Why do doctors practice race-based medicine?

by Dorothy Roberts, guest contributor

Biological scientists established decades ago that the human species can’t be divided into genetically discrete races. Social scientists have shown that the racial classifications we use today are invented social groupings. And historians of medicine have traced doctors’ current practice of treating patients by race to justifications for slavery. Doctors I’ve talked to readily concede that race is a “crude” proxy for patients’ individual characteristics and clinical indicators. Countless patients have been misdiagnosed and treated unjustly because of their race.

So why do doctors cling so fiercely to race-based medicine?

BWSyringe2One reason is force of habit. For generations, beginning in the slavery era, medical students have been taught to take the patient’s race into account. Race is built into the foundations of medical education, which assumes that people of different races are biologically distinct from each other and suffer from diseases in peculiar ways. What’s more, medical students aren’t given much latitude to question the lessons they are taught about race.  Without a radical disruption, these students go on to train the next generation of doctors with the same flawed racial dogmas.

Another reason is that doctors aren’t immune from commonly-held racial stereotypes and misunderstandings. Most Americans believe some version of a biological concept of race, and doctors are no exception. In fact, the entire field of biology has been plagued by controversy and confusion over the meaning of race. It is not surprising that the medical profession would be influenced by racial thinking that has been perpetuated in U.S. education, culture, and politics for centuries.

In addition, there are institutional and commercial incentives to continue practicing medicine by race. Starting in the 1980s, the federal government required the scientific use of racial categories to ensure greater participation of minorities in clinical research and to address health disparities. Unfortunately, this effort to diversify clinical studies focused on biological rather than social inequalities and has reinforced genetic definitions of race.  In 2005, the federal Food and Drug Administration approved the first race-specific drug, a therapy for African-American patients with heart failure, that was repackaged as a race-based pill to enable the cardiologist who developed it to obtain a patent. Labeling drugs by race may be financially advantageous to pharmaceutical companies by providing a marketing niche and an avenue for FDA approval. The biomedical research and pharmaceutical industries have tremendous influence over how medicine is practiced.

Doctors are quick to bristle at any suggestion that treating patients by race results from their own racial prejudice. They disavow any connection to blatantly racist medicine of the past—the horrific treatment of enslaved Africans; unethical medical experimentation on African Americans, such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and use of Henrietta Lacks’ cancer cells; Jim Crow segregation of medical services; and mass sterilization of black, Mexican-origin, Puerto Rican, and Native American women in the 1960s and 1970s.

Doctors argue that they are using race for benevolent reasons or, at most, as a benign way to classify their patients. But race is not a benign category. Race was invented to support racism and it is inextricably tied to racial oppression and the struggle against it. There is no biological reason to divide human beings into white, black, yellow, and red. Race seems natural only because we have been taught to see each other this way. Sometimes, when I speak to doctors about this topic, I can see their physical discomfort with giving up their reliance on race. It feels like asking deeply religious people to give up their belief in their deity. Race is more than an ordinary medical feature—it is part of people’s deeply-held identities, their sense of their place in society, and their view of how the world is ordered. This is why ending race-based medicine will require a great leap of imagination, a new vision of humanity tied to a movement for racial justice.


Global scholar, University of Pennsylvania civil rights sociologist, and law professor Dorothy Roberts exposes the myths of race-based medicine in her TEDMED 2015 talk.

A Literary Treat from TEDMED 2015

TEDMED 2015's on-site bookstore, in partnership with Cellar Door Books.

TEDMED 2015’s on-site bookstore, in partnership with Cellar Door Books.

At TEDMED 2015, we partnered with Cellar Door Books – an independent bookstore based in Riverside, California – in carefully curating a selection of titles for our on-site bookstore. From tales of science, surgery and mystery to survival guides for parents of adolescents, the bookstore featured best-selling titles as well as works by past and present TEDMED speakers.

If you weren’t able to join us in person, don’t fret. We’re sharing the book list here and encourage you to check it out! Whether you’re simply on the market for new reading material or want to delve into the latest in health and medicine, we’ll have something for you. If you see something you like, we encourage you to purchase it from your local independent bookstore. Enjoy!

Making Time for Mindfulness

When thinking of ways to improve our health, our minds automatically turn to eating better, sleeping more, and (finally) putting that gym membership to good use. To help us improve our chances of success this holiday season, life-style as medicine expert and Chief Science Officer of Wisdom Labs Parneet Pal suggests revamping our list of New Year’s resolutions by including a few often overlooked but essential ingredients to better health.


We tend to confuse compassion and empathy, and with good reason – they both involve the ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and feel what they’re feeling. The key difference between the two is that compassion also includes a strong motivation to improve the other’s wellbeing and alleviate suffering. As Parneet puts it, “Empathy (feeling pain) can enervate. Compassion (taking action) energizes.”

Compassion is a skill that we are all born with, but one that needs to be exercised over time. Should you find yourself stuck in a difficult situation during the holidays, Parneet recommends practicing compassion by silently sending wishes of good will to those around you. When we do this, our heart rate and breathing slow down, moving us from the “fight and flight” stress response to a calmer, more loving and connected state. This priming of our neural networks then makes it more likely that we will take appropriate action to help reduce the suffering we are seeing in others and ourselves.

Meaningful connections

Research has shown that another ingredient vital to good health (and one that may even lengthen our lifespan) is connecting with others in meaningful ways. Even in today’s hyper-connected world, doing so can be difficult; one study showed that one in four Americans are unable to name someone they consider a close friend. Such feelings of loneliness and isolation lead to a higher risk of anxiety and depression. On the cellular level, the body responds to these feelings with inflammation and decreased immunity, which are known precursors to chronic disease.

For our more introverted readers, the good news is that it’s not about the number of social connections we have, but our perceived sense of how connected we feel from within. To help cultivate close relationships, Parneet recommends bringing your whole self to conversations – whether at the next holiday party or around the dinner table. Rather than compose a mental list of brilliant responses to the topic at hand, simply relax and listen carefully. Doing so makes the person you’re speaking to feel seen and heard, and more likely to return the favor. “Try this out with family and friends this holiday season – and see how it changes the quality of the conversations and emotions in your relationships,” Parneet suggests.


According to TEDMED 2015 speaker Judson Brewer, mindfulness techniques can help quell unhealthy cravings (stay tuned for his talk release!). But, to many of us who are all too familiar with racing minds and long to-do lists, the idea of making time to practice mindfulness seems far-off at best. Parneet tells us that the problem is that we’re so caught up in the past (or future) that we function on “autopilot” in the present. Especially during the rush of the holiday season, we’re constantly and chronically under stress – which is not only harmful for our health, but also results in poor decision making, emotional turbulence and limits access to perspective, ideas, and insights.

When talking about mindfulness, “practicing” is the operative word. Just as we exercise our bodies, we train our brains. The first step to mindfulness is to keep your breath in mind, as much as you can, throughout the day. This simple act of remembering your breath, pivoting your attention to it and following it in and out – for one second, one minute or more – begins to strengthen our attention networks. The stronger our ability to pay attention to the present moment, the less susceptible we are to emotional triggers.

For meltdown moments, Parneet recommends taking the following steps for a little bit of Holiday S.O.S.:

Place your hand on your heart (this triggers the release of oxytocin, an anti-stress hormone) and connect with the sensations of the body – the warmth of your hand, the rise and fall of your chest, the feeling of resting in your body fully. Take three, slow, nourishing deep breaths. Ask yourself: “what is the most loving, compassionate thing I can do right now – for myself and those around me?” Then act on it.photo-1447754147464-8b29cbf07166

Over the holidays, we at TEDMED will be taking Parneet’s advice as we nurture our relationships and make time to unplug, rest and recharge. We hope you do the same. In the meantime, be on the lookout as we share a just a few of the year’s most relevant talks – and make sure to register for TEDMED 2016 before January 1st to take advantage of our special ticket price. We’d love to have you join us.

From all of us at TEDMED, happy (and healthy) holidays!

Behind the Scenes: Creating the TEDMED 2015 Event Video

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Many people at this year’s TEDMED gathering expressed an affinity for and interest in the introductory video that began each day on stage. It was created specially for this year’s event, and we at TEDMED were proud of the way the video turned out – and we’re especially proud that delegates noticed the effort that went into creating a something special to prime Delegate’s minds for the ideas ahead.
Since there was such a strong reaction, we’d like to share more about the thinking and planning that went into creating this video.

When we met with our partners at TBWA\WorldHealth, a healthcare advertising agency responsible for helping us kick off this year’s gathering, we shared the themes from this year’s stage program, the history and background for our speaker lineup, and the event theme “Breaking Through,” which underpinned everything at this year’s gathering. TBWA\WorldHealth challenged themselves to weave these elements into the story in the video they created, and the result was a piece closely aligned with our programming and representative of elements of the event throughout; much more so than we’ve achieved in the past.

The agency was inspired by the provocative titles that highlighted the individual speakers and their talks: “Human Potential Maximizer,”“Spiritual Psilocybin Researcher,” and “Plant Butcher”, to name a few. The creative team set to work bringing these titles and themes to life with vivid imagery— what you SAW on screen, thanks in part to Getty’s vast library of incredible images. But what really pulled everything together was a strong emphasis on sound design—the sounds HEARD building over the course of the video.

The music in the video is more than a simple bed of sound. Like the world of healthcare itself, there are elements that repeat, interact, tie together, and build on each other to create a vibrant, organic whole. The result is sound and images that represent the various speakers and their disciplines (as an example, recall the hand unsnapping the bra, and the sigh that you heard — which evoke the “Science of Sex Journalist” in the “Human Explorations session). Like the individual instruments in an orchestra, the sounds combine and work in harmony to form the story of TEDMED 2015.

The video is posted below – we invite you to view it again and see how many of the images and sounds you can tie back to the speakers from the session. You’ll see the video in a whole new light.

We loved the smarts and style the agency brought to the production, and we have invited them to partner with us again next year. We’re looking forward to surprising each other — and you — in 2016! If you’re interested in learning more about the production or would like to get to know the TBWA/WorldHealth team —we’d be happy to make the connection.

Transforming Baltimore: Public Health as a Social Justice Engine

A Q&A with Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore City Health Commissioner

Dr  Wen 011215 Official1 (1)During her first year as Baltimore city’s health commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen has taken on the tough, chronic issues that plague the city—poverty, violence, and drug abuse. We spoke with Dr. Wen about her efforts to turn Baltimore into a trauma-informed community and a national model for overdose prevention and drug treatment. She talks about the critical steps needed to tackle these deeply entrenched and intertwined challenges.

Baltimore is still recovering from Freddie Gray’s death and the protests and riots that ensued seven months ago. What is the approach you’ve taken to helping the city recover?

Though the period of severe unrest may be behind us, the underlying problems that caused them have not gone away. Violence, poverty, and health disparities have many inputs. In Baltimore and in many other places across the country, these are closely tied to substance use and mental health problems, and to historical policies of mass arrest and incarceration. By focusing on the root causes of violence, poverty, and health disparities, we can turn this challenging moment into an opportunity to transform our city into a national model by demonstrating how public health can be a powerful tool for social justice.

How are you addressing violence prevention in Baltimore?

Violence prevention is a key function of public health. In many ways, violence is no different from an infectious disease. Just like measles or the flu, it is contagious and spreads from person to person. It creates fear and wreaks havoc. It results in illness, trauma, and death.

But this also means that there is hope, because, like any disease, violence can be prevented, and it can be treated. We can implement interventions to interrupt the violence, and we can prevent violence from happening in the first place.

Last year, our Safe Streets program—in which “violence interrupters”, many of whom are recently returned citizens, walk the streets and intervene in potentially violent situations—mediated 880 conflicts, 80 percent of which were deemed “likely” or “very likely” to end in gun violence.

Meanwhile, we are teaching middle school students to recognize the signs of relationship violence and empowering them to change the norms around dating. And we are working with health care providers, who have a valuable opportunity to intervene and help address the underlying issues of violence when a patient comes in with an injury.

We know that preventing violence is far from simple and requires a combination of approaches. Ultimately, violence has its roots in poverty, substance addiction, unmet mental health needs, and rampant disparities. All of these underlying issues must also be addressed for us to have a just and safe city. So we must continue to target our efforts on evidence-based, public health strategies that serve our neighborhoods and save the lives of our residents.

How are you working to change mindsets around violence, crime and trauma?

We are training all of Baltimore’s front-line city employees—including teachers, social workers, police officers, and other outreach workers—on understanding and treating the effects of trauma. When someone is arrested, we can’t just look at that individual as a perpetrator of violence. We need to understand and treat the effects of the trauma they’ve experienced.

Social issues, like poverty, homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse addiction, often underlie deep trauma. We want to make sure all of our front-line city workers have this mentality when we are approaching our residents.

You’re also working to make Baltimore a national model for overdose prevention and drug treatment. Why did you decide to prioritize these issues?

In my city, more people die from drug and alcohol overdoses than from homicide. Nationally, drugs account for more deaths than car crashes, shootings, or alcohol, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimates that 120 Americans die from drug overdoses every day.

The majority of overdose deaths are from opioids, which include heroin and prescription painkillers such as oxycodone. People who overdose on opioids stop breathing, and within minutes can suffer brain damage and death.

What is most tragic about these deaths from opioid overdose is that there is an antidote that is safe, effective, and literally lifesaving: naloxone, also called Narcan. It’s easy for almost anyone to administer.

In Baltimore, we have been training people with heroin addiction to use naloxone since 2004, including targeted training in hot spots, such as shooting alleys, recovery housing, and prisons. In fact, we’ve trained over 6,000 Baltimoreans this year alone, including community members, legislators, and even police officers.

We advocated for a change in state law that enables us to train anyone who wants to learn to administer Narcan and allows me to prescribe Naloxone to any of our 600,000 residents.

To be sure, treating overdose isn’t the only solution. Addiction treatment requires long-term medications and psychosocial support. We also have to focus on prevention, stop drug trafficking, and teach doctors more careful prescribing.

But if it’s one lesson that I’ve learned from the ER, it’s that if we can’t save a life today, there’s no chance for a better tomorrow.

Baltimore has long been known as the heroin capital of the country. I want Baltimore to be known as a model for recovery and resilience.

You’re tackling some of the most persistent problems facing American cities. What are some of the key steps to accomplishing this work?

Baltimore has a long history of innovation in public health. We are the oldest public health department in the country, and we have a long history of taking on different issues. It is our job to make the case that public health is tied to everything—that we cannot talk about poverty without also addressing the heroin epidemic and what it’s done in terms of crime and unemployment for citizens. We cannot talk about better health care and better jobs if we’re not addressing the core problems that people have when it comes to shelter and employment that also tie closely into health.

We also know the most credible messenger is not necessarily a medical professional, but people who are from the communities they serve. We all have a role to play. We need to work closely with those stakeholders—young people, neighbors, community doctors, nurses—as well as our partners in local government, law enforcement, and hospitals to move the needle and see progress as we take on these challenges.

Collaboration is key. B’more for Healthy Babies for example, is a partnership of more than 100 city agencies, health care providers, insurers, and nonprofits, all of which have signed on to a citywide strategy for reducing infant mortality. Through this collective impact model we have worked together to drop Baltimore’s infant mortality rate by over 20 percent, hitting its lowest point ever recorded in 2012. And as a result of the success of programs like this, we are expanding B’more for Healthy Babies into the B’more for Healthy Youth and B’more for Healthy Teens programs as part of a comprehensive youth health and wellness campaign.

What lessons would you like to share with others working in public health?

Public health is a powerful social justice tool through which we can develop a framework to level the playing field of inequality. We have to change the mindset to acknowledge, for example, that racism is also a pressing public health issue.

By changing the conversation around how we view public health, by directly engaging people in their communities, and by recruiting the most credible messengers, we can find innovative ways to move the needle over the short term, while catalyzing social change that will improve outcomes for generations of Americans.

Reflections: Dr. Pamela Wible, Physicians’ Guardian Angel Describes “Ideal Health Care”

Pamela Wible

Pamela Wible, a speaker in our Human Explorations session.

An estimated 400 physicians commit suicide each year and many more suffer from emotional illnesses and addiction. Estimating that each doctor cares for 2,300 patients, this means that every year close to one million people lose their doctor to suicide. Their loss is tragic, painful and frightening – and, for the families, friends and colleagues of the victim, the repercussions of the suicide are lifelong.

In a presentation that managed to be both fierce and deeply vulnerable, angry and loving, Dr. Pamela Wible shared with the TEDMED community her insights and possible remedies for the physician plights. She described, in detail, what it would look like to care for the people who care for us. She makes a strong case that a major contributor to the problem is our system for medical training: Broken people are perpetuating a broken system.

Pamela exhorts the TEDMED community to commit to changing the plight of the people who give care. Her words were meant to inspire not only those who train doctors but also those of us who are patients. Like all positive care experiences, trusting relationships are at the core of optimizing outcomes.

Pamela challenged listeners to type the words “Doctors Are” into the Google search bar, and see how it auto-populates with the most common search queries. So we did.


Google reveals which adjectives people most often type into the search bar after “doctors are …”. Pamela believes medical training creates this situation.

This represents a public mindset. It is not “wrong” in the sense of being inaccurate, since it is how people are feeling as a result of their engagements with doctors and the outcomes. But it is wrong in the sense of reality. The people who care for us are our best and brightest, they work unreasonable hours, face untenable pressures and struggle to stay viable in an ever-changing system that fights against what, for many doctors, is the soul of their work: relationships with their patients. The 2014 Physician Foundation Study revealed that approximately 80% of physicians rated patient relationships well above prestige and pay … yet, says Pamela, this is what gets lost in the real life of doctors.

We, doctors and patients, are in this together. It takes two to start and build a relationship. Shifting our goal to creating a “culture of health” demands that we find ways to celebrate and enhance the doctor patient relationship.

Live and In Person: Different Ways to Experience TEDMED 2015

Liz Branch and Megan McCarthy

Liz Branch and Megan McCarthy, organizers of Baptist Health Care’s TEDMED Live event at the Blue Wahoos baseball stadium in Pensacola, FL.

On a beautiful Friday morning, hundreds of residents from the Pensacola, Fla., region are converging on the waterfront Blue Wahoos Double-A baseball stadium to experience TEDMED Live as a community. The event, free and hosted by local experts in health and medicine, is a way to inspire passion and a commitment to a healthier lifestyle. “The truth is, we are probably one of the least healthy counties in Florida and we want to spread the word and help people make changes,” says Liz Branch, corporate service line marketing director for Baptist Health Care. Forward-thinkers in making health a shared value, Baptist Health Care has collaborated with its competitors (other local hospitals) to create a coalition to improve health in their community. Several hospitals went “smoke free” together and, with this event, Baptist Health Care has invited hospital employees from around the region, along with community leaders, medical and nursing students and anyone with an interest in sharing the TEDMED Live experience to the free event, which runs Friday, November 20, from 9 am – 2 pm.

In the spirit of promoting healthy behaviors, careful attention was given to health-promoting details: Carpooling is encouraged, the event is promoted as “breastfeeding-friendly” and there is a downloadable event kit, which comes with an exhortation to take notes and “cascade what you have learned to your organizations, churches, family and friends!”

Lisa Fitzpatrick

Lisa Fitzpatrick, a physician exploring alternative ways to deliver healthcare – even on city streets.

Describing herself as a medical doctor with an entrepreneurial spirit, Lisa Fitzpatrick’s motivation for attending TEDMED to explore ways healthcare can be more flexible and responsive to patient’s needs and most particularly for needful patients in the inner city. “I believe we need to shift healthcare out of buildings and into the community, even if it means offering it on the streets where people are congregating,” she says, noting that she has tried this. “We had a patient who was diagnosed with HIV and because the diagnosis terrified him he would not come into the office. I was told that he was depressed, afraid and potentially suicidal.  Each member of our multidisciplinary team (the nurse, social worker, navigator, receptionist and psychotherapist) contacted him to try to convince him to come in. When nothing else worked, they asked me to contact him. I huddled with the team to find out what everyone had tried up to that point. Armed with that information, I called him and told him he didn’t have to come in and I would come to him if he would just give me a few minutes. I left the hospital and drove to where he was. We met in the middle of the block and stood there, having a conversation. I was able to explain the treatment and science to him and as we say, ‘talk him off the ledge.’ He came into the clinic the next day. He has an addiction, and through a combination of phone calls, texting and in- person visits, we were able to get him started him on HIV medication. He has been in treatment since. These efforts are labor intensive but necessary if we mean what we say about improving health outcomes.”

Denise Terry

Denise Terry, co-founder, EmbraceFamily Health (Woodside, Calif.) takes a working break in Palm Springs.

Careers in sales, marketing and as a labor doula have led Denise Terry, co-founder of EmbraceFamily Health, to her current mission: Breaking through barriers in maternal-child healthcare delivery, with a digital health solution for pregnancy and parenting that she describes as being like having your “OB in your pocket.” In partnership with the obstetrician who delivered her twins (now 8 years old), Terry’s company creates and delivers medical-grade, personalized information on pregnancy and parenting, with the goal of “helping moms build healthy families,” she said. Her goals at TEDMED include making synergistic connections and, she hopes, doing some fundraising. Seed-funded thus far, Terry says the company hopes to connect with strategic corporate partners “who might be able to help us get to the next level.”

Breaking Through to Create a Culture of Health: One Table’s Process at the RWJF “Creating a Culture of Health” Luncheon


We had a problem to solve.

How can business positively impact society’s health?

Our hybrid group of thinkers had four physicians, three marketers and four agency leaders.

We coalesced on what business is and isn’t; on what health is and isn’t. Perspectives varied, experiences motivated answers and, as a group, we found that our hybridity and disciplinary disparity led us to insights we would not have reached separately. For those of us who aspire to create a culture of health by selling goods and services is a multifaceted endeavor. Producers and retailers need to be incented and involved in creating and selling health-promoting products. Employers have an obligation to support health, but also achieve immense benefit by inspiring and enabling healthier places to work and incenting and rewarding healthful decisions.

The most beautiful sentiment, which summed up the conversation, came to our group from Dr. Param Dedhia, who set our true north with a simple observation: positive health changes – at their core – must bring us joy.

What a wonderful breakthrough.

Transforming the Way We Think About Race in Medicine

RWJF - Roberts

By Dorothy Roberts

Dorothy Roberts’ work in law and public policy focuses on urgent contemporary issues in health, social justice, and bioethics, especially as they impact the lives of black women and their families. She is the George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights at the University of Pennsylvania.

An 8-year-old black girl is repeatedly hospitalized for lung infections. None of her doctors can figure out what’s wrong. Finally, a doctor looks at her X-ray without knowing her race and correctly diagnoses her with cystic fibrosis. None of the other medical professionals had considered cystic fibrosis because of the myth that certain genetic traits exist only in certain races—the myth that black people don’t get cystic fibrosis. It’s a classic case of misdiagnosis based on racial assumptions.

The racial concept of disease—that people of different races suffer from different diseases and experience common diseases differently—goes back centuries to the promotion of slavery. White slaveholders argued that, because of their biological peculiarities, enslavement was the only condition in which black people could be healthy, productive, and disciplined.

Today, medicine perpetuates this long history of defining disease in racial terms. Medical students are taught to treat their patients according to race, and this contributes to the racial inequities that plague every aspect of medical care. For example, studies show that blacks and Latinos are less likely than white patients to receive pain medication for the same injuries. Some theories attribute this to stereotypes among healthcare providers that blacks and Latinos are more likely to exaggerate their pain, can stand more pain, or are predisposed to drug addiction.

This problem persists in medical devices and tests, such as the test that is used to evaluate a patient’s risk of kidney failure. Patients who self-report as black will get a different result than those who self-report as white. The calculation measuring kidney function is set to interpret the level of creatinine concentration in the patient’s blood differently if the patient is black. This is based on the absurd assumption that black people have more muscle mass than people of other races. Assumptions such as these are often extrapolated from old studies that get from one generation to the next.

Countless research projects also search for genetic causes to racial gaps in asthma, infant mortality, diabetes, cancer, and other medical conditions. But scientists routinely use sloppy, inconsistent, and ambiguous definitions of racial categories in biomedical and genetic research, and leap to genetic conclusions without ruling out more logical social explanations for health disparities.

Although studies typically attempt to control for participants’ socioeconomic status, researchers routinely fail to account for many other unmeasured factors—such as the experience of racial discrimination or differences in wealth, not just income, or rates of incarceration—that are also related to health outcomes and differ by race. Any one of these unmeasured factors might explain why health outcomes vary by race. We would expect social groups that have been systematically deprived for centuries to have worse health than social groups that have been systematically privileged—but the reasons are social, not genetic.

The hypothesis that health disparities are caused by genetic difference is founded on a misunderstanding of race as a naturally created biological division, rather than a politically invented social division. Race is a political construct that has staggering biological consequences because of the impact that social inequality has on people’s health. As a result of race-based medicine, health inequities persist — and divert attention and resources from work that could actually help address the social inequities that produce these gaps in health.

Understanding race as a political construct that affects health reframes the way scientists approach the relationship between race and biology. A growing number of researchers from a variety of disciplines, including medicine, biology, psychology, anthropology, and epidemiology, are investigating how racial inequities in wealth, housing, and education, along with experiences of stigma and discrimination, translate into bad health.

We need to work together to transform the way the medical profession thinks about race. We must change medical school curriculum to incorporate a stronger understanding of the social and structural determinants of health, so that future providers will be trained in treating the whole patient.

We need to stop treating patients by race. We need to start valuing people equally as human beings, while working to understand the impact that racism and social inequality have on their health. And we need to join the forefront of the movement to end the structural inequities that produce racial gaps in health.

From Trauma, Inspiration: 3 TEDMED Scholars and Their Journeys to Palm Springs

Vania Deonizio, Founder, Dancin Power

Vania Deonizio, a musician/dancer and founder of Dancin Power, crowd-sourced her way to TEDMED2015.

Integral to our TEDMED mission is assembling a diverse mix of Delegates to present a variety of perspectives on new ideas, trends, treatments or technologies that can contribute to health and medicine. Some exceptional individuals – people we believe would make outstanding Delegates, who would benefit greatly from joining us – qualify for scholarship subsidies if financial obstacles stand in the way of their attendance. Their stories are often inspirational, to say the least. Here are several we’re delighted to welcome to this year’s conference, kicking off today:

Vania Deonizio, Founder, Dancin Power

Dancin' Power


“I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to a family of musicians, and was introduced to various rhythm of music and dance very early. Growing up I faced a major childhood trauma that almost took my life. That is when I found in dance a way to escape from that horrible situation, along with freedom and hope for a better life. I started Dancin Power (we use the healing power of music and dance to improve the quality of life of hospitalized kids) to help children who, like me, find themselves stuck in difficult situations they didn’t ask for. Dancin Power gives these kids a way to express themselves in a safe welcoming environment. It provides them with an outlet to experience joy and laughter, and most importantly, it reminds them that even though they are sick and in a hospital room, they are still kids and have the right to be happy!

“A few weeks ago I found myself searching for inspiration in TED talks about innovative ideas in health; that’s when I came across TEDMED for the first time. I immediately connected with its concept and felt that Dancin Power and I belong here. We are a small nonprofit; despite the fact that I didn’t have the funds/resources to apply, I didn’t allow that to stop me from going after what I believe should happen. I did my homework and sought who I should connect with via LinkedIn and then was awarded a Partial Frontline Scholars grant. Through crowdfunding I was able to raise the remainder amount to attend the conference within 48 hours! Today I am here and couldn’t be more excited for all that is about to happen! May the inspiration, connections and opportunities for collaboration begin!”


Jessica Harthcock, Founder, Utilize Health

Utilize Health“We all find our career or our calling through different means – maybe it’s an interest we’ve had since we were 5. Maybe it’s a hobby-turned-career. Maybe we just ‘fell into it’ (yep, that’s a pun… and it’s what I did). For me, it was an up-close and personal experience I had with the healthcare system.

“In 2004 I was practicing my springboard diving routine at a gymnastics studio, when I landed wrong and heard a crunch: I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed. My official diagnosis was a spinal cord injury with paralysis at the T3-4 level. That meant I could move my arms, but nothing below my sternum. The doctors told me the damage was permanent, and I would never walk again.

“I spent years traveling across the U.S. searching for treatment options. I enrolled in a research study, explored alternative medicines, and continued very traditional forms of physical therapy. After nearly three years, I took a step and eventually that step turned into 10 more steps. Slowly but surely I progressed. Today, I am 11 years post-injury and walk unassisted.

“Throughout the recovery process, I realized that finding treatment options wasn’t efficient. It could be improved upon in many areas; time, financial resources and energy were drained. I wasn’t alone; countless others shared my experience. Many of them heard of my success and reached out for help. By the 100th patient, I knew there had to be a better way.

“Thus, Utilize Health was born. Dedicated to making the treatment process easier for patients, Utilize Health aspires to improve patient outcomes, decrease costs, and change the lives of patients for the better.

“I started watching TED talks years ago – and now, I am inspired daily by people who share my passion for helping others and making our healthcare system better. TEDMED has been a bucket list item for several years. I’ve always been inspired by the doers and dreamers of the world (which is everyone at TEDMED). I still have to pinch myself that I’ll actually be there this year!”


Amy Price, PhD

Amy Price, PhD“I came to this from a drastic car crash where I had significant brain and spine injuries. It was a tough path and I wanted to make it easier for others. First I was a patient advocate but the company was run by a group that ran afoul of the FDA and I realized I did not know what real research was.

“As part of my rehab and to redefine my destiny I ended up at Oxford where I am completing a DPHIL on running Public Led Online Trials where the public can research questions of interest to them and we can learn together. Here is some more information on what I am doing: One is a blog written for Oxford; another for the British Medical Journal; the third item is a video Oxford did with me in it for students with disabilities. I plan to blog for my college on this, specifically for the Oxford Thinking Campaign and on our website.”