Call for TEDMED 2020 Artist

At the heart of TEDMED’s mission is the quest for a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us. As tools for discovery, we recognize the essential roles that both science and art play in this pursuit. And yet, while science is rarely underappreciated in this search, art can often be overlooked. We believe that art serves an important role as a catalyst for innovation and creativity and provides the inspiration needed to birth new questions and new paths for scientific research. Art and science are inevitably intertwined, serving as inspiration for one another and constantly propelling us toward progress.

The roles that both science and art play in our health has been beautifully illustrated time and time again from our stage. At TEDMED 2018, Sound Alchemist, Yoko K. Sen, shared how dissonant sounds from hospital environments can become overwhelming to patients and can even run antithetical to the healing process. Yoko has dedicated her musical talents toward a better understanding of how sound impacts our emotions and she works to transform the auditory environment of hospitals with soothing melodies and tones. She’s the founder of Sen Sound, a social enterprise that aims to change the soundscape of medical spaces.

Similarly, award-winning architect Amanda Sturgeon discussed how we can rethink the design of spaces so that they emulate the surrounding environment, which has a positive impact on the occupants. Amanda and her team found that “biophilic buildings” – structures that embrace and borrow features found in the natural world – create spaces in which people are happier, healthier and more productive.

In 2018, the direct link between science and art was perhaps most strongly depicted in Marlène Oliver’s talk and art installation. Using imaging from MRIs and CT scans, she creates art that allows us to see how our digital selves exist in an abstract world of data. Every year, artists from across the artistic spectrum, contribute their talent and perspective to our program,  such as pianist Richard Kogan, painter Ted Meyer, art curator Christine McNabb, documentarian Holly Morris, improv performers Karen Stobbe and Mondy Carter, chef John La Puma, photographer Kitra Cahana, musician Gerardo Contino, and many more.  The talks themselves are also works of art. Each speaker carefully crafts their talk to share a unique gift with the TEDMED community. Even our speakers themselves become art, because an important part of our event design each year is to work with artists who create portraits of our speakers.

To come full circle, our 2018 portrait artist Marlene Morales Tollet is a perfect example of the art and science intersecting. Marlene is both a practicing ophthalmologist, specializing in comprehensive ophthalmology and oculoplastic surgery and an artist. We’ve been lucky to work with amazing artistic talent throughout the years, from widely acclaimed figures like Hanoch Piven and Victor Juhasz, to a collaborative project created by several RISD art students, to the fantastic work of Gabriel Gutierrez and Lauren Hess who were chosen from our community. These artists are invited to TEDMED and become an important part of our Delegation. Find out more about their beautiful work here.

LOOKING FOR THIS YEAR’S ARTIST
Again this year, we’re excited to begin a search for the artist or artists who will help us bring this year’s speaker portraits to life. As part of our search, we’re officially accepting artist nominations and applications for TEDMED 2020.

Just as every year, our chosen artist or artists will join our community for 3 days in Boston, MA at The Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel, March 2-4 for TEDMED 2020 (travel and accommodations covered by TEDMED).  If you are interested, or know someone who might be, read on!

ELIGIBILITY AND TIME FRAME
This call is open to amateur and professional artists, and all art mediums will be considered. While not required, the artist would ideally have a close tie to health and medicine. This could take form in the following ways:

  • Experience in the medical community
  • Experience working with patients
  • A personal story connecting the artist to health and medicine

ABOUT THE PROJECT
The artist will need to produce roughly 50 portraits over the course of the next few months. Illustrations will be based on reference photos that will be provided. Final portraits will need to be delivered as high res digital files based on our specifications.

The work will take place between November 2019 – January 2020.

HOW TO APPLY
To apply (or nominate an artist), please send an email to art@tedmed.com. Be sure to include a work sample, a brief bio, any relevant links and details about the best way to get in touch (email, cell, etc.). If the artist is a good fit, someone from our team will reach out.

Application deadline: Midnight, October 4, 2019.

I found a narrative and that narrative became a song

 

Zoë Keating is a cellist and composer who put her music career on hold when her husband Jeff was diagnosed with stage IV non-smokers lung cancer. After Jeff passed away, it took Zoë time to start creating music again, but when she did, it became her lifeline. Zoë spoke about her experiences at TEDMED 2017, and you can watch her Talk, and hear her play the song “Possible,” here.


Four years ago my world exploded and disintegrated: my husband Jeff was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he died 8 months later and I became an only parent.

I spent a long time in a shell-shocked-limbo that I can barely remember (if I was weird to you during that time, I apologize!) and then I feel like I’ve been searching for the blown apart fragments of my life and trying to put them back together with tape but there are huge pieces missing and…what is the shape supposed to be again? I don’t know yet. It’s a process. I’m a process.

For the most part, I’ve been ok with that. But yeah, sometimes there is nagging voice in my head impatient for me to “bounce back”, “be resilient”, “overcome”, etc etc etc. It berates me to “get on with it”—whatever “it” is—so that then I can do the normal things that a successful artist does, like release a new album, something that seemed incredibly daunting in my new life.

So last year the folks at TEDMED invited me to speak. I thought about all the things I wanted to talk about. I could talk about the patient experience of health care. Or maybe I could talk about how I used to suffer from paralyzing stage fright until I discovered live looping—by recording short phrases of the cello and playing on top of them, I made a virtual cello orchestra to keep me company onstage and then I wasn’t afraid. I didn’t want to talk publicly about Jeff’s illness and death and what came after. I didn’t want to be defined by a story that was raw and painful and still bleeding.

I tried to write my talk about something else but as much as I didn’t want to be defined by loss, the biggest thing in my life was the gaping wound where my husband was. It would be insincere for me to give a talk about anything else.

So I started to write. I wrote iteratively in bits and pieces and as I wrote, a clearing appeared, and there was new music in it. As what I wanted to say crystalized into words, so did the music. I ended up making a talk and a song in parallel. In distilling my story, I found a narrative and that narrative became a song.

The act of finishing a single song made it seem possible for me to make another one, which I did after I gave the talk. And then I made another…

Zoë Keating, by Chase Jarvis

One theme running through all my music is the feeling of getting outside of things to get a bigger vista. I’m often looking for the musical equivalent of a bird’s eye view. It has been hard to get that kind of perspective of my life for the last few years. And frankly, it’s hard to imagine making something big, like an album, when you’ve lost your confidence, which I certainly had.

After I gave my talk, I could see that this process of looking at my personal story from afar, having an insight and then iterating on it, was very similar to how I make music. When I combine loops of cello together the resulting sounds and textures hint at new musical patterns to explore. When I wrote about what happened, thought about what I’d written and then refined it, the very process of doing that suggested new ways for me to think about it.

If I was to give another talk today, I might explore an idea I heard about during a subsequent performance that I had with Jad Abumrad, the founder and co-host of “Radiolab”. I was making live music for a talk he gave on the origins of the show in which he mentioned the idea of the “adjacent possible”, a term coined by the theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman.

Bear with me for a second. Roughly, Kauffman’s theory as I understand it is that biological systems are able to transform into complex systems through incremental changes. Life didn’t start out complicated with something like a flying squirrel. First there were a bunch of carbon atoms, then those atoms combined to make molecules, then proteins, and then proteins made cells possible. Each step along the way created the possibility for the next step to occur, the adjacent possible. Kauffman’s idea has since been applied to social sciences, technology and creativity, describing how new insights can be generated by combining already existing ideas. The adjacent possible are the things made possible by what you are doing right now.

So for me, maybe the act of distilling my story at TEDMED created an adjacent possible for me, one where I’m able to make music again.

Here’s me talking about how music helped me think about life, love and loss, followed by a live performance of a new song called “Possible”. I’ll be releasing the studio version as part of a three-song EP on June 1.

Thank you, TEDMED.

Announcing TEDMED’s 2018 Research Scholars

Preparing the TEDMED Stage Program is a year-long process, which begins the moment the first Speaker nominations come in. Each submission requires thorough research and careful consideration for how it might fit into the larger program. For help identifying the individuals and topics that will take the stage at our annual TEDMED event, we turn to the TEDMED Community—specifically our Editorial Advisory Board Members and Research Scholars—for their insight and expertise.

As a first step in the process, we rely on our Editorial Advisory Board members to suggest timely topics and themes that should be featured on stage and to provide their feedback on which Speaker nominations most embody the important work these topics and themes represent. Having completed four Editorial Advisory Board meetings and countless discussions following each meeting, the 2018 Stage Program curation process is well underway. While there is still work to do, we’re excited about how the program is shaping up.

Now comes the point in the process where we begin vetting the science and potential impact of each nomination. This is where TEDMED’s Research Scholars play a crucial role. The Research Scholars, a carefully selected group of passionate and objective individuals whose expertise spans the biomedical, public health, and emerging technology spectrums, help us to properly evaluate each nomination.

This year, we have selected 45 Research Scholars with specialties ranging from neuroscience to bioethics, digital health to nursing, and oncology to public health. We’re confident that the 2018 Research Scholars have the diverse backgrounds and breadth of knowledge that will allow us to take a deep dive into the complexities of this year’s Speaker nominations and to evaluate their suitability for this year’s program.

Our 2018 Research Scholars represent organizations and institutions including the Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins University, the YMCA of the USA, Skoll Global Threats Fund, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai’s Loeb Center for Alzheimer’s Disease, GE Healthcare, the The University of Pittsburgh, the American Medical Association, and more.

Additionally, we’re excited to announce that we’re trying something new this year. We’ve partnered with Massive, a digital science media publication that brings together scientists and the science-curious public, and tapped into their pool of first-rate researchers to help us evaluate this year’s nominations. The TEDMED-Massive Scholars are members of TEDMED’s 2018 Research Scholars Program, and they are denoted by an asterisk in the list below. We’re excited about the TEDMED-Massive partnership, and we’re looking forward to sharing more over the coming months about how we’ll work together.

We are honored to announce this year’s TEDMED Research Scholars, and we thank them for their invaluable contributions.

Akash Chandawarkar, MD
Plastic Surgery, Medical Technology Innovation

*Anastasia Gorelova, PhD Candidate
Molecular Pharmacology, Cardiovascular Biology

Anna Pimenova, PhD
Neuroscience, Neurodegeneration

*Aparna Shah, PhD
Neuroscience, Pharmacology, Psychiatric Disorders

Beth Ann Swan, PhD, CRNP, FAAN
Healthy Communities, Health Care Delivery

Beth Taylor Mack, PhD
Health and Wellness Innovation

Boluwaji Ogunyemi, MD
Epidemiology, Dermatology, Medical Humanities, Health Advocacy

Bryon Petersen, PhD
Bioengineering, Stem Cell Biology

Camilla Engblom, PhD
Cancer Immunology

Christina Schweitzer, MPhil (Cantab), BSc, MD student
Medical Education

*Dan Samorodnitsky, PhD
Molecular Biology

Daniel Bu, BA, MD/MSCR Candidate
Health Care Delivery, Science and Technology

Danny Jomaa, MSc Candidate
Cancer Biology, Neuroscience

Diana Chen, MA, MD/MBA Candidate
Global Health, Healthcare Delivery, Marketing

Dilip Thomas, PhD
Tissue Engineering, Regenerative Medicine

Elisa L Priest, DrPH
Healthcare Quality, Epidemiology, Population Health

Elizabeth Rochin, PhD, RN, NE-BC
Maternal Health, Population Health, Patient Engagement

Emal Lesha, MD Candidate
Bioengineering, Biotechnology, Health Care

Emilie Grasset, PhD
Immunology

*Gabriela Serrato Marks, PhD Candidate
Climate Change, Science Communication

Gyan Kapur
Healthcare Technology, Genomics

*Irene Park, MS
Genetics, Science Communication

Jeffrey L. Blackman, MBA
Corporate Innovation, Entrepreneurship

Jennifer Olsen, DrPH
Public Health, Data Utilization

*Josh Peters, PhD Candidate
Quantitative Biology, Genomics, Infectious Disease

Joshua Brown, PharmD, PhD
Health Economics and Outcomes Research

Kaylynn Purdy, H BHSc, MD Candidate
Medical Education, Health Advocacy, Neuroscience

Kelly Jamieson Thomas, PhD
Cancer Prevention, Wellness Education

*Laetitia Meyrueix, PhD Candidate
Nutrition, Epigenetics, Public Health

Maria Papageorgiou, MSc, MBA
Market Access, HTA, Health Economics, Marketing

Meg Barron, MBA
Digital Health, Healthcare Innovation

*Melanie Silvis, PhD Candidate
Microbiology, Genetics, Genome Engineering, Antibiotic Discovery

Nicole Stone, PhD
Cardiac Reprogramming, Epigenomics

Paul Lindberg, JD
Public Health, Healthy Communities

Pierre Elias, MD
Cardiology, Data Science

Pramod Pinnamaneni, MD 
Oncology, Healthcare Innovation, Cost and Utilization

Raja R Narayan, MD MPH 
General Surgery, Medical Device Innovation

Regina Wysocki, MS, RN-BC
Nursing Informatics, Healthcare Information Technology

Shaahin Dadjoo, DMD Candidate
Dental Medicine, Craniofacial Development, Mindfulness

Steven Randazzo
Open Innovation, User-Centered Design

Tabitha Moses, MS
Bioethics, Medicine, Neuroscience, Public Health

Tanmay Gokhale, MD PhD Candidate
Biomedical Engineering, Computational Modeling, Cardiology, Entrepreneurship

*Yewande Pearse, PhD
Neuroscience, Gene Therapy, Stem Cell Therapy

Zuber Memon
Affordable Healthcare Technologies, Open Innovation

*Massive-TEDMED Scholar. Learn more about Massive at massivesci.com.

Simple Human Connections: Q&A with Sophie Andrews

In her 2017 TEDMED Talk, The Silver Line CEO Sophie Andrews speaks about how the best way to help another person is often just by being an empathetic listener. We caught up with Sophie to learn more about her efforts to foster human connections as a means to provide social connectivity for isolated senior citizens in the UK.


TEDMED: You begin your TEDMED Talk by sharing your personal story as a victim, and ultimately a survivor, of abuse. You turned to self-harm and other destructive behaviors as a way of coping. What would you say to someone who is suffering and doesn’t know where to turn?

SOPHIE: I’d say that you may not see it at the time but there is “life after…” and even though it will seem like there is no way out, there will be. Someone once said to me that nothing really bad or really good ever lasts forever and it’s true. Which means that you can survive and see the other side and there is help out there, although I realise more than most people that it’s hard to see the help at the time. I guess you need to be ready for the help to be able to receive it properly and that can take some time.

TEDMED: As a teenager, you relied on a helpline in a time of personal crisis, and you credit the service with saving your life. As an adult, you founded a hotline service, The Silver Line, for lonely senior citizens. In your opinion, what makes hotlines such a special form of support for people?

SOPHIE: For me it was the fact it was 24/7 and confidential—desperation doesn’t fit around a 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday timetable. Plus I wanted to be believed and trusted and to still feel that I was in control. And the support I received, and the support The Silver Line provides, offers that.

TEDMED: What types of topics are your callers looking to discuss, and what trends are you noticing with the calls you are receiving?

SOPHIE: Significant loss—partner, loss of driving license, loss of mobility, loss of confidence—are all factors that can lead to social isolation. We are receiving increasing numbers of calls at night and weekends when other services are closed. Plus mental health issues, particularly overnight, when statutory services can’t cope with demand.

TEDMED: The people calling into the Silver Line are often suffering from feelings of sadness and isolation, but there also seems to also be a lot of joy on these calls and group chats. Can you share a story from a Silver Line caller that always makes you smile or laugh?

SOPHIE: I love the group calls where people talk about shared interests— we so often forget that for many people having a conversation with more than one person at a time is a rare occurrence. My favourite group is the music group where people actually play musical instruments down the phone to each other. There is a real sense of belonging amongst the group and lots of laughter of course!

TEDMED: In addition to the empathetic ear that Silver Line provides, what other services are needed in order to improve the lives of older individuals suffering from social isolation?

SOPHIE: It doesn’t have to be complicated—it really is about simple human connection. Technology has a part to play in modern life but there is a tipping point where technology can sometimes replace the human connection. How often do we send an email or SMS message rather than picking up the phone or visiting someone? I don’t necessarily think that we need new services—we just need to look out for each other a bit more!

TEDMED: The UK is taking loneliness and social isolation seriously, with funding and increased national attention including the appointment of a Minister for Loneliness. Does the Silver Line have plans to work with this ministerial office? And, what would you say to someone who said loneliness wasn’t a public health problem?

SOPHIE: We are members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Loneliness which includes the new Minister for Loneliness. We speak with over 10,000 older people each week, so have an important part to play in terms of representing the voice of the older person and influencing at a national level. Loneliness is a public health problem because the cost of loneliness in terms of impact on health is proven and the impacts can be devastating (including increased incidence of chronic conditions and increased mortality rates). It is a problem that is potentially going to affect us all.

TEDMED: What are your predictions regarding the future of social isolation? As more people live longer, will they grow more isolated, or are we moving towards a more connected society for these populations?

SOPHIE: I worry that we are becoming less connected—social media gives a false perception of the number of friends we have and also sets expectations that everyone around us is somehow more popular as the information is visible for all to see. Yet in reality we are speaking to each other less and less, despite all the social media connections. The combination of an aging population and less social connection is a worrying one. We need to plan now for our retirements and think wider than just the financial planning—we need to plan ahead and invest in people and relationships now, outside of our work lives, so we have those strong investments in relationships for the future.

TEDMED: What was the TEDMED experience like for you? What advice would you have for a future Speaker?

SOPHIE: Terrifying! Exhilarating! Life changing! I’d recommend that you do it…if you are lucky enough to be asked. It’s a fantastic opportunity. I felt very supported and the people I met through the experience will always be remembered…and I’m keeping in touch with many of them too. Thank you for the opportunity.

Making Menstruation Matter

Written and submitted by Linda B. Rosenthal

Manhattan Assembly member Linda B. Rosenthal is a leading advocate on gender and menstrual equity issues in New York. Linda has passed more than 75 laws to improve the lives of all New York State residents, including a ban on the “tampon tax,” which eliminated the tax on menstrual hygiene products statewide. Linda spoke on the TEDMED stage in 2017, and you can watch her talk here.


Since I gave my TEDMED talk in November 2017, the fight for menstrual equity has taken center stage. As of today, 14 states do not tax menstrual hygiene products, and 24 others have introduced legislation to eliminate the tax altogether. The term menstrual equity has entered the common vernacular and become part of our collective consciousness.

I have spoken with period rights advocates from across the country and right here in New York who are fighting to ensure menstrual equity takes its place as a critical component of women’s health and want to model their efforts after our successful push in New York. I spoke at the first-ever PeriodCon, which was an electric gathering of activists who are making menstruation matter in every corner of the world.

And, it’s working. Lawmakers across the country are looking at menstrual health and equity issues for the very first time.

A number of states are now working on legislation, like mine in New York, to provide menstrual hygiene products free in schools and correctional facilities. Federal legislation would ensure that these products qualify for flexible spending accounts, among other things. Medical professionals are finally recognizing that dysmenorrhea is serious and can be debilitating for some, and there are efforts to consider new, more effective treatments for it. And, there is a move to make menstrual hygiene product ingredients available to consumers and to test product safety to better understand the health impacts of long-term use.

New York State included my bill to provide free menstrual products to students in secondary schools statewide in the proposed Executive budget, which means that we are a few short weeks from every student statewide having free universal access to menstrual hygiene products in school. This is a game changer for any young person who has ever felt ashamed because they did not have tampons when they needed one or because they could not afford them.

After my bill passed the New York State Assembly, New York’s correctional facilities voluntarily implemented a program to provide free menstrual hygiene products to people who are incarcerated. Once we pass my legislation into law, the program will remain in place permanently and preserve the health and dignity of menstruating individuals in correctional facilities for generations to come.

From 40,000 feet, it looks like we are on the precipice of a sea change here, and that’s because we are. People have finally begun to recognize that guaranteeing menstrual equity is a distinct and critically important component in the fight to protect women’s health.

Together, so many of us have worked to demystify and destigmatize menstruation, and now, we feel duty-bound to discuss menstruation and related medical and social issues to help make the change and achieve the equality that has for so long eluded us.

Even with our remarkable progress, it is not enough. Let’s be honest: it won’t be enough until tampons are treated like toilet paper.

Since giving my TEDMED talk, I have eagerly devoured every resource I could on this issue. And yet, I keep coming back to one: a 2013 TedX talk given by Nancy Kramer, where she argued that we must ‘Free the Tampon.’ She was right in 2013, and she’s still right today, five years later.

No one walks around with a personal roll of toilet paper for public emergencies or expects to put a quarter into a machine in exchange for a square of toilet paper in a public restroom. Tampons and sanitary napkins are not different than toilet paper. What is different, however, is the way we think about them and therefore, treat them.

Upon reflection, I realize now why it was so important that people heard me say blood and gush on the floor of the New York State Assembly. It’s the same reason it is so important that we each discuss our periods, freely and proudly. Every time someone mentions a period, we help break down the stigmas that have shrouded this natural function of our bodies and our health in mystery for years.

And because incremental change frustrates me, I have introduced legislation, the TAMP (Total Access to Menstrual Products) Act to require that every restroom in the State of New York – from fast food restaurants to colleges, to government facilities and office buildings – make menstrual hygiene products available in the same way they do toilet paper.

It is a matter of simple justice. At the foundation of movement toward menstrual equity is the recognition that menstrual hygiene products are necessities that have been singled out for historically biased treatment as a result of stigma and misunderstanding about the biological functions of half the population. This begins to end today, with the TAMP Act.

Panther Senses: How Racial Literacy Makes It Possible for Our Children to Keep Belonging Without Having to Fit In

Written and submitted by Howard Stevenson, Ph.D..

Howard C. Stevenson is Director of the Racial Empowerment Collaborative (REC). Howard is also the Constance Clayton Professor of Urban Education and Professor of Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. Howard spoke on the TEDMED stage in 2017, and you can watch his talk here.


Imagine someone walking up to your 12 year old while they are styling down the street, playing in the park, or simply listening to music. To you, these are the daily experiences of childhood. To your child, these are behaviors of belonging in the world. But what if the person who walked up to your 12 year old saw your child as a thug, assumed the toy they were holding was a weapon, misjudged their cultural styling as a threatening move and assaulted their bodies, history, knowledge, identity, beauty, freedom, and genius in self-defense?

For parents of Black and Brown children, the stress of wondering if our children will come home safely is debilitating. We cannot always trust authority figures to act humanely toward our children. Our worry about their safety disrupts the ground we walk on. Moreover, not all parents have to fear that their children will be racially profiled. Racial threat research suggests that adults over-react to the ways boys and girls of color speak their minds and physically move. When racially threatened, adults perceive children and adults of color as older, larger, and closer than they really are. When authority figures over-react, they protect themselves first and too often make the most punitive “in-the-moment” decision toward youth of color.

What is the emotional cost for youth and adults of being exposed to repeated disrespectful attitudes, social interactions, and false accusations? The more Black and Brown youth experience subtle or blatant racial rejection from society and within schools, the less they feel safe, trust others, get peaceful sleep, or perform well at school.

Some parents try to teach their children to fit in and assimilate so as to not appear different and garner any negative attention. Be pretty. Some prepare them explicitly for potential racial hatred. Be on guard. Others still prefer to not “racially burden” their children, hoping they won’t face trouble. Be invisible. Unfortunately, a lot of “don’ts” lurk close by, like “don’t be angry” or “loud” or “too Black.” What is a parent left to do? Teaching racial literacy—or the ability to read, recast, and resolve racially stressful situations—can be one answer.

It’s like panther senses. Did you know that panthers have sensitive whiskers that help them navigate darkness? What if young people of color could learn to trust their panther senses before, during, and after these situations and learn to “be you?”

Racial literacy involves teaching youth of color to appreciate their cultural genius and discern racial support and rejection (read), reduce the stress of that rejection (recast) so they can make healthy decisions that benefit their well-being (resolve). Neither a cure for discrimination or a last ditch survival strategy, racial literacy skills can be a healing response to daily racial microaggressions.

Our research at the Racial Empowerment Collaborative shows that the more parents or children report socialization about negotiating racial politics, the better they report improvements in self-esteem, anger management, depression, and academic achievement. However, not all the racial conversations parents report yield positive results. The more children reported their parents socialized them to fit into mainstream society, the higher their depression scores. Why? We think it’s because many of the environments our young people of color enter don’t appreciate their difference.

Howard and the REC team.

Racial literacy can also be applied to the school environment. When harassed at school, students of color struggle to see the benefits of trying to fit into hostile social networks for the sake of future social mobility. We believe racial literacy at school is more likely to lead to more positive health outcomes because it 1) affirms Black and Brown youth’s accurate discernment of societal hostility or support; 2) reframes any racial rejection as the haters’ problem, not theirs; and 3) promotes them to embrace their genius and not question their potential. Once youth of color embrace their differences and the healing benefits of their culture, they develop confidence to engage rather than fight, flee, or freeze in the face of discrimination.

But without practice, none of these literacy skills become instinctual, like panther senses.

If “belonging” is the acceptance of my difference and competence, and “fitting in” is the dependence on other people’s acceptance of me, then why am I not questioning that acceptance if it’s rooted in inferiority? For many youth of color, “belonging” is to “fitting in” what “being myself” is to “pretending.”

Parents can’t always be there to protect their children from racial discrimination, and life offers no guarantees for our children. But we can equip them with the cultural tools to belong within whatever context they inhabit. Additionally, we can encourage them to choose to make healthy decisions around whether to accept or challenge other people’s perceptions of their difference and their potential. Be you.

Does the Mind Impact Health? A Researcher’s Insights

Alia Crum, PhD, is an assistant professor at Stanford University and is the principle investigator of its Mind & Body Lab. She has won the National Institutes of Health New Innovator Award, a mention in the The New York Times Magazine’s “Year in Ideas,” and was a speaker at TEDMED 2016. Dr. Crum has also worked as a clinical psychologist for the VA healthcare system and as an organizational trainer and consultant. Read more about her work here.

Reprinted with permission from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Blog.


Three days before my regional gymnastics meet in Arkansas I landed awkwardly on a practice vault, clashing my inner ankle bones. The pain was excruciating – as was the prospect of an injury crushing my dream of competing nationally. I was determined to go on, so I decided to adopt the mindset that I could mentally overcome my physical injury. I diligently iced, taped and tended to it while visualizing myself making it to nationals in spite of the setback.

I competed and placed high enough to qualify, and was elated as well as surprised by how little the pain had affected me. Another surprise: An x-ray the next day showed that my ankle had been broken.

My experience at age 10 shows the power of mindset – the frame of mind through which we perceive, interpret and organize an inherently complex world. The ability to make sense of the world through our mindsets is a natural part of being human. But the mindsets we hold are not inconsequential. In fact they change reality by influencing our attention, affect, motivation, and physiology. I had decided my injury wasn’t going to influence my performance, and almost impossibly, it didn’t.

Experiencing the powerful effects of mindset as an athlete inspired my career as an academic health psychologist. It led me on a journey to find out: just how important are mindsets? Where do they matter most? How can we leverage them to improve health and wellbeing?

The resulting past ten years of research by my colleagues and I has revealed that mindsets are in fact powerful and are often overlooked. Here are some insights from our work.

Your beliefs about stress influence how it affects you.
Stress is a great example of how mindsets can be self-fulfilling. Stressful situations are unavoidable. And yet we’ve found that most people perceive stress as negative – even debilitating. Media or public education campaigns warn us about its harmful effects. However, ample evidence suggests that stress can enhance how our minds and bodies function. It’s how a person thinks about stress that can determine its effects, according to our research.

For example, in one study we told participants – employees in a financial company that was downsizing – that stress can help rather than hurt them. As a result, they reported fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, higher levels of optimism, and improved work performance versus the control group. In another study we showed that adopting a “stress is enhancing” mindset leads to optimal physiological stress responses, marked by moderate levels of cortisol and high levels of the growth hormone DHEA.

These beliefs about stress tend to be self-reinforcing. So if stress helps you succeed, it reinforces a mindset that stress is helpful. This is particularly important to model for children. Parents can help in explaining that experiencing stress or even failure is a natural part of life that helps us learn and grow stronger.

Mindset magnifies the benefits of exercise.
Another area in which mindsets matter is exercise. In 2007 Ellen Langer and I studied hotel room attendants whose work involved strenuous physical activity. Two-thirds of our study participants had the mindset that they were not exercising enough, that their physical labor was “just work” and not “good exercise.” Once my colleagues and I pointed out that pushing heavy carts, vacuuming, and lifting heavy mattresses qualified as sufficient exercise, they showed improvements in weight, blood pressure, and body fat over the course of four weeks. A control group had no changes. For these room attendants, a small change in mindset measurably impacted their physiological heath. This means that acknowledging the physical nature of our active jobs, or of everyday activities such as housework, grocery shopping, and playing with our kids can help us reap more health benefits from them.

More recently, graduate student Octavia Zahrt and I found that people who perceived themselves as less active than others had up to a 72% higher mortality risk 21 years later than those who perceived themselves as more active, controlling for actual levels of physical activity.

A mindset shift can help you crave healthier foods.
Having trouble sticking to your healthy-eating resolutions? Our research suggests that shifting your mindset can help. On two separate occasions, participants in one of our studies were given a 380-calorie milkshake under the pretense that it was either a 620-calorie “indulgent” shake or a 140-calorie “sensible” shake. When participants drank what they believed was an indulgent shake, they had a significantly steeper decline in ghrelin, a hunger-inducing hormone that regulates metabolism, than when they drank what they thought was a “sensible” shake. Their bodies responded as if they had actually consumed more calories.

Brad Turnwald and I have found that many restaurants describe healthy-menu items using plain language that doesn’t suggest they are exciting and tasty. Yet as we learned in another study, describing vegetables using enticing adjectives traditionally reserved for unhealthy foods – “rich buttery roasted sweet corn,” “slow roasted caramelized zucchini bites” – increased vegetable consumption by 41% compared to the standard approach of touting their health properties.

The moral is that if you want to feel deeply satisfied with healthier foods, eat in a mindset of indulgence! Viewing healthy foods as decadent versus depriving can transform your food choices and your health. Building on these findings, my lab is now designing interventions to help children and adults adopt the mindset that healthy eating is indulgent and fun.

The placebo effect is part of good medicine.
Much of the medical community views the placebo effect as a mysterious, irrelevant, response. Our research instead reveals that it comprises measureable psychological and social components that we can harness to improve health and healthcare: the body’s natural ability to heal, the patient’s mindset, and the physician’s bedside manner.

My lab and others (including the Program in Placebo Studies at Harvard) are studying which mindsets are at play, how they interact with and activate patients’ physiology, and what health care providers can do to shape mindsets that boost the body’s natural healing abilities.

In one study, Lauren Howe, Parker Goyer and I found that when a provider showed competence – such as familiarity with a treatment – and warmth, such as understanding a patient’s needs, values and goals – patients had a stronger response to an inert cream they believed would treat an allergic reaction. This shows that providers can enhance the effect of a drug or treatment with their actions and words. A social context embedded with warmth and competence is especially important in disadvantaged communities where trust in providers may be lacking.

Healthy thinking supports a Culture of Health.
Expanding our definition of health is essential to achieving a Culture of Health. “Health” has traditionally meant an absence of disease. More recently, the definition includes behaviors as well as social demographics and the environment.

Our research adds one more dimension: the critical role of healthy thoughts.

And the role of healthy thoughts is more than just positive thinking. As the studies I described illustrate, mindsets must be specific to have impact: “My work is good exercise.” “Stress helps me thrive.” “This doctor understands me.”

These specific beliefs yield tangible physiological and behavioral consequences. They are further shaped by culture, parenting, healthcare policies and public health messages, and by organizational dynamics, marketing and media.

We can now also see that many current approaches to motivating healthy behavior may, in fact, be counterproductive. For example: constantly warning against the negative effects of stress can reinforce an unhelpful mindset that stress is debilitating. Touting a food’s health properties over its flavor also reinforces the counterproductive mindset that healthy eating is depriving.

I hope these findings will motivate schools, community organizations, health care professionals and others to promote education and awareness of the impact mindsets have on our lives and work to more effectively leverage mindsets to improve health and healthcare.

Mindsets are just one piece in the larger puzzle of factors that influence health. But as I learned at age 10 and continue to learn in my research as an adult, mindsets have a measurable affect on health, and real implications for healing.

Building healthy foundations for life

If we want to build a stronger foundation of health for tomorrow, we need to start with our children today. This year at TEDMED, the program will showcase Speakers who are are dedicated to supporting young people in shaping positive, healthy lifestyles. From helping children living in challenging environments to make healthier choices, to supporting transgender teens and their families with mental and physical health services, to providing young people with new tools to deal with the effects of race issues, these three TEDMED 2017 Speakers are empowering the next generation to navigate today’s complex health challenges and to take charge of their own health.

Physician Sandy Hassink has dedicated her career to helping children achieve a healthy weight. As President of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Chair of the AAP Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight Advisory Board and Steering Committee, Sandy aims to ensure every child has access to a healthy and supportive environment, where nourishing food and opportunities for physical activity are readily available. Unfortunately, many Americans don’t live in communities that enable healthy behaviors. For instance, over 23 million Americans (including 6.5 million children) live more than one mile from a supermarket. With this type of statistic in mind, Sandy stresses the importance of understanding that the health decisions people make go beyond willpower or lack of knowledge, and she focuses instead on the ways a person’s neighborhood and physical surroundings ultimately affect their diet and activity choices. Furthermore, Sandy believes influencing healthy behavior is less about telling people what to eat or how to move and more about getting families and children involved in shaping their own healthy lifestyles. Bringing health closer to home has the potential to make long lasting positive impacts—as Sandy puts it, “good nutrition in childhood sets the stage for lifelong healthy eating.”

While childhood obesity is considered one of the nation’s largest health concerns, other important issues related to the health of young people have started receiving more attention in recent years. Gender dysphoria, or the distress that occurs when an individual does not identify with the sex and gender they were assigned at birth, affects an estimated one in 30,000 males and one in 100,000 females in the United States (though data is limited, and studies from other countries suggest this number may be higher). Yet when pediatric endocrinologist Ximena Lopez was first approached by parents looking for medical advice for their child, who was struggling with gender dysphoria, Ximena learned that the only experience her hospital had with transgender youth was in the psychiatric ward. Due to reasons such as discrimination, bullying, isolation, and lack of support, the prevalence of suicide attempts among transgender individuals is 41%—compared to 4.6% of the overall U.S. population. Ximena knew she had to do something to help. In 2014, Ximena founded the Children’s Gender Education and Care Interdisciplinary Support Program, or the GENECIS Program, at Children’s Health in Dallas, Texas, which has grown from five patients to 60. The multidisciplinary team at GENECIS works with patients on everything from medical interventions to mental health support. Ximena stresses that early intervention, treatment, and parental support are key ingredients to a successful outcome. “The parents feel like you’re saving their children,” she says, “and these patients feel like you’re saving them.”

Children and young people confront different types of health stressors every day. Race issues, often a taboo topic and not openly discussed, can be at the root of emotional stress for many young people. Howard C. Stevenson believes it is essential that everyone is given the tools and skills to openly talk about race and to express ourselves in a healthy way when faced with racially stressful situations. To foster these types of important conversations, Howard promotes racial literacy—“the ability to read, recast, and resolve racially stressful encounters”—in schools, families, and communities. At the Racial Empowerment Collaborative, where Howard is Executive Director, programs like EMBRace (Engaging, Managing, and Bonding through Race) are designed to help children and parents reduce and manage racial stress and trauma. Instead of internalizing the emotions connected with racially charged encounters, these programs empower young participants with the tools to successfully navigate difficult conflicts. Through the Collaborative, Howard is helping youth to reduce stress, build confidence, and to stand up for themselves in a productive and healthy way.

The Racial Empowerment Collaborative at Penn GSE.

Kids are the future. Yes, it’s a cliche, but it’s also the truth. These three thought leaders recognize the importance of equipping the next generation with the tools they’ll need to navigate important health decisions and empowering them with the knowledge to live healthy lives now and into adulthood.

Can Learning Social Skills in School Pay Off Beyond the Classroom?

This post was originally published on The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health blog.

This is the first of a 5-part blog series, curated by RWJF, a TEDMED Global Partner. This blog series showcases the real and tangible ways that communities around the country are supporting the healthy development of children and young adults. The series helps to set the stage for the important conversations about child health and development that RWJF will host at TEDMED this year.

By Mark Greenberg and Tracy Costigan


Social emotional skills can help students set goals for themselves and build positive relationships with peers. They can also lead to long-term societal benefits that extend far beyond the individual child.

At an elementary school in the Menominee Nation in Wisconsin, the school day starts in an unusual way. Before they do anything else, students sit down at a classroom computer and select the face that best matches how they feel that morning.

If they’re feeling upbeat, they pick a green, smiling face. If they’re upset about something, there’s a red sad face. And if they feel somewhere in the middle there’s a yellow neutral face. This exercise helps these students develop self-awareness and emotional management skills. It also helps teachers recognize which students are having a tough day and where they might need help.

Ryan Coffey, a teacher and counselor at the Wisconsin school, calls this simple check-in an incredible tool that “can change the whole day.”

A 2nd grade Menominee student starts the day with mindfulness meditation.

“It’s about being proactive—before they blow up—instead of reactive. Because [incidents in the community] are hard on them, hard on their classmates and hard on their teacher. It’s traumatic for everyone. When they get older, those negative coping skills lead to the smoking, the drinking, the drug use. If we give them positive skills now … those are life skills they’ll use forever.”

This community has recognized, and put into practice, what research increasingly shows is clear: social emotional development is essential to long-term wellbeing and success.

In fact, building social emotional skills in students as young as kindergartners can have long-term benefits, not just for the students themselves but for society as a whole. Every dollar invested in effective social emotional programs in schools can bring an average of more than $11 in benefits in the long run.

These benefits come in a few different ways. First of all, students with stronger social emotional skills tend to do better in school. One study of eighth grade students found that a measure of self-discipline—one aspect of social emotional development—was a better predictor of grades, school attendance, and admission into a competitive high school program than even IQ.

Secondly, social emotional development can help students graduate from college and land a well-paying job. Children who demonstrate greater social emotional skills as young as kindergarten are more likely to have graduated from college and hold a full-time job 20 years later. Adolescents with these skills earn more as adults.

The long-term benefits of self-control, managing one’s emotions, and building strong relationships extend beyond the educational setting itself. Research shows that children with a stronger social emotional skill set were less likely to experience health problems, struggle with substance abuse, or engage in criminal activity as they got older.

All of these positive long-term outcomes benefit not just the student, but broader society. For instance, when students succeed in school and grow up to become productive adults, they’re ultimately supporting the overall well-being of their neighbors and communities. If, as adolescents grow older, they avoid substance abuse and crime, they’re also preventing associated societal costs.

Now, it’s no secret that investing early, supporting the whole child and student early on, pays off in the long run. Additional research further illustrates how early education programs promote social mobility within and across generations, helps prevent obesity, reduce health care expenditures and leads to overall higher-quality of life.

But what is new and exciting is that more and more schools are putting these social emotional principles and programs into practice the way the Menominee Nation is. Schools have always focused on building the academic skills and knowledge of students, and we’ve always viewed that as a long-term investment in our human capital. A large and growing body of research should make it clear that supporting students’ social, emotional, and physical health is just as strong an investment.


Learn more about research from RWJF and Pennsylvania State University, covering how teachers, parents, schools and others can support the social emotional learning of students.

Talking about our health

Many of us have experienced some level of anxiety at the doctor’s office. There we are, sitting in a chilly room dressed in a paper thin, wearing an open-backed robe, and feeling vulnerable. We find ourselves tempted to exaggerate the amount of time we spend at the gym each week or to downplay the number of cocktails we drink on weekends. We are itching to ask whether our contact lenses can get lost in our eyes, or if that new juice cleanse has any merit—but we don’t. From worrying about looking foolish to fearing that you’ll learn that a weird mole may be much more serious than you thought, there are any number of reasons why we don’t ask our doctors the health questions that plague us. And as a result, there’s a breakdown in communication about one of the most important things we have—our health. At TEDMED this year, we’ll hear from Speakers and Innovators who are actively improving the way we approach conversations about health and the decisions we make about our care.

When communicating with your doctor, it can often feel like you don’t speak the same language. Maybe they use medical terms you don’t understand or offer prescription advice so quickly that you’re not able to absorb the fine details. However, working with your physician and navigating the health care system gets infinitely more difficult when they literally don’t speak the same language as you. That’s where ConsejoSano, founded by Abner Mason, steps in. ConsejoSano is the country’s only patient engagement and care navigation solution for the 54 million Hispanic Americans who prefer to communicate in Spanish. Driven by the goal to meet “people ‘where they are’, linguistically and culturally”, Abner believes that the company’s data analytics, multi-channel messaging, care navigation, and round-the-clock access to native Spanish­-speaking medical advisors will be the formula needed to tackle health disparities and improve outcomes for the underserved Hispanic population.

Even when there’s no language barrier between you and your doctor, having an open and honest conversation with them can sometimes feel awkward. James Hamblin knows it can be uncomfortable to have frank conversations about our health, so he uses humor to answer many of the questions that cross our minds, but that we feel nervous to ask aloud. His columns and videos for The Atlantic acknowledge that healthy choices rarely fall under “all” or “nothing” labels, and that real people fit into those categories even less frequently. James tackles complicated questions like, “if someone chooses to smoke, should they smoke filtered cigarettes?” and fundamental curiosities such as, “how does sunscreen work?” His light-hearted and fact-driven approach makes the conversation about healthy living less intimidating and more accessible.

Like James, Meg Gaines feels strongly that patients need to take a more active role in their own health. As a cancer survivor and attorney in Wisconsin, Meg is committed to improving the physician-patient relationship, which can often be defined by either distrust or implicit trust. Meg says that both can be dangerous. Meg’s philosophy is that by laying a foundation of patient, family, and community participation in health care, we can reframe the idea of health care “delivery” to health care “co-creation.”

Even when we’re able to work closely with our physicians and take control of our own health, many of us are prone to falling back on long-held beliefs and resisting scientific facts. Sara Gorman’s work examines the reasons why it’s so difficult for us to change our minds, even in the face of evidence. For example, why do so many people believe vaccines are harmful, when there is scientific evidence that they are not only safe, but beneficial to our health? Like Meg, Sara advises physicians and health care providers to reconsider their approach with patients. She also offers tips on how providers can help patients understand the health-related options they have and the role providers play in assisting people to make scientifically sound decisions.

Unfortunately, the science isn’t always so black and white. What do we do when trusted news sources treat ongoing scientific investigations as a series of press releases? Massive Science, co-founded by Nadja Oertelt, wants to change the way science is reported. Their mission is to provide accurate, detailed, and clear science stories to the public—directly from researchers and scientists. By working closely with scientists, and helping them to talk about their work in ways that the broader public can understand, Massive is opening up lines of communication between scientists and the science-curious.

Whether it’s making health conversations more accessible, helping people change their minds in light of new evidence, or taking a new approach to sharing scientific data, these Speakers and Innovators see value in improving the way we approach conversations about healthcare and health-related science. By improving lines of communication between patients and physicians—and getting everyone on the same page—we can expect higher patient compliance and better health outcomes.