XX at TEDMED: Women take center stage

By Shirley Bergin

As part of Rock Health’s XX in Health week last year, I talked about the need for women mentors in health and why TEDMED was making an effort to include more women in our stage program. Our mission is to gather diverse points of view for a richer collaboration on progress in health and medicine, and that simply can’t be achieved without ensuring that women have a role.

The results: TEDMED 2013 brought more female speakers to the stage than ever before. We again had the opportunity to engage with a number of remarkable women. Throughout the years, we’ve been thrilled to introduce these collaborative, provocative thinkers whose energy and influence help shape thinking in health and medicine.

Women have represented incredibly varied facets of health and medicine at TEDMED. There’s public health, from Regina Benjamin speaking about broad-scale goals and community initiatives from America Bracho, to Rebecca Onie working to link patients to health basics like sound shelter and nutrition. Scientists Sheila Nirenberg and Frances Arnold have made great leaps into hitherto worlds of neuroscience and synthetic biology; Leslie Saxon and Deborah Estrin are superstars in health monitoring and technology; Catherine Mohr and Quyen Nguyen have blazed new trails in surgery; Sally Okun brought a nurse’s perspective to decoding the language of patients; and Amy Abernethy provided an oncologist’s understanding of their wishes. Susan Desmond-Hellmann is at the forefront of gathering genomics data for a potential revolution in disease diagnosis and treatment. Laura Deming and Jessica Richman represent a new wave of business-savvy innovators bringing change to health research.

women at TEDMED

Four more dynamic women shared their experiences in a special Session X at TEDMED 2013: Nina Nashif of Healthbox spoke of trajectories in the health startup space while Jennifer Kurkoski of Google, Marleece Barber from Lockheed Martin, and Geeta Nayyar from AT&T represented companies outside of healthcare whose innovation around health and medicine was inspiring.

Virginia Breen, Elizabeth Bonker and Diana Nyad shared their stories of triumph over seemingly unconquerable obstacles. Female artists have enlightened us as well with their unique and often startling viewpoints on health and the human body – view Sue Austin’s inspiring mental freewheeling, Lisa Nilsson‘s stunning anatomical paper sculptures, and soprano Charity Tillemann-Dick‘s joy in singing and living.

We were fortunate to have 50 transformative new companies and the entrepreneurs that power them as part of The Hive at TEDMED 2013. This initiative helped to  ensure that the start-up and entrepreneur community along with our partners connected in ways that truly inspired progress. Women lead nearly half. They include:

  • Anula Jayasuriya and Surbhi Sarna of nVision, a medical device company dedicated to filling the void in female health-related innovation;
  • Eve Phillips of Empower Interactive, which designs interactive e-learning programs using evidence-based psychotherapy;
  • Tiffany Wilson Karp of The Global Center for Medical Innovation, a not-for-profit organization that launched the Southeast’s first comprehensive medical device innovation center;
  • Qian Qian Tang of Kinsa, which creates unique mobile software and hardware products that help create a real-time map of human health;
  • Caterina Hill of Wellframe, focused on building the next generation of infrastructure for healthcare delivery using artificial intelligence;
  • Lisa Maki of PokitDoc, a health marketplace of over 3 million healthcare providers nationwide;
  • Sruthi Sadhujan and Cynthia Koenig of WelloWater, which seeks to help deliver clean water to an increasingly thirsty world;

and many more.

We’ll continue to recognize the immense contributions from women in health at TEDMED, and we would love to hear from you as we move forward. Please share your thoughts and suggestions below, and join our conversations on Twitter and Facebook.

Shirley Bergin is TEDMED’s Chief Operating Officer.