Health Commissioner Mary T. Bassett’s TEDMED talk today debuted on TEDMED.com and TED.com. She is the first health commissioner from any U.S. city to give a TEDMED talk. The overall theme for all the 2015 talks was “breaking through the status quo and celebrating the typical, the atypical and the spaces in between as we come together to shape a healthier world.” The Commissioner’s talk focused on “Sounding the Alarm,” recalling her “biggest regret” during her time in Zimbabwe and how it has shaped her vision for public health and her mission for the New York City Health Department. The Commissioner’s talk can be found at the agency’s website, nyc.gov/health and tedmed.com.
“Raising alarm is the first step toward doing public health right,” said Health Commissioner Bassett in her talk. “And it is how we may rally support to break through and create real change, together. Our role as health professionals is not just to treat patients, but to sound the alarm and advocate for change. Rightfully or not, we [as doctors] have a societal status that gives our voices greater credibility – we should not waste that. As NYC’s Health Commissioner, I will use every opportunity I have to sound the alarm and rally support for health equity.”
In her talk, the Commissioner shares her experience working as a medical doctor in Zimbabwe in the 80s and 90s, when the country faced the challenge of a devastating AIDS epidemic. She speaks about the advocacy role and social responsibility of health professionals as they deal with issues of poverty, racism and social realities that negatively affect people’s health. Dr. Bassett also speaks about her frustration with the American medical community’s reluctance to address the #BlackLivesMatter movement with regards to racism in medical research and everyday work: “Medical students held die-ins in their white coats, but overall, our community has stood by passively while institutionalized discrimination continues to affect disease distribution and mortality.”
Commissioner Bassett was joined at TEDMED 2015 by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, among others. Past heads of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have attended, in addition to Pulitzer Prize winners and MacArthur Genius awardees. TEDMED was founded in order to give TED a forum dedicated solely to the important topics of health and medicine.