an Indigenous perspective. Now, I challenge them to start working from that perspective – begin exploring how to make healthcare delivery reach the furthermost places in our society; how to begin emphasizing the health of the community over the health of the individual; and how to distribute medicine and healthcare so that it resembles the whale distribution map, and not the cash distribution map. I challenge medical professionals to imagine a society of collective prosperity and health, and to begin a collective discussion on how to achieve that dream.

Music Without Borders: Q&A with Farah Siraj

Farah Siraj, Jordanian singer and songwriter, has performed at the United Nations, Nobel Prize Hall, and World Economic Forum and had a #1 hit song in India. She shares her unique style of worldly music, a delightful Eastern and Western fusion.

Farah Siraj at TEDMED 2014

Farah Siraj at TEDMED 2014

What motivated you to perform at TEDMED?

It was a true pleasure performing at TEDMED. Also, the fact that we got to take the stage at the John F. Kennedy Center was a dream come true! Above all, what I love about TEDMED is that it is a platform for innovative, out-of-box thinkers to come together and share their ideas and discoveries with one another. It was definitely an eye-opening experience! TEDMED talks make you think twice about things!

What were a few TEDMED 2014 talks or performances left an impression on you?

One of the highlights of TEDMED for me was Diana Nyad’s talk. I find her fascinating— Diana is the perfect example of someone who didn’t give up on her dream, and how something can look impossible until you make it possible. There were so many odds against her each time she set out to sea, and yet that didn’t stop her. Diana’s talk was inspiring, charismatic and uplifting. When we met, I just had to give her a huge hug and tell her what an inspiration she is to me!
Dominick Farinacci’s performance was very inspiring. Music has profound healing powers and Dominick’s music is an example of that. Also, it’s great when an artist walks you through the story of their music, it gives you an understanding of where they were in their life when they wrote it. Great performance and great artist! We got to join our bands and create music on stage at the evening celebration, an experience I will always cherish.
I really enjoyed Rosie King’s talk. She talked about how autism is never a one-size-fits-all thing. It is a reminder of how far we still have to go in the field of understanding autism and providing the best support for autistic children and their families. Rosie was also an example of the brilliant intellectual abilities that often come with autism and are often overlooked. In the Middle East, autism awareness is finally taking off and my music was used in the first video campaign in Arabic to raise awareness about autism in the Arab world. It’s a cause I support wholeheartedly.

What kind of meaningful or surprising connections did you make at TEDMED?

The fact that the majority of TEDMED attendees were in in the medical field led me to meet people so far out of my field. I loved it! I had lots of fun conversations with people and got to connect with some really inspiring people and make new friendships.

Farah Siraj at TEDMED 2014

Farah Siraj at TEDMED 2014

What is the legacy you want to leave?

I believe I was given the gift of music so that I could use it for the greater good: to help and heal others through music, and to inspire people to make a positive change in their lives and the lives of others. My hope is that fulfilling that mission will be my legacy, as well as to be remembered as someone who helped amplify the voices of others who needed to be heard.

Rethinking New Diseases: Q&A with Sonia Shah

Sonia Shah, an investigative science journalist and historian, challenges conventional understandings about the real causes of pandemics. We caught up with her to ask a few more questions.

Why does this talk matter now?

The way we understand the origins of new diseases shapes our response to them—responses that will become increasingly relevant in this age of emerging and re-emerging pathogens, from Ebola to cholera. This talk is based on my forthcoming book—“Pandemic: tracking contagion from cholera to Ebola and beyond.”

Sonia Shah at TEDMED 2014

Sonia Shah at TEDMED 2014

What kind of meaningful or surprising connections did you make at TEDMED?

I met the comedian Tig Notaro, whom I’ve admired for a long time. We shared a table at a book signing—I did not expect that! I’m a science journalist!

How can we learn more about your latest work?

My book comes out in February 2016, and it’s available for pre-order now. I’ve also collaborated with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to create an app called “Mapping Cholera,” which provides an interactive visualization and narrative about the 1832 cholera outbreak in New York City, which I spoke about in my talk, and the 2010 cholera outbreak in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. And you can find more updates at, too.